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Friday
Mar172017

My first thought was that it was pretty much over: my speaking, coaching and writing would come to a screeching halt!

My wife Susan and I were in Seattle (February 24-27, 2017) on a ministry trip. It happened Saturday afternoon while I was getting some time with one of the leaders at Downtown Cornerstone, the church that had invited me to invest in some of their leaders and  to preach on Sunday. Little did I know at the moment that the rest of Saturday and Sunday was going to look very different than we had planned.

As this leader and I were wrapping up our time, I was going to pray for him and suddenly realized I couldn’t remember his name. I was clearly foggy in my brain. As we parted and I made my way to the elevator with my room keycard in hand, I didn’t remember what floor we were on or the room number. Clearly something was not right in my head. I went to the desk, showed my ID and they told me what room it was.

Upon entering our hotel room, I shared with Susan that something was wrong. Friends came to the hotel and drove us to the ER at Virginia Mason. The questions came. Do you know what year this is? NO. Do you know what week or day of the week this is? NO. Do you know your phone number or address? NO. What the heck is happening to me?  My mind was just blank. Did I just have a stroke or a blood clot in my brain? Was this the end of the line for me?

They ran all kinds of tests and took more blood than I wished to give them. They did an MRI and a CT scan. Everything came back normal. Then came the diagnosis. You have what is called “Transient Global Amnesia (TGA)” (I’m very glad it’s not “Permanent Global Amnesia!)

I thought to myself: never heard of it. Maybe they just made that up to make me feel a bit better. More information: It usually lasts 12-48 hours, then returns to normal. I had my own questions. What causes TGA? Can I get it again? “We are not sure what causes it, and the chances of it happening again are not likely. I remained in the hospital that night. While I was supposed to be sleeping  (lots of luck with that!) I was googling TGA and didn’t learn much other than that there is more the doctors don’t know than that they do know about it. Thankfully, it resolved overnight.

I had ten hours or so of the TGA experience--scary to say the least. But I’m back and telling people that God shut down my “computer” and rebooted it with new software and a new Intel Chip, or else I would not be able to write as I am at this moment. My mind, believe it or not, seems to me to be better than it was before!

There are a lot of thoughts and ideas that I have been processing, but let me share just two of them.

1. Gratitude to God

I’m sure we’ve heard it said that you don’t appreciate something until you loose it or it’s taken away from you. While in the middle of my ten hours of TGA I began to understand how much I relied on and needed my brain and mind to work well. How could I possibly continue to coach, write, conduct seminars, consult and make a contribution as an elder at my church if I can’t even remember how old I am or what day of the week it is? I am profoundly grateful for the mind the Lord has given me and grateful that what I experienced was transient. But I also realize that at some point I could have permanent amnesia as some do; or get hit with something else which takes me out of the game. After all none of us is going to live forever. It’s not a matter of if, but when, which leads me to my second point.

2.  Sovereignty of God

A few years ago Pastor Mike Coppersmith (with whom I worked at Our Savior’s Community Church in Palm Springs for ten years) gave me Job 23:13, 14 in The Message: “But he is singular and sovereign. Who can argue with him? He does what he wants, when he wants. He will complete in detail what he’s decided about me, and whatever else he determines to do.”

He is in complete control of all the details of my life; TGA and anything else he allows to come my way. I can honestly say that while lying in the hospital bed, I was ready for whatever was going to happen. He has been my shepherd these 57 years as a Christian and has never failed or disappointed me. I was prepared to call it over and live with what I had for the rest of my life without kicking, screaming and arguing with God. In his grace it was “transient,” but who knows what next week or next month will bring. Jesus, Jesus I am resting in the joy of who you are. Amen…and Amen!

 

 

 

Wednesday
Mar152017

7 Questions every church needs to answer!

Many churches in the USA are plateaued, declining and dying. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which can be addressed by asking some essential questions. Brian Howard (on the executive team of Acts 29) gives us seven questions every church needs to answer. Fasten your seatbelt as you read this, asking God for courage to make some changes for church health going forward.

Originally posted by Brian Howard

7 Questions Every Church Needs to Answer

Many churches are little more than social clubs. As a  result, they are completely ineffective in reaching their communities.

No new church starts with the goal of being irrelevant, but over time, churches often lose track of their very reason for existence.

But this irrelevance and ineffectiveness can be reversed when a church invests the time and energy to answer a few key questions, and then creates a vision plan to act on the answers. (Stay with me, Theologues. This exercise is helpful for us also)

Over the past 15 years, I have coached hundreds of pastors and churches through a vision planning process that when properly implemented has the potential to move your ministry into uncharted territories of fruitfulness. Instead of settling for mediocrity, commit to answering these seven questions to move your church forward:

Seriously. Take a day, sit down, and work through these questions.

Question 1: Why Do We Exist?

Why exactly does your church exist? The answer to this question might seem obvious, but few churches have invested the time to answer it. Fewer yet live out their reason for existence.

Jim Collins says Successful, enduring organizations understand the fundamental reason they were founded and why they exist, and they stay true to that reason.”

Successful, enduring organizations understand the fundamental reason they were founded and why they exist, and they stay true to that reason.

What is the fundamental reason your church was founded and exists? Answering this question will keep a church from losing its way and doing all kinds of random things.

Here are a few questions to guide you through this first step:

  • What is the reason that we exist? (The more idealistic, the better)
  • How does the Scripture answer this question?
  • Why do we exist in this particular place and at this particular time?
  • If we didn’t exist, the world would be worse off how?
  • How do we contribute to a better world?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • How do we make our particular community a better place?

Question 2: Who Do We Serve?

Every church should clearly identify and clarify the people it is looking to reach. I have written about this extensively elsewhere. The following two posts will teach you how to determine exactly who your church is committing to serve.

Question 3: What Do We Prioritize?

You know why your church exists. You have identified your target audience. But what are your Core Values? This is not a business question but a theological question.

Core Values are the non-negotiable convictions upon which your church is built. Core values are unchangeable, already exist, and rooted in Scripture.

Here is an example of a Core Value:

Authentic Biblical Community as the commitment and experience of every follower of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:24-25).

If you believed this, it would dramatically affect the way you go about ministry in your church.

Guidelines for Identifying your Core Values

  • Core Values should be rooted in Scripture
  • Limit your Core Values to no more than 5.
  • ExtraEvery leader in your church needs to be committed to living out each of your Core Values. No staff person or leader should be in place who does not completely buy into and live out each Core Value.

Also Read: Three Things Every Lead Pastor Must Do

Question 4: How Will We Know if We Are Successful?

How will we evaluate fruitfulness? What will we measure? I am not asserting that you are in control of conversions or spiritual growth, but will you measure anything in order to know if your ministry is bearing any fruit? Most churches measure attendance and giving, but are these the most important things to measure? I recommend measuring things like:

  • Percentage of Attenders that are Members
  • Percentage of Members in Community Groups
  • Percentage of Members Serving somewhere
  • Number of People Baptized Annually
  • Number of people who have completed discipleship or missional living training.
  • Number of New Leaders Trained and Plugged in

When you define what you will measure, you will by necessity set goals and take strides toward growing in those areas.

Question 5: What Will Our Future Look Like?

What will your Church look like as you live out your Core Values? Describe the future that you see as God works in your church. Create bullet-point statements as you work through your Core Values. Make sure to write each statement in the present tense as though it were already true.  I suggest 15-25 statements that describe your future. Here are some examples:

  • We are known as the most loving and caring people in our city.
  • We partner in global mission aggressively showing mercy to the poor and needy and carrying out the great commission globally.

Question 6: What are our Top 3-5 Goals in the Next 12-18 Months?

Steps 1-5 are all about what you are called to be. Step 6 answers the question, “What are we going to do in order to be?”

To identify your top 3-5 goals, read back through steps 1-5.Why do we exist? Who do we serve? What do we prioritize? What will we measure? Then ask: Where are we failing? What must we begin to work on?

What are you going to do to move these areas forward in the next 12-18 months?

Notes:

  • Goals need to be written down, specific and measurable.
  • Don’t aim too high or too low. If a goal is 100% achievable, then you have not aimed high enough. If a goal is only 40% achievable, then you have aimed too high.

Question 7: What Is Most Important Right Now?

Of your 3-5 goals for the next 12-18 months, what is most important right now – in the next 3-6 months?

Patrick Lencioni calls this a thematic goal. One clear thematic goal that an entire leadership team rallies around right now will help to guide against ministry silos.

Not sure what your top goal should be? Answer the following question:

If we accomplish only one thing in the next _____ months what would that be?

  1. Why Do We Exist?
  2. Who Do We Serve?
  3. What Do We Prioritize?
  4. How Will We Know if We Are Successful?
  5. What Will Our Future Look Like?
  6. What are our Top 3-5 Goals in the Next 12-18 Months?
  7. What Is Most Important Right Now?

Answering these seven questions is important for every church.

Ready to move forward? Get a day on the calendar and get to work!

 

 

Tuesday
Mar142017

Four ways to become a much better leader

I’m going to assume that any leader worth his salt wants to become a better leader by growing in his/her walk with Jesus and, flowing out of that, be the best leader he/she can be. I know I do!

 I am sure that the number of things you could do with those you lead to become a better leader are endless, but here are four with which to start right now!

1.  Inform them

The people you lead will respect your leadership and do excellently if you inform them of the Purpose/Values/Vision and key initiatives your team, group or organization is currently operating from. This gets everyone on the same page and keeps alignment strong and healthy.

Additionally, it has been my experience that people function (and serve) much better when they are clear on what you are asking them to do (a written ministry or job description) and are also clear on your expectations for the role. Spell it out for them in as much detail as necessary and make sure there is adequate understanding. A clear job description and a clear articulation of expectations can also be the basis for future evaluations.

2.  Empower them

Set your people free to do what you have asked them to do. Don’t look over their shoulders or micromanage them. Give them freedom and turn them loose.  The more freedom you give people to do their jobs the way they’d like to do them, the more satisfaction they’ll get from their work. Most leaders are supposed to be a little smarter than other people and, in most respects, they probably are. But if leaders insist on doing all the thinking for their organizations, if everything has to be done THEIR way, what’s left for the people who work for them to be proud of?

How much personal satisfaction can there be in doing a job that is completely programmed, where your muscles or brain are used to perform repetitive operations already planned and dictated by someone else?

Turn people loose, get out of their way and watch what happens!

3.  Encourage them

I have never met a person who felt that they were encouraged too much and couldn’t handle any more. Build the habit of frequently (and publically, as much as possible) expressing appreciation and gratitude for what they are doing and how they are behaving in their responsibilities. Be specific. “You’re doing great” won’t cut it.  Mention something specific that they have recently done and tell them  how it has benefited the organization or team. Send along that encouragement as soon as you can after you notice something to be commended. For it to be effective, encouragement needs to be specific, enthusiastic and timely. Recently I was impressed with Acts 20:2 in The Message: “Traveling through the country, passing from one gathering to another, he (Paul) gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.”

That became a memory verse for me that I take very much to heart!

4.  Confront them

Just as people need to be encouraged when they are doing well, they also need to be confronted when they are doing poorly. This should also be very specific so that they know what they need to give attention to. And, as opposed to publically, this confrontation needs to be private. Point out where they need to improve or change and walk with them in the process. Make resources, people and tools available to help them grow and change. Be honest and frank, but considerate, when confronting. Reassure them that you believe in them and are confident that they can address the issue(s) that are holding them back.

As a leader, if you inform, empower, encourage and confront with the help of the Holy Spirit and in such a way that honors the Lord Jesus, you will be a better leader and the people you are privileged to lead will fare much better as valued team members.

 

Saturday
Mar112017

Ten steps to confront when you don't like confrontation!

Having the difficult conversations and confronting people when it's necessary is a skill every leader needs to develop. Good leaders and healthy teams are willing to do this. It's difficult and tempting to avoid but nonetheless essential.

Chuck Lawless shares “Ten Steps To Confront When You Don’t Like Confrontation.”

Originally posted by Chuck Lawless

I admit it. I don’t like confrontation. I often work with students and church leaders who face the same issue, even when they know ignoring the issue isn’t wise. Here are some steps that help me in those tough times.

1.  Make sure you’re walking with God. If you’re not being faithful in other areas of your life, I doubt you should expect God’s blessing in confrontation. Why should He guide you when you’re not listening to Him in other areas of your life?

2.  Check your heart. If your motive is revenge or harm or gloating, don’t take the next step until your heart is right.

3.  Pray. The Holy Spirit is much better than we are at helping us and others realize our wrong. To confront without praying first simply isn’t very smart. 

4.  Recognize that not confronting can open the door for the enemy. The more you delay confronting, the more anxious you’ll be – and the deeper someone else might go into sin.   

5.  Do your homework. Get your facts straight before you confront. Bad information leads to unnecessary scars.

6.  Consider possible reactions, responses, and goals ahead of time. It’s almost always better to think through a response rather than react on the fly. Wise preparation can take you a long way down the right path.

7.  Clarify and state your goal: to redeem even if you must rebuke. Your goal should be to strengthen a brother or sister in Christ, not hurt him or her. Make sure this goal is clear up front.

8.  Ask questions more than make statements. Questions soften the blows, and they allow the person confronted to explain without being backed into a corner.

9.  Work toward a stated solution. Trust God to direct both of you toward a resolution that is pleasing to Him. Confront toward repentance and reconciliation, not away from it.

10.  Assume you will pray together after the conversation. When you start the conversation knowing it will end with prayer, you’ll be more careful in what you say and how you say it. 

 

 

 

Friday
Mar102017

Is biblical conviction or personal stubbornness driving your position or decision?


As you can well imagine, I have been on numerous teams and in numerous meetings over the years where discussions have taken place and decisions have been make.

I have seen productive meetings where healthy dialogue has occurred and I have been in unhealthy meetings (as well as on unhealthy teams) where I have witnessed the proverbial “Hatfield and McCoy” shootout in which one person, or several people, have held the team back from making a decision due to a refusal to change their minds or their opinion--sort of like a deadlocked jury that cannot or will not make a decision.

Sometimes it’s not clear who has the authority to make the final decision so there is a power struggle and no decision is made when a decision clearly needs to be made and should be made.

As I have observed this sort of scenario play itself out I have asked myself if what is at stake is biblical conviction or personal preference dressed in an attitude of stubbornness. The first is appropriate the other is not. I have left a team more than once where I felt clear biblical teaching was ignored or violated and I have given up my position more than once for the sake of the team when my position was a matter of personal preference.

I think it is essential for a leader to hold his ground when his position is based on what he/she believes God’s word clearly teaches. On the other hand it is, in my opinion, not appropriate for a leader or a team member to hold a group hostage over a personal preference that has no biblical foundations when the rest of the team wants to move forward.

There are numerous issues being bantered about in local churches today which are clearly a matter of personal preference and one needs to be careful not to hold these types of positions with a tight fist, but rather be willing to give them up for the sake of the rest of the team so a decision can be made and the ball moved down the field.

Varying ideas on worship style and song choice would be an example of this—“affectionately” known as “Worship Wars” which are, to my knowledge, still ongoing in many churches.

In my coaching I have had the experience of one or more leaders who have seriously considered leaving a staff position over personal preference issues which are, admittedly, not a matter of biblical conviction. The question for me or anyone else to ask is: is my refusal to change my position based on preference or conviction?  If preference, am I willing to “go with the flow” for the sake of the team I’m on and not fight an unnecessary battle?

Now, I ‘ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult at times to discern whether my unmovable position is due to conviction based on the Bible or my preference based on my experience. It takes lots of God-give wisdom, grace and love for my fellow team members to make the right choices.

This has been referred to as closed-handed versus open-handed thinking and decision-making--closed-handed being biblical conviction and open-handed being personal preference.

As a young leader, I had too many things in the closed hand and too few things in the open hand. As I grew and became wiser, I now have fewer things in the closed hand.  I don’t need to start a war over every issue, and I don’t need to hold an unmovable opinion about every decision. The same principle holds true in my marriage.

So here is the critical question for all of us!

How is the team you are on doing with one or more team members who are holding things up over preference issues which are not really biblically based, and how will the team deal with this so appropriate decisions can be made and progress can be experienced?