Ministry Leadership http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership Tue, 30 Sep 2014 07:57:14 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb 5 Ways to Take the Sting Out of Criticism http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21235-5-ways-to-take-the-sting-out-of-criticism http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21235-5-ways-to-take-the-sting-out-of-criticism

CriticismYou dread it. I dread it. Who doesn't?

In fact, it can completely derail your day, your week and your work. So what do you do when it comes your way?

Finding a Criticism-Free Environment

More than a few of us have dreamed of working in a place where no one criticizes anyone.

And, as a result, more than a few leaders have left a place of employment or ministry to find greener pastures where there won't be as much opposition, only to be disappointed that criticism just seems to come with the territory wherever you go.

Don't get me wrong, there are some toxic workplaces, and there definitely are some toxic people (here are six early warning signs you're dealing with a toxic person). And there are healthy workplaces and healthy people.

But even in a healthy environment, criticism is inevitable. So how do you deal with it?

Here are five ways to make criticism sting less, and to grow from it:

1. Don't respond for 24 hours. Just don't. Every time you get a critical email, a critical comment, a critical text or phone call, something happens inside you, doesn't it?

Your heart starts beating faster. You feel hurt, even crushed depending on what they said. And sometimes you get angry.

And usually when that happens, your emotions derail your brain. At least they derail mine.

I learned years ago that almost nothing good happens when I'm upset.

In an attempt to address the situation, I almost always make it worse. Even if I convince myself I'll make it better, I usually don't. Not when I'm upset.

So years ago, I made a rule. When you feel an emotional reaction to criticism, don't respond for 24 hours.

That's easy in the case of an email, a text or written complaint. Just sleep on it.

But even when there's a verbal exchange, just bite your tongue. Thank them. Say little or nothing. Don't respond.

After 24 hours elapse, something amazing usually happens. You get your brain back. A day later, you can respond reasonably and rationally to something that you once could only respond to emotionally.

You've slept on it. Hopefully you've prayed about it. And maybe you've even talked to a few wise friends about how to respond with grace and integrity.

You've lost nothing. And you've gained so much. So wait. Just wait.

2. Ask yourself: Is there any truth in this? During those 24 hours, you can start asking sensible questions, the chief of which is "Is there any truth in this?" Sometimes there's not. But often there is.

If you're not sure, ask a friend or colleague. They may see what your critic sees. Even if there's just a nugget of truth, that nugget can help you grow into a better person and better leader.

Self-awareness is the key to emotional intelligence, and our critics help us become more self-aware.

Even if there's zero truth in what the critic is saying, at least you searched. And by asking, you lost nothing.

3. Own what you can. Own whatever part of the issue you can. Preachers, if someone says your message was useless, try to understand why someone walked out of the room feeling that way. Don't just look to your fans to make you feel better. Try to understand how someone could have invested an hour of their life but left confused or upset.

If someone was offended by what you said, try to understand why. Own that piece, even if their reaction to what you did was a terrible overreaction.

Great leaders assume responsibility. Weak leaders blame. So become a great leader, especially when it comes to criticism.

4. Reply relationally. Just because they shot off an email in the dark of night doesn't mean you should. Just because they came to the microphone in a meeting and sounded off doesn't mean you should return the favor.

I learned this strategy from Andy Stanley and have followed it ever since.

Take your response to criticism up one level from how they corresponded with you. Reply in a way that's more relationally connected than how they initiated things with you.

Example:

  • If they emailed you, call them. You'll not only shock them, but you'll quickly defuse the situation. People are bolder on email than they ever are in a conversation. Nothing good regarding conflict ever happens on email.
  • If they stopped you in the hall and blasted you, take them out for coffee. Call them and tell them you would like to learn from them and address the issue in person.
  • If they got mad at a meeting, go for lunch after.

Nine times out of 10, you will take the air out of the conflict balloon. And if they're healthy, and you own whatever you can, you'll be surprised at how it resolves the situation.

5. Discard the crud. Even if you find some truth in what they said, own what you can, and reply graciously and relationally, sometimes there's still crud in the mix. Discard it. Sometimes I think 95 percent of the conflict in the church has nothing to do with the church.

Your critic might have just had a huge fight with his daughter before he sat down at the keyboard to blast you. Your critic might simply be an angry person who has issues stapled to her issues. And you got an unfair shot. Or he may be someone who's simply angry at the world.

We can't make the assumption that all our critics are crazy, frustrated or need counseling. That's an easy crutch too many leaders lean on.

But sometimes good people say and do bad things. And sometimes the blast comes with zero basis in reality.

When that happens, you need to let the crud go. You've owned as much as you can of it, so let the rest fall away.

Pray about it. Talk to friends about it. Grieve the hurt (seriously ... do this) and then let it go. Don't carry today's baggage into tomorrow.

How have you learned to let criticism sting less?

I've found that by following these steps, criticism stings less, AND I grow as a leader. I'd love to hear what you're learning in this.

How do you grow from your critics? How do you make sure the criticism stings less?  

In addition to serving as Lead Pastor at Connexus Community Church north of Toronto Canada, Carey Nieuwhof speaks at conferences and churches throughout North America on leadership, family, parenting and personal renewal.

For the original article, visit churchleaders.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Carey Nieuwhof) Pastoring Mon, 29 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
What to Do When Your Church Culture Changes http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21233-what-to-do-when-your-church-culture-changes http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21233-what-to-do-when-your-church-culture-changes

These days in my retirement ministry, most of the churches where I'm invited to preach have these things in common:

  • Almost no man wears a necktie or suit.
  • On the platform you find all kinds of musical instruments.
  • Huge screens are mounted on the front walls, where the words of songs and scripture are projected.
  • Many people in the congregation read Scripture from their phones.
  • Worship leaders are often wearing jeans and sneakers.
  • In the announcements, you hear of mission trips to foreign countries, regardless of the size of the church.
  • Fewer and fewer hymns are being sung, and when the old ones are brought out, they're given new treatments. Mostly, though, what's being sung in worship was written in the past 10 or 12 years.
  • Churches announce on their outside signs "blended" services, "contemporary" services, and/or "traditional" services.

The times, they are a-changing, friend. (And they are not through changing either. So you youngsters should not get too attached to the present innovations.)

If you cannot adapt, you may find yourself living in the 1950s.

The other weekend I worshiped with an interesting church in Jacksonville, Florida.  I had not known that church previously but had learned a little of their story before arriving.


As the neighborhood changed around them, most of their members had moved away. Since the church failed to make the necessary adjustments to reach new residents of their community, it was slowly dying. So, not long ago, the remaining membership—mostly senior adults—asked a larger (and healthy, thriving) church in the area to take them over. They would be willing to make whatever changes were necessary to turn this around.

That takes great courage, let me say.

Most "older" churches cannot do this. The members are so wed to the ways of yesterday and the methods of the past that they prefer to let the church die rather than change.

Six months after they called a young pastor from New Orleans to shepherd this transitioning congregation, I showed up for three days of ministry. As always, before and after preaching, I sat at a table drawing people. I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of children and teens and young families throughout the buildings. Already, the church is flourishing.

The longtime members of that little church are having to get used to a lot of change. The pastor does not wear a suit or tie or even a sport coat. Music is provided by a group composed of piano, several guitars, and a drum set. Four or five young adults were the praise ensemble.

It was a blessed service. The singing was great, the people were happy and friendly, and the fellowship was sweet. They're getting this right.

Being with such a happy group of God's people was such a joy.

What would happen, I wondered, if a member who moved back to town after a year's absence walked into the service. A large screen flashes the words to hymns and choruses. The platform is covered by musical instruments, and an air of informality pervades.


Whoever heard of a church changing?  (Smiley-face here)

Churches are always changing. Only the dead ones don't.

May I repeat that? Churches are always changing—if they are alive. I guarantee you that Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) in Orange County, California, is always tweaking what they do, as does North Point (Andy Stanley) in Alpharetta, Georgia, and Celebration Church (Dennis Watson) in Metairie, Louisiana.

But we see this same scenario playing out again and again.

You've belonged to that church for many years. You were attracted to it because of location and ministry, because you liked the pastor and the people were friendly. You have served the Lord there in numerous capacities and your children grew up there. You have a history with that church. And now ...

Now, it's not the same church.

There's a new pastor and new leadership. They are attracting a different group of people from the lovely group that drew you in. You feel less and less a part of things.  You're not at home with many of the innovations they're doing now.

What should you do?


1. Recognize that churches are always in a state of change if they are alive. Every time someone joins your church or leaves it, the church changes. Every time a member begins to get serious about reading the Word or witnessing or tithing or ministering, or when they backslide, the church changes.  It is never static, never a frozen entity.

2. You yourself are growing and changing if you are alive and obedient. I grew up on a certain kind of church music, then grew past that.  Later, my tastes changed and to no one's surprise, have changed again.

3. Your needs and requirements change. My tastes change. It's called "life." After radiation treatment of the head and neck a full decade ago, many things no longer have a taste at all, while others are as wonderful as ever. I can handle spicy food better than before since I have fewer functioning taste buds. Life is like that.

4. Perhaps you are dragging your feet and resisting something new the Holy Spirit is trying to do in your life. You are if you insist that the Lord do something again in the same way He did it before. You are dragging your feet and resisting Him if you reject the new things He sends because they are outside your comfort zone. Do you suppose Jonah felt comfortable going to Nineveh? Don't you know it was way, way outside his comfort zone?

5. Perhaps the Lord has something new for you in the community, and you should be in another church. This may be His way of cutting you loose from those ties that have bound you so you can move forward.

6. Are you open to new things? New ways? If you are not, you're going to have trouble with the Lord Jesus.

"Behold," the Lord said, "I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). He wasn't just talking about Heaven, friend.

He's making me ever-new right now. Yep, I said that. Psalm 92:12-15 promises that. "The righteous will flourish ... They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green ... "

So, what do you do when your church changes? Grow with it.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel, and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Joe McKeever ) Vision Mon, 29 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Here's the Jesus Way to Cultural Influence http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/culture/21230-here-s-the-jesus-way-to-cultural-influence http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/culture/21230-here-s-the-jesus-way-to-cultural-influence

The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) contained in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the greatest exposition ever written regarding godly character and attitude. Often the 10 attributes mentioned here are overlooked because, in our performance-based culture, inward holiness is not seen as important as outward fruit. However, being transformed into the image and character of Christ is a prerequisite before we can walk in the ministry and power of Christ.

In regard to those like myself who preach on the manifestation of the kingdom of God that can transform society, it is important for us to realize that Jesus focused on these 10 attributes before He called His followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16).

Consequently, this behooves us to merge the kingdom message of societal transformation with the teachings of the pietists (some even call them mystics) who focused on individual transformation; we cannot have one without the other. (Both camps need to bring balance to the other.) Truly, God cannot trust us with power and influence before we have Christ-like character worked on the inside of us.

The following are the 10 attributes needed in order to qualify for spiritual and societal leadership in God's kingdom:

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word "poor" here is the Greek word ptochos, which means one who is humble in regard to his own capacities, or one who is not spiritually arrogant. Someone who is poor in spirit is a person who is totally dependent upon Jesus for their life, wisdom, sustenance and power. The poor in spirit know that they are empty without God; that they have no righteousness on their own, and no outward show to keep propping up their identity. This is the opposite of a spiritually arrogant person who lives a life of presumption and pride and does not depend upon or consult with the Lord in regard to the direction of their life.

If we are going to be trusted by God with real kingdom influence, we cannot be haughty, arrogant or have a proud attitude regarding material and/or ministry success; we need to live a life of daily dependence upon the Lord.

2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those who mourn in our context could mean a person who is very sensitive to the needs, hurts and wants of others—someone who empathizes with others. Empathy gives us the capacity to feel what others feel, to see what others see, so we can adequately bring them the Word of God. Mourning has to do with grieving over the sin of others and the poor state of spirituality in the church and society. Those who mourn are broken vessels who give themselves up to much prayer and intercession until God's Spirit is poured out and brings restoration to a person or situation.

3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. When people are meek they are gentle, kind, considerate and humble. Those who attempt to exert top-down leadership that imposes their will and desires do not represent true kingdom leadership. Forceful, abusive, manipulative leadership is not going to be blessed by God in the long run, since many people will not endure sitting under such behavior for long.


4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. God has called His people to always hunger for knowledge and wisdom that comes through continual study, conversations, sitting under good teaching, asking questions, and contemplation. We are called to be life-long students. I have seen many leaders who rarely read a book and have no hunger for knowledge. These leaders have capped their leadership potential and influence. Hungering is not just for knowledge but also for the application of knowledge, which is wisdom. Wise leaders focus on bringing God's righteousness and justice to their environments and spheres of influence. Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit are the evidence of the reign of God in our midst. (Rom. 14:17)

5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Those who are merciful are those who have compassion upon others and even bestow favor, love and kindness on those who do not deserve it. Once we realize how much of a sinner we are, we have a greater appreciation for the mercy God had on us when He forgave us and saved us by His grace. Those who understand God's mercy toward them are not quick to judge the motives, intentions and actions of others.

Leaders who are not merciful toward others cannot represent Christ's kingdom to this world, because Jesus told us to be like His Father who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good (Matt. 5:45). The less we appreciate God's mercy toward us in Christ, the more self-righteous and less merciful we will be toward others.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Being pure in heart has to do with a person having no hidden agendas, motives or selfishness regarding their faith and duty toward others. When we have hidden motives, un-dealt-with hypocrisy and sin, and self-focused agendas, it blurs the image of our true self, which in turn mars our perception of God. If we have bitterness toward someone, then we view everything they do through a lens of suspicion. To the extent that we see reality, to that extent can we get a true revelation of God. Those leaders who are narcissistic and self-focused in their intent and actions do not have a deep revelation of their heavenly Father.

7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Peacemakers are unique in this world because they have the amazing ability to understand opposing points of view and reconcile adversaries. Peacemakers can even function as statesmen if they serve in the political arena. This is a profound passage that has vast ecclesial and societal implications, including that Christian leaders should also be able to cross religious, cultural and political lines to bring peace, so that people in secular communities can function together in harmony.

8. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Leaders in the Kingdom of God must be willing to pay the price of insults, slander and negative press since the biblical worldview is so countercultural. Anti-Christian bigots will twist our life narrative, assign sinister motives to us, and never recognize the good the gospel does in this world because doing so would refute their own arguments. God allows this to happen to those He chooses to lead as a way of testing, so they will learn to love the praise of God more than the praise of men. It is easy to serve God in a community if you are always given accolades by the world, but only a remnant of believers would be willing to take a stand for the gospel if it meant their life and/or reputation.

9. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Insults are more of a personal nature than a general persecution, which seems to be the emphasis in the previous verse. It is probably more difficult to deal with the personal attacks, slander and insults that come on an individual level than what comes in the media from people who do not know you or have a relationship with you. Being able to humble ourselves and not repay evil for evil when we are slandered is one of the greatest tests of godly character in the Bible and a trait that is well pleasing to God. When we don't repay insult for insult then we demonstrate that we trust God will defend us (Rom. 12:17-21).

10. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Here Jesus teaches us to practice the presence and joy of the Lord even when we have been betrayed, mistreated and slandered by others. When we walk in the joy of the Lord in adverse circumstances then we demonstrate to God and others that our reason, motive and purpose for living is to be with Him and please Him rather than doing it for the accolades and praise of men.

Who is qualified to function as the salt and light of the world?

In conclusion, it is not an accident that Jesus taught on these 10 beatitudes before He called His followers to be the salt and light of the world. The implication is that we need to have these qualities ingrained in our hearts before we can effectively influence the world.

Note: These 10 attributes do not focus on spiritual gifts, ability, anointing or spiritual power but on emotional maturity and a deep-rootedness in the character of Christ. Too often we in the church elevate a person because they are good looking, have charisma and/or are a great preacher, thus bypassing our assessment of whether they possess these attributes. Consequently, gifted people elevated to places of influence who are emotionally and spiritually immature eventually bring shame and even scandal to the Kingdom of God.

May we who preach the Kingdom of God and represent Christ in this world not only embrace the ministry and power of Christ but also the character of Christ. Entire chapters in Scripture have been written just on His character, which is the fruit of the Spirit. I can't think of one chapter that is dedicated just to the anointing and power of God (Matthew 5-7; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 4; Philippians 2; compare these passages to Matt. 7:21-22). These character traits are what God values, which is why it is so hard on our flesh to be effective leaders. (I am my biggest stumbling block, not the anti-Christian bigots, not my family, not my ministry, but me.)

May God help us become more like Jesus in every way.

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, New York.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Culture Fri, 26 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
7 Proven Tips to Increase Your Killer Focus http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21228-7-proven-tips-to-increase-your-killer-focus http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21228-7-proven-tips-to-increase-your-killer-focus

I'm fairly productive as a person. But the truth is, I get distracted easily and have a hard time staying focused at times.

If I didn't have notes when I was preaching, I would totally get off track. My mind wanders too much.

Thankfully, there are a few things that help me focus. Or, at least, they help prepare the conditions to keep me focused. It's still a discipline issue on my part, but these things help.

Seven things that help me focus on the task at hand:

1. Rest. It could be a 10-minute walk or a nap, but taking a break from what I'm doing helps me better focus when I return to the work. And being well-rested when I start my day helps me face the day with a clearer mind so I can begin to focus. The more tired I am, the more restless my thoughts become.

2. Deadlines. I work better under pressure. I know—that sounds strange, but it's true. And many people do. I sometimes set my own deadlines. If I put a task on my calendar or if I schedule the steps to completion, I'm more likely to discipline myself enough to meet the deadline. Checklists are my friend.

3. Passion. If I'm passionate about a project—I mean really passionate—I'll invest the energy and stay focused to complete the task. That's true about most things that grab our passion. Without passion, I give up quickly. If it's something I know I have to do, I even ask God to give me passion and enthusiasm. I return to the roots of where my passion began. I review the purpose of my calling.

4. Encouragement. It may seem petty, but sometimes one well-worded email can break a period of distraction and push me to focus on the task. It reminds me why I need to discipline myself to move forward. That's why I keep an "encouragement file." Basically, anytime someone emails me an encouraging email, I set it aside. When I need to focus better, especially when doing things I don't enjoy as much, nothing redirects my energy any quicker than reviewing this file.

5. Success. Following a big "win," I am motivated to work for another. Honestly, it's usually a short-lived window of opportunity, but if I "strike while the iron is hot," I can better "seize the day." This is one reason celebrating success is so important. It motivates you to focus on another moment like this one.

6. Exercise. I'm less disciplined, less motivated and less content when I'm out of my exercise routine. Actually, I'm less happy overall. I recently had some health issues keeping me from running. I could feel the drain of focus. I had to figure out some new exercises to do. Exercise gives me the stamina to do the things I need to do.

7. Systems. I'm not a rigid rule follower. I don't like a lot of structure. However, if there is a system in place, I'm more likely to stay focused to completion. The old saying goes, "if you want something repeated—systematize it." The same is true for completion. You'll be more focused for progress if you develop a system to get you from start to finish. In fact, if someone tells me focus is a problem for them, I almost always encourage them to first look at their system of doing work.

Do you have a problem with focus? What helps you stay focused? 

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. He is passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Ron Edmondson) Vision Thu, 25 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
What to Do When Your Team Can’t Trust Its Leader http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/21227-what-to-do-when-your-team-can-t-trust-its-leader http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/21227-what-to-do-when-your-team-can-t-trust-its-leader

There have been plenty of stories recently about pastors and other ministry leaders failing or falling from grace. This isn't one of those stories.

This post is about pastors and leaders with teams who don't trust them to keep their word. Keep in mind, these aren't bad people, and I'm not talking about outright liars. I'm talking about leaders who've spent so many years changing their minds, making rash decisions, or back-pedaling, that their closest friends and employees cannot trust their decisions anymore.

It happens for a number of reasons:

1. They may be people-pleasers and say what people want to hear—even though they have no intention of following through.

2. They make impulsive decisions and later realize what they said wasn't smart.

3. They make decisions without getting good advice and have to back-pedal later.

4. They get caught up in the emotion of the moment and make decisions or public statements they later regret. (Are you listening, Pentecostal leaders?)

Ministry consultant and blogger Tony Morgan says: "We need to make sure we deliver on our word. If we can't or don't plan to follow through, we shouldn't say it. The problem is that leaders are people pleasers. We're afraid to tell the truth if the truth might cause someone to dislike us. In the long run, though, I'd much rather deal with dislike than foster distrust."

One of the most insightful leadership experts in the church today is Dr. Sam Chand. He's written an excellent book called Cracking Your Church's Culture Code. Get the book. Any leader can find an enormous amount of information in that book about trust and how to create a powerful organizational culture. Sam says:

  • Everything rises and falls on trust.
  • Trust is the currency of human interaction.
  • Trust happens daily between people and organizations at all levels.
  • Poor behavior by many leaders in all sectors of life has created a general culture of mistrust.

Here's the bottom line: Your decisions matter because they provide the foundation for how your team performs. If your word can't be counted on, chaos happens because your team has lost its compass.

Stop making decisions based on emotion, impulse or anything other that the right information, serious reflection, experience, prayer and sound advice. Make decisions that can be counted on today, tomorrow and well into the future.

I can guarantee your team will thank you, and the results will be astonishing.

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media strategist and the author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do. Find out more at philcooke.com.

For the original article, visit philcooke.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Phil Cooke) Ministry Leadership Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
The Sweet Spot of Sharing the Christian Message http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21222-the-sweet-spot-of-sharing-the-christian-message http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21222-the-sweet-spot-of-sharing-the-christian-message

We're seeing a lot of criticism recently of pastors, writers, speakers, filmmakers as well as others about how they share the Christian message with the outside culture.

Some are criticized for making it too easy—they lead with the "grace" message and are hesitant to talk about tough issues like sin, hell or punishment. On the other side, those who preach a more serious message about tough subjects are labeled as "out of date," "insensitive" and "hard-core."

I know the debate well because over the years, I've had friends and clients on both sides of the argument. But here's the problem: It's the wrong argument, and here's why:

Today we live in the most distracted culture in the history of the world. There's more competition for people's time and attention than ever. Which means that if you have an important message, your FIRST priority is to get that message heard. I've said many times that no matter how great your message, if no one's listening, you've failed. Getting a person to walk in the door of a church, turn on a radio or TV program, buy a book, or find you online is absolutely critical. Without that, there's no impact, and no transformation.

That's where having a bit of openness and grace comes in. I'll give people a wide berth when it comes to getting folks in the door. Will contemporary music help? Fine. How about a more professional presentation? Great. Valuing people's time by keeping the service moving? No problem. Having hipper graphic designs or video presentations? I'm all for it. After all, why drive them away before you have the opportunity to present the message? It's not about bait and switch—it's simply creating an atmosphere and environment other people (not necessarily us) want to experience. And we start by not making choir robes, drums, concert lighting, music styles, or the pastor's wardrobe a theological or doctrinal issue.

So, while I obviously wouldn't excuse everything, the bottom line is: Let's do our best to get them in the door. Jesus was brutally honest (the woman at the well), provocative (when religious leaders caught the woman in adultery), unafraid of the spectacular (the loaves and fishes), outrageous (with the money changers in the temple) and amazing (when He healed the sick). He was a master at communicating and preparing people to hear his message.

But when it came to delivering that message, Jesus was unafraid to speak the truth. He did it with sensitivity and discernment, yet showed us that we do no favors by pulling punches. Study after study indicates that this generation is serious, they want to find purpose in their lives, and they want to make an impact. Social media is filled with millions of people pursuing great social and humanitarian causes. Rarely have we ever had audiences so interested in hearing about reality. Which explains why I've seen no proof that avoiding the hard questions hurts your message.

Don't drop the ball on getting them ready to listen, but then don't drop it when it comes to delivering the Truth.

It's not about either/or—it's about both/and. Unless it's taken to excess of course, it's rare that either side is completely wrong—however in most cases, they're only half right—because slanting either way ultimately undermines your impact and your message. But the right balance is what it will take to change people's lives and impact today's culture.

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media strategist and the author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do. Find out more at philcooke.com. For the original article, visit pastors.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Phil Cooke) Preaching Tue, 23 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
5 Ways Leaders Must Guard Their Minds http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21221-5-ways-leaders-must-guard-their-minds http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21221-5-ways-leaders-must-guard-their-minds

Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. And leaders are definitely thinkers. Your mind is a special gift from God. It's one of the most important tools in a leader's arsenal.

Your mind can potentially store 100 trillion thoughts, yet the average person only uses 3½ million thoughts a year. We only use about 10 percent of our mental (or brain) capacity.

While our minds can be the epicenter of creative and influential leadership, our minds are also battlegrounds that must be guarded. All moral failure begins in the mind. 1 Pet. 1:13 says, "Prepare your minds for action. Be self-controlled." Notice that self-control and mental preparation go together. God says that the self-controlled person is the mentally fit person. We can love God with our minds. We've often talked about loving God with our hearts but God says we can love Him with our mind. I believe that God wants you to make the most of your mind. As that commercial says, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

We battle an old sinful nature that often clouds our thinking. We live in a world that bombards us with false and counterfeit philosophies. And we have an enemy who is constantly on the prowl seeking to devour us. So how do we guard our minds well? Control what you allow in.

Second Corinthians 10:5 says, "Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." The Bible is very specific in giving us five threats we are to guard our minds against. Share this list with your staff members and the key leaders of your church.

We are to guard our minds against false teaching. Doctrinal errors, being diverted from the gospel, will ruin our minds. Scripture talks about "the faith once delivered to the saints." That means it's been around. The message of the gospel has never changed. I often say at Saddleback, "If it's new, it's not true." So we're to guard our minds against false teachings and false religions.

How do we do that? By knowing the truth. If you know the truth, you can instantly spot a lie. Treasury agents are trained to detect counterfeit not by handling counterfeit bills. They give them real bills and study them so well that when a counterfeit piece of currency is put in their hands, they immediately know that it's fake.

We are to guard our minds against temptation. The Bible says in Matt. 26:41 that we are to "Watch and pray to avoid temptation." Psalm 101:3 says "I will set no wicked thing before my eyes." That's a good verse to put on your television, your computer screen, and even your mobile devices. A.W. Tozer said, "America has lost its ability to blush." If we're going to guard our mind, we have to guard what we watch and look at online because it causes temptation.

The Bible says very clearly that sin starts with a thought. You sow a thought, you reap an action. You sow an action, you reap a habit. You sow a habit you reap a character. And bad character destroys you. The mind is a strategic battlefield, and if Satan can get your thought life, he's going to get you. So those harmless fantasies are not harmless at all. We are to guard our minds against temptation.

When I start to feel tempted, I often say, "Lord, I mentally put on the helmet of salvation that scripture talks about in Ephesians 6:17." The battle is in the mind. What does a helmet do? It protects your mind. It's saying, "Lord, I want You to cover my mind with Your blood. I will be guarding my mind from temptation."

We are to guard our minds against counterfeit spiritual experiences. The people who don't do this end up in cults. Gal. 1:6-8 says even if an angel comes and tells you something different than what the Word of God says you're not to believe him. I believe the Holy Spirit works calmly and deliberately. There are a number of Scriptures you can look up that will help you guard against counterfeit spiritual experiences, and remember that Scripture is objective truth, which is always authoritative over our subjective experiences.

We are to guard our minds against pride. Pride is the sin that God judges quicker than any other, and it's the real root of many other kinds of sin in our lives. Pride is the sin that resulted in Satan being kicked out of heaven. As a leader, this is a temptation because people will tell you things that will puff you up. I say praise and criticism are like bubble gum, You chew on them but you don't swallow them. The right attitude is to have an attitude of humility.

Philippians tells us to "Have the mind of Christ who, even though being like God, took on Himself the form of a servant." He humbled Himself. So we're to guard against a prideful mind.

We are to guard against an overworked mind. This is one of the greatest areas of failure, I believe, for pastors. We strain our minds too much. This can cause failure in your life.

The constant study, the constant reading, the constant dealing with people overworks your mind, and it lowers your ability to make sound judgments. Jesus told His disciples in Mark 6:31, "Come apart with Me for a while," or you're going to come apart. We need to guard our minds from an overworked mind.

Epic failure begins in small ways in the mind. Your influence and your impact as a leader are too important to allow poor mental habits or sinful thinking to ruin your ministry. No matter what, guard your mind.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, please visit pastors.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Rick Warren) Vision Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Fasting in the Life of a Pastor http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/personal-character/21220-fasting-in-the-life-of-a-pastor http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/personal-character/21220-fasting-in-the-life-of-a-pastor

Pastor, when is the last time you practiced a day of fasting? When is the last time you spent a season of fasting for three days, 10 days or longer?

What is Fasting?

Fasting is abstinence from food with a spiritual goal in mind. It is when we deny ourselves the most natural thing in order to pursue the God of heaven to do something supernatural in our life. When a pastor engages this age-old biblical principle, he will wake up and experience revival.

I received an email last week from a pastor whose life was transformed by fasting. He had come across my book, The Power of Prayer and Fastingand implemented it in his life and ministry. His testimony was strong. I have written on this subject for many years and am still amazed at the testimonies I receive about how God uses fasting in the lives of others.

What Fasting Means to Me

As the sightless man whose only response to Jesus was, "Once I was blind, but now I see," I can say I have been changed inside and out by prayer and fasting. I am not the same man, the same pastor, the same husband, or the same father I once was. Fasting and prayer have been a gateway through which God has done supernatural things in my life, my family's life, and in my ministry. This gives credit only to the power of God. I am more convinced than ever that this miraculous gateway to God's supernatural intervention in the life of the believer is not exclusively reserved for a select few. It is the power of God available to everyone who trusts Jesus.

While I began practicing fasting in college, God has developed it in my life and ministry continually. I have been on all kinds and lengths of fasts. While I will not discuss them in this article, I will testify to you that God is always faithful to me when I fast.

He sees me through the journey. He speaks to me in the midst of the journey. He blesses me because of the journey.

What Fasting Can Do For You

Let me share three things fasting can do for you. Please know that you do not fast for the purpose of these, but to pursue the Lord personally.

Fasting Helps You Focus on the Lord

When we fast with the purest of heart, it brings our focus onto the Lord completely. I have found that the greater my need for this, the more it happens.

When you take the time to place your focus on the Lord alone, God steps into your life right there. Fasting makes us realize our great weakness in life; therefore, we lean with all we have in fasting toward the Lord.

As we refocus our life on the Lord alone, the voices of others are not quite as loud in our ears, but the Lord's voice resounds clearly.

Fasting Exposes Sin in Your Life

Fasting has a way to bring such focus on the Lord Himself that we view His holiness in a new way. When we are moved to this great attribute of the Lord, we also become very aware of our sinfulness.

When Isaiah saw the Lord, he saw Him as holy. As soon as he was aware of God's holiness, he saw himself as sinful (Is. 6:5).

When the searchlight of God's holiness is upon us, it exposes our weakness and sin. Deep within each of us, things build up that we get used to living with. This sin becomes our frame of reference. This can move us to even more sin.

Fasting removes the scales of deception about ourselves and our lives. When this happens, we are moved to great confession and repentance of sin.

Fasting Revives Us Spiritually

Once our focus is back upon the Lord and our sin is exposed, resulting in us repenting, fasting revives us spiritually. We begin to experience a fresh manifestation of God's presence in our lives. A time of refreshing comes.

What is revival? It is the manifested presence of God in our lives. It is when we allow our heavenly Father to be free to live in and through us, move us, and shape us into the image of His Son. True revival will be akin to spiritual seismic activity, shaking us to our core, allowing us to see the profound overtake the profane, with the promise that our lives will never be the same. This is why we must pursue the God of heaven in prayer and fasting.

Pastor, Will You Practice It?

Only the Lord can move you to the place where you see the need for fasting in your life and ministry. It is a decision that only you can make. Fasting is not a hoop you jump through to get God's attention. You have His attention already.

But pastor, if you desire a new intimacy with Christ personally, a fresh power you feel you have not had in a while, or just want to walk in this spiritual discipline of obedience in your life, begin to practice fasting in your life.

From one pastor to another, I do not think you will ever regret fasting. God will meet you at the level of your spiritual desperation.

In these desperate days in the world, we need pastors who are even more desperate to have the power of God upon their lives and ministries.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the senior pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas, has been a pastor for 36 years.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Ronnie Floyd) Personal Character Mon, 22 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
6 Strangleholds With a Death Grip on Your Ministry http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21219-6-strangleholds-with-a-death-grip-on-your-ministry http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21219-6-strangleholds-with-a-death-grip-on-your-ministry

You know that "your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing" (Andy Stanley). You know the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination. You even know Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results."

You know all these things. And at the same time ... you're hesitant to try a new strategy (or shut down an ineffective one). Why? You probably need to break free of strangleholds that have a death grip on your ministry. Here are some of those:

1. The pursuit of problem-free. This delays more ministry than any other stranglehold. Remember, there are no problem-free strategies, systems or solutions. Every strategy, every system and every solution comes with its own set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they'd rather have. See also The Pursuit of Problem Free.

2. Indecision about the best way. Obviously, this stranglehold is related to No. 1. Still, it is motivated differently. If you find yourself stuck even after choosing the set of problems you'd rather have, you are probably dealing with indecision about the best way.

3. Fear of failure. Perhaps your culture doesn't allow courageous tries that sometimes miss the mark. I like to think that "Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something." If you only try things that are guaranteed to succeed, you'll never get far enough from the familiar to break new ground.

4. The lure of compromise. The scariest steps are often the first steps into a new idea. One of the biggest strangleholds is the last step before a new strategy takes flight. The most powerful aspects are often eliminated, because it's too easy to do what's familiar. See also 5 Compromises that Derail Small Group Ministry.

5. Placating the usual suspects. It's too easy to look the other way while the favorite programs and ministries of insiders (the usual suspects) aren't designed to meet the unconnected people. See also Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and The Perils of the Inside Outside Disconnect.

6. The lure of the status quo. Like the proverbial frog in the hot kettle, the easiest stranglehold to be captured by is the lure of the status quo. "Isn't the way we're doing it pretty close to good enough?" Change is hard, and the thought of the work ahead will cause many to put off what must be done. See also Beware the Lure of the Status Quo.

Mark Howell is the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, committed to helping churches launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He's also the pastor of discipleship communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church. You can read Mark's blog at markhowelllive.com or follow him on Twitter.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Mark Howell) Pastoring Mon, 22 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
How Claiming the Credibility of God Helps Your Preaching http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21217-how-claiming-the-credibility-of-god-helps-your-preaching http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21217-how-claiming-the-credibility-of-god-helps-your-preaching

Faith is not created by calling for faith, criticizing the faithless, or aiming for obedience or guilt.

You will only build the faith that changes lives by pointing beyond the believer to the One to be believed. Faith is not created by calling for faith. It is not created by criticizing the faithless. It is not created by aiming for obedience. It is not created by aiming for guilt. It is only evoked by appealing to the credibility of the object of faith.

The object of faith is God Himself. He is the source of any and all resources for the living of the Christian life. "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace" (Rom. 4:16, NASB).

This principle prevails throughout the Bible. If anything is to be by grace, it must be by faith. If it is not by faith, it cannot be by grace. That leaves us with the clear choice of preaching for faith or pursuing a policy that actually leads our people out of the grace of God.

If preaching is to aim for trust-God rather than do-better results, it must be planned for focusing attention on God and His credibility. This leads us to an examination of the credibility of God.

1. Claiming the credibility of God means preaching on the character of God. This kind of preaching is in the indicative mood, emphasizing the reality that is. God is faithful. He is love. He is our Shepherd, our Rock and Fortress. God never changes. He is the loving Father, the Gardener and the King of heaven. All our faith is focused in who God is in His person. To preach the character of God is to claim His credibility.

2. Claiming the credibility of God also involves preaching about His capabilities. What is God able to do? If He cannot act in the lives of believers, our faith will be misplaced. If, however, He is able to do all that is needed, He is worthy of our trust. God is omnipotent, all powerful. He is omniscient, all knowing. He is omnibenevolent, all good and gracious toward mankind. He is able to hear us when we call, in any language. He is able to see us in any need. He is able to speak to us for any instruction. God is able.

3. Claiming the credibility of God calls for preaching about His intentions. Faith is awakened when we realize what God has promised us in Scripture. There are thousands of promises, for every need man can possibly experience. God intends us only good. Jeremiah wrote in 29:11, "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope'" (NASB). This timeless statement is the believer's assurance of God's intention—even for today.

4. Claiming the credibility of God involves preaching about His record. Any person worthy of trust establishes credibility with a positive track record. The Bible records the mighty deeds of God on behalf of His people. It was common in their sermons and psalms for the Hebrews to recount the wonderful works of God for Israel. They never tired of telling those stories over and over again. It was those very stories that gave the Jews courage in the midst of their troubles. So it is with preachers who would have our congregations grow in faith. We must preach God's record.

Let me urge you to commit yourself to trust-God preaching instead of do-better preaching. To do this will require aiming for faith in every aspect of sermon design.

Wayne McDill was born in Texas and has ministered in that state, in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oregon. He has taught at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina since 1989. He teaches courses in Bible Exposition, Speech Communication and Sermon Delivery.

For the original article, visit churchleaders.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Wayne McDill) Preaching Fri, 19 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Why Some Young Ministry Leaders Quit http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/adversity/21216-why-some-young-ministry-leaders-quit http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/adversity/21216-why-some-young-ministry-leaders-quit

For many rising leaders in ministry, the modern messaging of faithfulness is code for futility. Being told that faithful reps are the fastest path to results feels manipulative.

A lot of young leaders just aren't buying it as their fathers did. The message feels too institutional, like a one-directional win for the guy in charge and no one else.

Spending valuable developmental years alongside someone who doesn't embody my future ambitions is too ambiguous. This makes no sense to an expectant generation of all-access leaders. It's like being asked to load up for a long ride in a parked car.

So a new set of questions has emerged for the future-centric leader. But there's also a dark side effect—a dishonesty that some young leaders need to own. For some, trusting in God for their future has been supplanted by all the human elements of career mapping.

For many of our young leaders, there's an unholy urgency to leverage the seen world instead of walking by faith after the unseen. But that is how this generation feels safe about tomorrow. It's facts or flight. And frankly, I can't blame them for the struggle.

Helping young leaders to see that meaning and influence is hidden inside the little behaviors they begrudge is a tough sell. Young leaders need to learn that obscurity is not some type of leadership cancer; that when it comes to spiritual formation, advancement is universally linked to adversity.

Biblical leadership is not about becoming the expert or the executive. It's about being the example. But becoming genuine is an extravagant process, and therein lies the rub. The generation with the most time on its side seems to despise anything that requires time.

I Tim. 4:12 says, "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity" (NIV). The world "example" comes from the Greek word Tupos. It means "to form by a blow or impression of a figure or image—to become the template of something."

Becoming a fixed imprint or image, like the face of a president stamped on a coin, is a violent process. It has to be so for the image to endure. Spiritual formation, or becoming an example, is about getting the image of Christ stamped onto you in such a way that people would recognize Christ's value both in you and on you. The person they first meet and the person they get to know over time are the same person.

The guy who executed Goliath understood this. David knew that fast is slow and slow is fast—that when you push, things slow down. But when you trust, things speed up.

King David was first kid-David. He was part of the sheep police. He medicated his boredom with target practice—plucking bullets from a brook without a single set of eyes there to notice. Killing trees with your sling is a tough way to kill time, especially when you have a passion to kill giants. But that is nothing new.

I've watched young leaders roll their eyes when asked do to things that feel fake. Back in Bible college, my homiletics [preaching class] syllabus said I had to preach a canned sermon to pass the class. So there I stood, sick and sweaty, before a fake congregation asking for a fake response after my fake sermon.

It was an exercise in make-believe.

Two years later I graduated and found my way onto a church staff where I was assigned to the 8 a.m. service. My job was to give announcements between the offering and the sermon. This amounted to first greeting a small crowd of tired-faced church-goers followed by welcoming mythical guests to a service entirely void of visitors.

My emotions told me the whole thing was a waste of my time and talents. I wanted to preach for real instead of experiencing more of the same. But it was my time to "wax on, wax off."

I probably needed someone like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid as my mentor. My punkish little Daniel-san attitudes were raging. I was failing to realize that my public-speaking muscles were slowly but surely being developed.

God was growing an important piece of me in a safe and sterile environment. I was learning how to communicate in a petri dish. But I saw none of this while it was happening. I felt like my passion was in prison. I wanted to say real things to real people. Instead, I was taking snaps against the scout team. I was killing trees, not giants. And it was killing me.

Had it not been for those brief years of "waxing on" and "waxing off," I never would have developed a legitimate skill set for connecting as a communicator. Here's some free advice when someone you respect tells you it is time to wax on andwax off: Do not blow it off. Don't quit.

Grab every opportunity you can, even when it feels small. Trust me, living idle and pessimistic while waiting for the phone to ring with your big break is a bad strategy. Pessimism is nothing more than gravity. The only way to rise above bad mentors and slay boredom is by practicing passion.

Go after small assignments to speak, communicate, write—no matter what it is. Do it for free.

Take the stuff nobody wants. Do not despise small things (see Zech. 4:10).

And smile big while doing it ... like you know something nobody else in the room does. If there's even one shred of activity tucked inside the assignment that smells like the future, don't think twice.

Just take it.

Scott Hagan and his wife, Karen, are the founding pastors of Real Life Church in Sacramento, California. Scott is also a regular columnist for Charisma magazine and the Enrichment Journal. He has authored two books through Charisma House: They Walked With the Savior and They Felt the Spirit's Touch.

For the original article, visit scotthagan.org.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Scott Hagan) Adversity Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Delivering the Message: How It is Done is Just as Important http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21214-delivering-the-message-how-it-is-done-is-just-as-important http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21214-delivering-the-message-how-it-is-done-is-just-as-important

Now before you crucify me for heresy, let me explain. My father was a pastor back in the 1950s and 1960s, and compared to today, getting his message out was easy.

Church was a big part of life back then, and the distractions were very few. But, what about today?

Here's a few stats to put it in perspective:

  • The average cable network has 180 channels—some up to 500 channels.
  • Facebook has more than a billion users.
  • Social media is now the No. 1 activity on the web.
  • Some researchers indicate that the average person is bombarded with 5,000 media message every day.
  • You can hardly go anywhere on the planet without receiving some type of signal—cell, wifi, radio, TV, short wave, etc.

The challenge you face today is competition. Hyper competition. Which means that with so many choices out there for a person's attention, how your message is delivered is more important than ever.  My experience is that it only takes a few seconds to decide what TV program to watch and it only takes 1 second to decide which online article to read.

Delivery matters today—and it's not just about media. I have a friend who refuses to visit a dentist. It's not about the treatment or even the pain. But an incompetent dentist in the past keeps him from ever trying it again. There are millions of those stories related to bad experiences purchasing a product, attending church, and more.

There are simply a million reasons for people to do something else rather than watch your TV program or movie, read your book, blog, or article, listen to your sermon or hear your presentation.

What about your delivery could you improve so that your chances of success go up?

What can you do to make it easier to watch, listen to, or read your message?

How can you increase your audience's desire?

How can you get on their radar?

How can you make it urgent?

Think about it: Master your content and be an expert. But even genius won't matter if you don't have an audience. It doesn't matter how great the message—if there's nobody listening, watching, or reading, you've failed.

Simple as that.

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media strategist and the author of One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do. Find out more at philcooke.com.
For the original article, visit philcooke.com.
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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Phil Cooke) Preaching Thu, 18 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400