What is the one thing that holds most leaders (and the organizations they lead) back?
It's simple: the unwillingness to make a really hard decision.
Most leaders know the decisions that need to be made, the hard conversations that need to be had, the programs that need to be done away with or the people who need to be replaced. They simply lack the courage to do it.
The movie A River Runs Through It is narrated by Norman, one of the main characters. He makes this statement about his father, a minister:
"My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy."
While we rightly view grace as a free gift, grace always costs someone something.
Jesus replied, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?"— John 14:9
Knowing God personally is the greatest satisfaction a human can have while living on earth. What a privilege to be able to talk and spend time with the one who created us! And yet there are times in our lives when we don't strive to be truly satisfied in the Lord. Leaders always have to be on guard against callousness when it comes to their personal faith in Jesus. Head knowledge, education, and work experience do not equal intimacy. Instead, intimacy involves a meaningful friendship with Jesus where deep secrets, struggles, and successes are shared. What results is an extension of his life in their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
But what if our hearts are calloused and hardened, wrapped in protection much like an artichoke? We first must realize that we cannot, in our own power, fix the problem. Secondly, we have to be willing to discard our pride and re-surrender our lives to the Lord. Only he can peel away our layers of protection so we can be changed for his glory. He knows our hearts even when it's hiding behind the artichoke leaves.
The twelve disciples had life experiences unlike any of us will ever have. They were able to spend time daily with Jesus, walking, talking, and watching him perform countless miracles. Even with their proximity to the Lord, they still didn't understand who he was. Jesus' question to Philip in John 14:9 is one that he asks his followers today. Just replace Philip's name with yours. At the same time, Jesus says to us, "Come and know me. Really know who I am." It's a call of hope, of rest, of excitement that cannot be easily forgotten.
Not now. Not ever. Can you hear that call to intimacy with Jesus today?
My wife loves to put together jigsaw puzzles. I’m not patient enough to always help, but I do try as much as I can stand it. A couple of Sundays we were on the back porch and I was watching Georgie put a puzzle together.
Here are three lessons the church can learn:
1. You have to look at the big picture first. She always starts with the box in front of her. When she can see the big picture, she can then start to put the pieces together. In the church world, always start with the big picture. The Great Commission and the vision God has given your church should be the backbone of everything.
Every once in a while, someone comes up with a new wrinkle on church headaches.
A young pastor friend wrote to say the church he now serves went through a split a year or so before he arrived, and the smaller congregation struggles to keep up with the financial needs. Presently, they are running a deficit of perhaps $10,000 a year, forcing them to draw on reserves.
The church has a number of fixed expenses, he says, such as utilities and insurance that cannot be cut. Even if they eliminated all literature and supplies, the deficit would still not be covered. His suggestion is that they cut his salary by $10,000 a year. The leadership refuses.
A lot of times we can get into the results game or the comparative game and lose sight of what matters most. We think if only I had that building, that equipment, more staff or more money, then we would be able to do ministry better.
I’ve learned that if you start playing that game it’ll never end. You will always feel like you can do better ministry with more. I think we all know this but sometimes need to be reminded.
God has us where we are, for the work He has for us to do.
My mentor, John Maxwell, has written and spoken about being mentored by the great coach John Wooden among others. I recently received a question by email asking, “How does one go about getting the greatest NCAA coach (John Wooden) as a mentor?
"Did he (Maxwell) just ask for regular meetings and what does mentorship look like?”
I will admit that getting John Wooden as a coach is an extraordinary circumstance involving an extraordinary leader. But on the other hand, John Maxwell didn’t start there.
It was only after nearly 30 years of successful leadership that John was able to connect with Coach Wooden. It was John’s desire to grow and his great passion to add value to people’s lives that made the difference. The fact that John is a tremendous student is also a very significant part of the story.
Over the years I’ve wondered which is more important—to have a great mentor or to be a great student? The easy answer is both. But more and more, I think the secret is in being a great student. You can have the most brilliant mentor in the world, even a famous one, but if you aren’t ready to pay the price, dig in, learn and change, it won’t matter.
I love John’s early stories about offering to pay $100 for an hour of someone’s time just to ask questions and learn. Back then, $100 might as well have been $1,000! But that didn’t matter to John. That showed how serious he was, and at age 65, John is still passionate about learning and growing. I think that’s one of the reasons his books and talks are so good. They come not only from (now) 40 years of experience, but also from a fresh place of learning and relevancy.
In contrast, I’ve seen men and women receive an hour or so of someone’s time and show up ill-prepared. They had no written questions. They talked more than listened and expressed very little gratitude. It was almost as if they had some time to kill and thought that might be fun. When you do that to a busy person, they will not give you a second meeting.
So, do you want a mentor? Let me offer some good advice.
1. Be good at something first. This might sound strange, but you need to be good at something before you ask someone to help you be great at something. You can be good at anything! That doesn’t matter. You may want to be a great leader and your only claim to fame is that you are really good at golf or giving a talk. Maybe you are brilliant at math or a technological genius type. Here’s the point: If you are good at something, you have shown the passion and discipline to create the needed potential to become great at what you really want. I don’t want to discourage you, but if you’ve just been hanging out and you’ve never worked hard at anything, you’re not ready for a mentor. Perhaps you’re a young adult and your only claim to fame is that you were an A student in college. Great! That’s what I’m talking about. Get good at something first.
2. Seek someone just a little ahead of you. A common mistake is to think, “If I’m going for a mentor, I’m going right to the top and getting the best.” I appreciate the sentiment, but you are likely making a mistake. For example, if a pastor who serves in a church of 500 seeks a mentor who pastors a church of 5,000, the two of them clearly live in two different worlds and they barely speak the same language. Yes, leadership principles are leadership principles. That’s true, but trust me on this, and this is the key: You are much better off being mentored by someone who understands where you are because they were there at one time, and maybe even not so long ago! If you lead a church of 500, try to get a mentor who leads a church of 800 to 1,200. This is not a legalistic thing. Don’t get hung up on the numbers; just go with the idea. And of course, make the ask.
3. Think intentionally organic. Don’t ask for lots of regularly scheduled meetings. You will likely lose a potential mentor that way. Don’t ask for monthly or even quarterly connects. Go for a more intentionally organic approach. Here’s what I mean. If you can hang with a couple meetings (phone or in person) a year plus a few short emails, you might be surprised by how quickly you get a yes. Intentional refers to staying strategic and on purpose, and the organic simply means to catch the meetings when it works out naturally in both your schedules.
You don’t need lots of meetings, not if you really want to change and grow. Information requires lots of meetings—transformation requires only a few. If you connect with a good mentor two or three times in a year, that is plenty. It will take you at least that much time between conversations to really put to practice what was given to you. Now let’s do the math. If you have two or three mentors, you can see that would be six to nine meetings a year—basically way too much.
Note No. 1: When it’s a boss/employee relationship, of course you meet much more often, but much of that is just “doing business.” That’s natural and normal. It is unrealistic to think that’s all mentoring. In fact, if it is, you are likely into something closer to a counseling relationship than coaching and mentoring.
Note No. 2: When it’s a crisis situation, everything changes. If it’s a true crisis, your mentor will get that and quickly respond, and that requires more time. Sometimes in those situations I encourage the one I’m coaching to hire a consultant who can devote the needed time, and I remain as chief encourager during that crisis time.
4. Work harder than your mentor. Don’t waste your mentor’s time. Show up with well-thought-through and relevant questions. Take notes. Work hard to practice what was discussed, and the next time you talk, tell him or her what you have done.
A good mentor will always have some questions, a resource or two, and good advice, but the mentoring is more your job than his/hers. You set the agenda and come with it in writing. If your mentor asks you to do something, make the necessary adjustments, but do it. This does not prevent healthy disagreements and intense conversations, but you either want their advice or you don’t. If you don’t, that’s OK, but then stop taking their time, and end the mentoring relationship with respect and gratitude.
I’ve been blessed with five mentors over the course of my life, and I’m grateful! I’m sure that’s part of the reason I’m eager to coach as many as I can. I trust that you will also pass on what is given to you.
Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., listed in Outreach magazine as the No. 1 fastest-growing church in America in 2010. He has worked closely with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY. His semi-monthly e-newsletter, The Pastor’s Coach, is distributed to more than 40,000 subscribers. Dan is the author ofAmplified Leadership, released in January 2012.
I heard the story again last week. A pastor I know announced his resignation. No moral failure. No severe crisis at the church. No major family problems. No sickness. He was simply burned out. That’s how he described it. He said he had gotten to the point that he was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.
So he quit, without another job. His church family was stunned.
I admit I haven’t seen recent statistics on pastoral burnout but, at least anecdotally, it’s high. It seems that hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear another story of a burnout victim in pastoral ministry.
Prayer and fasting is one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines in the life of the pastor. We know that prayer and fasting was not only a part of the lifestyle of many major leaders in the Scripture, but even in the life of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I want to focus on prayer and fasting in the life of the pastor.
What Is It?
Fasting is abstinence from food with a spiritual goal in mind.It is when you neglect the most natural thing your body desires, which is food, in order to pursue the God of heaven to do something supernatural in your life. Prayer and fasting is not a hoop you jump through in order to try to catch the attention of God. It is far more significant than a self-determined tactic to get God’s attention. We cannot manipulate God.
Teaching people about Jesus through the Scriptures is one of my favorite things to do. But over the years, I’ve discovered bad habits that I had to overcome.
If you teach at all, I’d guess that you struggle with things like this too. So I thought it might be helpful to list a few things we tend to do that I believe to be outside of our “job description” as teachers.
I gave you your master's house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the LORD and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife.— 2 Samuel 12:8-9
The life of King David was filled with numerous triumphs, conquests, and successes. He single-handedly took down Goliath with a sling and a stone. He wrote many of the psalms from which we find comfort in our times of difficulty. He presided over the nation of Israel and was considered by many to be its greatest leader.
David also learned a harsh lesson about the importance of trust. While sitting on his rooftop one day (when he should have been at war), he saw Bathsheba bathing and sent for her. This act led to adultery, the murder of Uriah the Hittite, and a cover-up of the whole situation. Only when the prophet Nathan confronted David about his actions did the king ask God for forgiveness. However, the Lord did not let David off easy. The child he fathered with Bathsheba died, there was a constant threat of murder in his family, and his son Absalom caused David problems until he was killed in battle.
When someone is trusted with a leadership role, they are given the opportunity to use their talents, time, and influence for causes bigger than themselves. As they make good decisions while showing integrity and concern for others, they earn trust. John Maxwell likens this to putting change in their pocket. However, when they betray that trust, it becomes difficult to regain. In addition, the leader has to pay some of their change back to the people. When one runs out of change, trust is gone. And when trust is gone, the leader ceases to be a leader.
King David's story should serve as a reminder of the importance of trust and how quickly it can disappear. Allow God to mold and refine your character so that your decisions will inspire others to trust your abilities.
Having planted two churches and now working with church planters on a regular basis in a coaching capacity, I know first hand the fears associated with the situation. It’s a leap of faith and one God is calling many to these days.
My theory here is that recognizing the fear and realizing their legitimacy is part of guarding our hearts against them. The fact remains that for a church plant to be successful, at least in Kingdom terms, God must provide His grace.
Here are 5 legitimate fears of church planters:
I just got off the phone with a good friend. He is in a situation where the leader of his congregation is abusing the power that God has given him. As we talked about this I said, “Often a leader will surround himself with weak, yes-men, so no one will ever challenge him. Other gifted, strong leaders will be pushed aside, even though they could help build the vision, because the leader is threatened.”
My friend added, “In the end, he becomes the emperor with no clothes. And no one will tell him.”
Here are four ways to keep from becoming an insecure, abusive leader that produces little or rotten fruit.
For more than 30 years now, through three churches and a season of church consulting, I’ve keep two unique files. One is titled Beefs. The other is titled Bouquets. It may sound a little strange, but it has proven to be a great tool for reflection on both sides of a life given to ministry.
Ministry always has two sides, and much like God’s Word, there is grace and law. Most of us prefer the former over the latter, but they both represent an equally important part of reality.
I was recently watching a History Channel special on the days of 9/11. They highlighted many of the issues and misconceptions they feel contributed to the disaster.
I think the church could learn some valuable lessons from those.
1. It can happen to us. The U.S. had gotten to the point where it felt it were protected “by the great bodies of water” that bordered its country. So it never seriously considered a group could infiltrate to that level.
We’ve all seen it before. The team meeting went exceptionally well and everyone is energized by ideas that could greatly improve the church.
But only six months later, conversations about “What will happen when … ?” have degenerated into “What ever happened to … ?” The initiative that once had everyone excited eventually landed in the “graveyard of good ideas.”
There are a few common reasons why good ideas fail. Understanding those barriers is key to ensuring they never get in the way again …
In their return to Saddleback Church after the death of their son, Pastor Rick and Kay Warren share the very personal story of Matthew and his battle with mental illness. They explore the stages of loss that they are walking through with honesty and transparency, teaching us how to do the same in the tough and tragic times of our lives; reminding us that through it all, God is with us and loves us; and urging us to follow Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6—to comfort others in their troubles as God comforts us.
When studying church history, some of the most fascinating individuals we meet are the martyrs. These are the untold multitudes who, when given a simple opportunity to deny Christ, found it easier to stand for their faith and die rather than disavow the One who was sacrificed in their stead.
They faced agony and torture of a magnitude that so few of us can comprehend. They were flogged, impaled, crucified, eaten by lions, forced to fight to the death in coliseums and decapitated.
Were they not like us? Would they not have loved to live lives of peace and prosperity in the name of Christ instead? Would they not have loved to sit in our beautiful air-conditioned edifices with state-of-the-art sound, lights and videography?
In the 1990s, Peter Wagner published The Healthy Church, a book describing several diseases that churches sometimes exhibit. Some of his descriptions are quite helpful (e.g., koinonitis = excessive, inward fellowship), and the list itself challenges readers to come up with their own descriptions.
Here are 10 diseases I see as I consult with unhealthy churches around the country: