Every leader faces overwheming moments. Elijah had one of those moments after he faced and killed the entire squadron of Baal prophets while simultaneously calling the people of Israel back into right relationship with God.
Elijah did everything right, but he was completely worn out. There are times in ministry when you just have too many critical issues at once. These times can wear you out.
So, how do you recharge and maintain stability in the maelstrom of ministry?
As neuroscientists have shown in recent years, the very best leadership skills are rooted in how people think, in how our brains are constructed and how they operate. Our brains are designed to work in specific ways, in specific conditions, with specific requirements. When those conditions are met, smart and talented people flourish. They win.
On the other hand, when those conditions are not met, they flounder and do not perform up to their potential. It turns out that it really is all in your head—that is, your brain. It will not work well when leaders are doing things that inhibit brain functioning, or are leading teams and organizations in ways that literally make it impossible for people’s brains to work to their full potential. Let's take a look at how and why we need focused attention, positivity, unity, control and other factors in order to excel.
I get asked all the time by young leaders “How do you handle the responsibility of leading something like Catalyst?” Good question.
Reality is, anyone who leads a church, a company, a community, a nonprofit ministry, a team or even a family feels and knows the pressure of responsibility. And responsibility is part of leadership. Always.
You’ve heard this before, "You’re responsible for what happens. Don’t screw up!" Right! We hear this all the time from our parents, our boss, our board, our friends, and from our spouse.
I get asked frequently: “Pastor, how do you get so much done and still take care of yourself and your family?”
Honestly, I never feel I’ve accomplished as much as I would like, but after receiving the question so many times, perhaps I should attempt to answer.
I do have a lot of responsibility. I pastor a large church undergoing transition and change. I have an active (some would say over-active) online presence. I blog regularly to a growing audience and interact daily with my readers. I maintain a separate nonprofit ministry I’ve managed for more than 10 years where I provide consulting and teaching to pastors and churches.
I’m helping churches (and businesses now) get unstuck. It’s been an amazing journey.
Though I’m engaging leadership and strategic planning solutions that I’ve used for years, I’m also very much in the middle of launching a startup business.
Because I’m wired up to be entrepreneurial, I absolutely love it! But, at the same time, I’m also very aware of my responsibility to be the provider for my family. There is definitely risk involved. I’m reminded of it every time my family sits down at the dining room table to eat.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.— Genesis 50:20
Everyone faces adversity from time to time. A person is fired from his or her job. Bills are due, but there's no money to pay them with. A beloved family member dies. How we handle these situations can say a lot about our faith in the Lord.
In the case of Joseph, his problems began the moment he fell for his brothers' "we've got a really neat pit to show you" trick. They sold him as a slave to Ishmaelites passing through the area in an attempt to rid themselves of "the dreamer" (see Genesis 37:19). Eventually, Joseph was able to gain a good standing with Potiphar and was placed in charge of his house. But later, Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph and falsely accused him of adultery. Joseph ended up in prison as a result.
Joseph had plenty of opportunities to cry out about the injustice he was facing. He had chances to complain about the treatment he had received from his brothers. He could have become bitter when the king's cupbearer was released from prison and forgot about him. These actions and attitudes would have reduced Joseph to hopelessness.
Instead, Joseph allowed himself to be used by God to interpret Pharaoh's dream. Pharaoh removed him from prison and placed him in charge of Egypt, where he organized a plan to store grain before the famine occurred. Finally, Joseph was reunited with his brothers. What was intended for bad was used by God for good.
Obstacles have the ability to take us out of contention, but we also have the opportunity to rise above them. We can cry, complain, and live in misery because of our struggles. Or we can react like Joseph--allowing God, in his timing, to bring something good out of our circumstances. Are you allowing God to help you land on your feet?
I’m often asked, “When should I leave a church or ministry team? How bad does it have to get?”
I respond, “Who sent you to the church you presently attend?” The majority of the time they answer, “God did.”
“If God sent you,” I reply, “do not leave until God releases you. If the Lord is silent, He is often saying, ‘Don’t change a thing. Do not leave. Stay where I have placed you!’”
When God does instruct you to leave, you will go out with peace, no matter what the condition of the ministry: "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace" (Is. 55:12, KJV). Therefore, your departure will not be based on the actions or behavior of others, but rather on the Spirit’s leading.
In the aftermath of the tragic suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew, another tragedy is occurring. So-called followers of Jesus are using Matthew’s death as an occasion to attack Pastor Warren. This is sick, ugly—and sadly—indicative of the state of the body today.
It’s one thing for non-believers to make ridiculous statements like, “your son died due to your anti-gay hate toward gay people including your son” (as if there was even evidence that Matthew was gay, or as if he was not greatly loved by his mother and father, which he clearly was). It’s another thing when believers take this occasion to bash Rick Warren’s supposed theological errors, as if this was some kind of divine payback for his alleged sins. What kind of garbage is this?
Nearly all pastors and ministry staff, volunteer leaders too, lean a little more toward evangelism or discipleship (one or the other) in their personal bent and wiring. According to Matthew 28:19-20 they are both essential and should not be separated, so neither is better than the other.
I believe that the church (in North America for sure), naturally moves toward discipleship on its own; therefore we need to intentionally fight for evangelism. But that’s my personal opinion.
Easter is a good picture of the balance of both. For weeks we build toward Easter Sunday. We run a full-court press for evangelism. Then what? Is it over? What’s your plan? Is it business as usual, or do you take advantage of that great momentum?
Saddleback didn’t have an organized youth ministry until we had 500 in attendance at the church. We didn’t have a singles ministry until we had 1,000 people in attendance.
And I’m glad we didn’t.
It’s not because those ministries aren’t important. They’re vital! But God hadn’t provided anyone to lead them. Never create a ministry position and then fill it. It’s backwards. Your most critical component to a new ministry isn’t the idea to start it—it’s the leadership of the ministry. Every ministry rises and falls on leadership. Without the right leader, a ministry will just stumble along. It may even do more harm than good. I could tell you some horror stories about poorly-led ministries.
Be patient and trust God’s timing. Don’t try to outrun or outthink Him. The staff at Saddleback never starts new ministries. We may suggest an idea but we let the idea percolate until God provides the right person to lead it.
There’s nothing more challenging interpersonally than dealing with a serious conflict with someone on your church staff or a volunteer in a key position in your ministry.
The temptation would be to let time heal it or hope that the tension simply goes away on its own. But fight those feelings because conflict in the church, especially on a team, has to be dealt with well in order for genuine progress to be made.
Can’t we all just get along? Actually, no, and that’s probably a good thing because it forces us to tackle conflict in a God-honoring manner. Here are some steps to move toward resolution when you find yourself in conflict with someone on staff.
Authentic leaders have to be approachable and real. Over the years at Catalyst, we’ve tried to be authentic as an organization and as a leadership movement. We strive to be available, answering e-mails quickly, and even posting our e-mails on our website. We’ve maintained a concierge service since we started Catalyst that made following up with folks and connecting personally a priority. It’s incredibly important to us that we are authentic, humble, and personable. No matter how big our organization gets, we want to maintain this essential trait.
I try my best to be personable, even as Catalyst continues to grow. When you are in a hurry or think someone isn’t worth your time, remember that you were once in that position. One piece of advice I tell leaders all the time is when you’re small, act big. And when you’re big, act small.
God loves to turn around the things that you think are absolutely hopeless. How does God take a minus and turn it into a plus? How does He take the negative things in our lives that are bad and use them for good? He makes a cross out of them.
Just because God has called you and decided to use you in ministry does not mean that you aren’t ever going to fail. You are going to fail in your ministry sometimes and you’re going to make mistakes. And when you fail, you are still God’s person. You’re still called and you’re gifted and you’re anointed and filled with His Spirit.
What really matters is how you respond to your failures. Coming soon, I want to share with you some right ways to respond to your failures, but for now, I’d like to share with you three ways NOT to respond to your failures …
Blessed are the flexible! There may not be a greater secret to success in serving another person’s ministry.
In the first chapter of my book The Blessing of Serving Another Man’s Ministry, I shared the dramatic encounter I had with God as a young student at Oral Roberts University—and how He revealed His calling to serve another man’s ministry as I crossed the walking bridge from the student parking lot to the ORU campus. God spoke a few weeks later in our chapel service as Dr. Morris Cerullo ministered—that this was the man He had called me to stand by and serve. (You can read more about this here.
When I left the ORU chapel that spring morning, I was certain that after my experience with God, when I called the Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (MCWE) offices, I would immediately be asked to travel and minister with Dr. Cerullo.
Criticism hurts. It hurts to have our motives unfairly called into question. It hurts to diligently prepare and deliver heartfelt sermons, only to be met with skeptical people who nitpick our interpretations of a particular Scripture. And it hurts when we do our best to love and serve our people, only to be misunderstood, unappreciated and questioned in our integrity.
Now granted, this doesn't happen very often; but it doesn't need to happen often—just one or two criticisms can wipe us out and take us from the peak of Mount Hermon to the valley of the Jordan.
So how do we deal with it—at least how do we deal with the unjust criticism? We know how to deal with legitimate criticisms: We humble ourselves, we repair any damage we may have caused, we ask forgiveness, we repent, and then we pick ourselves up and move on. That's not too difficult to deal with. It's the other kind, the unfair, unnecessary kind that takes the wind out of our sails and causes us to question why we ever signed up to serve as pastors. Fortunately for us, Jesus, the Pattern Son, modeled five ways of handling criticism.
I’m finishing my fourth year as an itinerant preacher and have been the beneficiary of some great (i.e., generous, encouraging) love offerings and the victim of no poor offerings. (That was a good place to have said I’ve been victimized by some unscrupulous pastors or lay leaders, but thankfully, I haven’t. Every check given to me has been more than I deserved and well appreciated.)
On the other hand, I’ve seen the other side of it. I regret to say that a time or two, when I was pastoring, my church was struggling financially and we gave the guest preacher far, far less than he deserved.
Every minister understands this. If a church does all it can, that’s all anyone can ask. On the other hand, some have some funny ways of doing the Lord’s business.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.— Philippians 4:8
The human brain is an amazing component of our bodies. With it, we are able to sense, to recognize, to understand, and to remember countless things. Our brains keep track of countless important details (like heartbeats) that keep us alive. All without conscious decisions on our part. Even with the most advanced products of scientific research, we have not been able to rival what has been given to us by God with the gift of life.
One thing we must be careful about is the type of material we give our brains access to. Since the brain is like a sponge, it retains all the information it receives. A few years ago, Denny Gunderson, former president of Youth With A Mission, asked an interesting question: Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were to be shown on a movie screen for all to see?
What we think about can have a very strong impact on the way we handle a situation or view a series of events. Thoughts lead to actions. And, if left unchecked, these can turn into negative character traits rather quickly.
The Lord wants our minds to be pure and useful for the tasks he has planned for us. It is difficult to serve effectively when a person is considering thoughts of revenge, envy, or other wickedness. Paul understood this and challenged the Philippian church to think about things that were honorable, true, lovely, admirable, and worthy of praise. This way, their actions would match their thoughts.
Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were shown on a movie screen for all to see? It's not too late to allow God to perform some "editing" so our thinking is in line with his. The question is whether you are willing to let him do it. Can you take the list from Philippians 4 and note three or four items for each of those traits?
At the risk of not showing honor to peers in ministry, I want to tackle the topic of honor today. I’m concerned. I see a trend in churches that I think is unhealthy. Honestly, I believe it’s also unbiblical.
There are a number of churches today that are trying to teach a culture of honor. The concept of honor is biblical. In fact, Romans 12:10 tells us to:
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (ESV)
We should show honor to our leaders, but God designed it to go both directions. If it’s one-way, it’s unhealthy and unbiblical.
Have you ever heard the phrase “odd man out?” It means you didn’t fit. You don’t measure up for some reason. You were excluded. It hurts.
I’ve been that person numerous times. I get it because I’m pastor sometimes. People assume I can’t also be fun. So they don’t invite me to the party. I experienced it some in business circles. There are haves and have nots in many business circles. I was mostly in the have nots. I’ve even been excluded though for having too much. People assume because I’m not struggling like they are that I probably never have.
We’ve all been excluded at some point in life.