“I’m Just The __________”

Last Saturday, we had a big workday at Southview, the church where I serve.  We invited members to come out and help us clean up the grounds, limb trees, and make the grounds look as good as possible for the Easter season.  We had a pretty good turnout, and we all left tired but pleased with the aesthetic improvement.

IMG_2841In preparation for the workday, our church administrator Lynn called around and arranged for a roll off dumpster to be delivered on Friday so we could fill it on Saturday.  The arrangement was that they would then pick it up on Saturday afternoon, thus not having it taking up a lot of parking spots and being an eyesore right at our entrance.

You know where I’m going already, don’t you?

So at 10:30 on Saturday morning, the driver arrives to pick it up.  He happens to encounter me (lucky guy), and says he can’t get to the dumpster because of the cars and people loading the dumpster.  Surprise.  I explained that our rep has assured us that it would be picked up on Saturday afternoon (that is, after noon).  I told him that we would be done by 12 or 12:30 (we finished at 12:05 in fact).  He radioed dispatch, and came back and said that he couldn’t come back at 12 – that the drivers didn’t work all day and that it would have to wait until Monday.  At this point, I got focused and determined (also known as “banjo eyed”).  I explained why that was unacceptable – that our contract, in writing, clearly stated that it would be picked up on Saturday afternoon, and they were breaching the contract by not doing so.  Integrity matters. His response: “I’m just the driver.”

Here’s a simple, simple lesson for those who deal with people.  If you EVER use the phrase “I’m just the ______,” you have now lost all credibility – for you and for the business or organization you represent.

When you are dealing with customers, guests, or members, YOU are the representative of the organization.  You’re never “just” anything – you are representing that organization, it’s values, and what it stands for.  By using a phrase like that, you’re trying to dodge responsibility, and in so doing, you’re also dodging credibility, integrity, and leadership.

No leader should ever use that phrase.  And no staff member or volunteer should ever use that phrase.  It’s demeaning to the one who says it and to the person they’re saying it to.  It reflects your perception that you are less than what you are – a valued part of the team.

Instead of that, how about trying to own what’s wrong and helping the customer, guest, or member find a solution?  How about helping them instead of frustrating them?  It takes time – it takes effort – but at the end, you’re MUCH more likely to delight the person you’re dealing with instead of discouraging them from ever doing business with you again.

Leaders, if we ever hear someone on our team or in our organization use that phrase, we need to jump on it and use that as a teachable moment.  It’s never ok to use.

Have you ever encountered that phrase being used to deflect responsibility?  Have you ever used it?  What can we lead people to express instead?

Excellence Begins On Time

IMG_2825I was listening to a leadership podcast by pastor Perry Noble earlier this week while I drove.  It’s from last year, and has to do with the difference between excellence and extravagance in the local church.  Excellent listen – I’d recommend it to you.

One of the things Perry said in passing resonated with me.  “Excellence begins on time.”

Leaders, let’s be honest.  How often do our meetings start on time, and how often are we waiting till more people or “everyone” gets there?  And it’s not just meetings – it can be applied to events, training sessions, workshops, even worship services!

Last week I was at a homeschool convention in South Carolina.  I attended one of the workshops, getting there about 5 minutes before the published start time.  The presenter was there, had his slides ready to go, and we waited.  About 150 of us in the room.  Waiting.  At about 2 minutes past the start time, he said “we’ll just wait a few more minutes for those folks who are late today.”  And we did.  The workshop started 7 minutes late.  It was good, but what a way to start.

The next day I was going to attend another of that same presenter’s workshops.  I was running a bit behind walking across the convention center, but I thought, “no worries, he doesn’t start on time.”  And guess what.  He didn’t.  I was late but still there well before he started.

I hate to be late.  It’s been ingrained in me since I was a 9th grader in marching band – our director frequently would say “if you’re on time, you’re late!”  I’ve found that to be good advice both in the business world and now in the local church.  But not everyone shares that mindset.

I believe excellence begins with being on time, with beginning on time, and continues with delivering more than was expected.  I remember years ago being on staff at a church where we started late.  Every. Single. Week.  It drove me nuts. When I asked about it, I was told “people aren’t here yet – we’ll start when the room’s more full.”

Hear me – when we do that, we empower people to be late.  They will think, just like I did last week, “no worries – they don’t start on time anyway.”  And we will enable their habitual lateness.

It begins with us, leaders.  We set the tone – we set the pace.  Excellence begins on time.  I am far from perfect at this, but it’s always what I aim at.  Let’s encourage a culture of excellence that begins on time.  And see what happens when we do.

 Have you ever had an experience like I did last week?  What does lateness by a leader or organization communicate to you?

God Made Them Leaders, Male and Female

lightstock_146024_medium_user_2298620In Galatians 3:28, the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Galatia:  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Much ink has been spilled and many pixels used to discuss the issue of leadership in the church with regard to gender roles.  Not everyone agrees with me that the reading of Galatians means that every role in the church is open to anyone gifted and called to it.  But based on my study of God’s Word, I believe that strongly.

At Southview, the church where I serve, the decision was made long before I arrived that every role is open to any believer who is GIFTED and CALLED to that role.  Those two words are important.

By gifted, I’m referring to spiritual gifts.  According to Scripture, every believer receives at least one spiritual gift.  That gift may change over time – it’s not static.  And we don’t receive it fully mature – what I mean by that is that our gifts have to be developed and grown, just like muscles.  If someone has the gift of teaching, or giving, or serving, they should strive to learn all they can about it, learn from others with that gift how they can utilize it better, and seek to use it regularly.  By doing those three things, the gift begins to be developed, and it’s utilization is more effective and stronger.

By called, I’m referring to that prompting by the Holy Spirit to step out into a role.  If you’re not called – if you just fill a slot – then you’ll find that as your excitement and enthusiasm wanes (as it does for every one of us at times), your obedience to serve others with that gift will wane as well.

This month, the Jewish people celebrate Purim, a festival set aside to annually remember one of the greatest leaders Israel ever had – a woman named Esther.  Because of her devotion to God and her courage, God used her to save the nation from annihilation.  She’s not alone – in the pages of the Bible we find leaders like the judge Deborah, the prophet Huldah, the deacon Phoebe, and the apostle Junia.  That’s just a sampling – and I believe that the Bible is clear that those God gifts and calls to a role, be they male or female, they should serve.

I think by freeing up people to serve as they are gifted and called, regardless of their race (Jew or Gentile), socio-economic status (slave or free), or gender (male or female), is the clear teaching of Scripture in this passage and many others.  Tradition has led the church at times down a different road, and while I can understand those who feel its tug, my question is always “what does the Bible say?”  I want to follow Scripture where it leads.  And I want to lead in a way that is consistent with that, even and especially when it’s difficult.

It is God who chooses what gifts are given to each follower of Jesus.  It is God who determines who is called to what role of service.  It is God who made them leaders, male and female – in the pages of the Bible and today.

When God gifts and calls someone to lead, may we never get in the way of that.

Where have you seen this issue dealt with in a positive way in the local church?  How can we as leaders help to empower and equip every believer to know their gifts and use their gifts to serve others?

4 Ways To Develop Your Leadership Bench

scottwilliamsOne of my favorite leadership blogs is by Scott Williams over at BigIsTheNewSmall.com.  Last week I saw a post titled “11 Key Attributes of Great Leadership.”  It’s worth your time if you missed it.  One of the 11 attiributes was a “spirit of development.”  Scott wrote: “Develop other leaders; without leadership development, the pipeline of leadership is halted.”  Boy, is that ever true!

Each year, I talk over with the Elders what my major areas of focus are going to be.  I love getting input from them and from the other pastors as to where they think my time, energy, and focus would best be spent. One of my goals for 2015 is developing Southview’s “leadership bench.” If we are not continually developing new leaders, we’re going to pay the price down the road.

This is a lesson I thought I had down, but as with most things, if you don’t stay focused, you can lose sight of the important by allowing the urgent to crowd it out.  Over the last few years, I have not been as diligent as I should have been, and we’ve seen fewer leaders stepping up – because we’ve been investing less in new and emerging leaders!  This is one of my major focus areas this year (and every year from now on) – I want to make sure Southview has a strong leadership bench.  Leadership matters, and if I’m not investing in and developing new leaders for tomorrow, it’s possible we won’t have the leaders we need when we need them.

I think leadership development should be done with a 5-10 year view in mind.  What kind of leaders do I want to see engaged in our church’s leadership 5 years from now? 10 years from now?  That’s the kind I need to start developing and investing in today.  And it doesn’t just happen – it takes intentional effort and focus (kind of a recurrent theme on this blog, isn’t it?).

Here are four ways you can begin to develop your leadership bench.

1. Reach out to new and emerging leaders.

Send an email, fire off a text, pick up the phone, or walk across the room – you take the initiative.  Let them know you see leadership potential in them and you want to help them grow.  If they’re not interested, no harm no foul – but don’t wait for them to walk up to you.

2. Provide leadership development opportunities.

At Southview this year, we’re providing two leadership development conferences – the Leadercast and the Global Leadership Summit.  Each of these simulcast conferences feature outstanding speakers who will help leaders get better and grow.  I’m going to invite as many potential and emerging leaders as I can.

3. Gather potential leaders into a small group.

This summer, I’ll be leading a small group for potential and emerging leaders called IMPACT.  This group is designed to be a safe place where we can discuss leadership challenges, grow in our own leadership, and learn from one another. I create a syllabus for each group based on who’s involved, using videos, books, articles, and other resources. It’s one of my favorite things to do all year.

4. Provide potential leaders with resources to help them grow.

I try to keep books and other resources on hand to give to potential and emerging leaders. If I find a book particularly helpful, I’ll use it with the IMPACT small group or put it in the hands of a new leader so we can discuss it once they read it.  This has proven to be invaluable over the years as it gives our leadership shared language, principles, and understanding.

If you’re not currently thinking through the leadership development process for your organization, today’s a great day to start.  And if I can help you, just ask.

How are you being intentional in your organization’s leadership development process?

The Church Is A Results Oriented Organization

By Hakandahlstrom at en.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by IrisKawling at en.wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

By Hakandahlstrom at en.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by IrisKawling at en.wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Famed hockey player and coach Wayne Gretzky is famous for saying “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”  

That’s true in leadership too.

So often, I’m reticent to take a flyer, to try something big and audacious.  But that’s the only way to accomplish something big and audacious!

This year at Southview we’re stepping out and trying a few new things.  They may fail badly – or they may succeed beyond our hopes.  The only way to know is to step out and take the shot.

I heard a quote the other day from pastor Bill Hybels – “we are a results oriented organization, and we make no apologies for that.” I agree with that – the church IS a results oriented organization!  We have a mission given to us by Jesus, and we are responsible and will be held accountable for how we lead and what we do with that mission.

I think there’s a common perception in churches that we shouldn’t focus on results, that we should just be faithful and keep on keeping on.  I agree with the first part – we should be faithful – but being faithful involves more than just maintaining the status quo.  It involves taking shots that we’re not 100% sure will work! It involves trying new things, being creative, thinking beyond what worked yesterday.  It involves realizing when something isn’t working and stopping or changing it.  It involves evaluating results – and seeking better results.  And none of that just happens; it all requires intentionality.

The church is a results oriented organization, and we should make no apologies for it.  We should constantly be asking “how can we do this better?”  The mission – reaching people with the message of Jesus and helping them grow to maturity in Him – is too important not to.

Do you agree that the church is a results oriented organization?  Why or why not?

Mark Zuckerberg’s 1 Simple Rule For Hiring

Facebook_like_thumbYesterday I saw an article about a monthly town hall meeting Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg had in Barcelona.  He was speaking about Facebook’s hiring process, and he said when he’s looking at bringing someone on board, he asks one simple question to determine if it’s a good fit or not.

Would I be happy working for this person?

He said “I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.  It’s a pretty good test.”

When I read the article, it made me think – and after reflecting on it a bit, I think Mark’s on to something with this.

One of the criteria I’ve used for hiring for many years now is chemistry.  Does this person have good chemistry with me and the rest of the team?  Does this person demonstrate a humble, teachable spirit?  If the answer to both of those is yes, then we move ahead.  I think those questions relate to Mark’s question.  If I have the opportunity to work for someone I genuinely like being around, who leads from a place of humility and teachability, that’s a good place to be.

Leaders, I think this is a great question to ask when we look at adding to our teams.  If the answer is no, put the brakes on and find someone who’s a better fit.

What do you think of Mark’s question?

Where Do You Want To End Up?

DSC05900Last week I wrote that I’ve been reading a book that many consider a classic – Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  This is my first time to read it, and I continue to find great leadership principles that are very applicable to my life.  This is part 2 in a “mini-series” of posts here on the blog regarding some of my thoughts about these principles and how I think they are applicable in my context as well as in your leadership. (You can see part 1 here if you missed it.)

The second of Covey’s habits is to begin with the end in mind.  He writes “Begin with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.”

Any leader know that vision is a mental picture of what could be.  Leadership involves casting vision, painting a picture of the preferred future that creates passion in people.  But that process has to start – and it starts with this habit.  Begin with the end in mind.

I think back to when I first came to Southview.  I could see immediately that several things needed to change – starting with implementing background checks on volunteers who worked with kids or students. I began with the end in mind.  Ultimately, I wanted us to create environments for kids that were clean, safe, and fun, where they could hear truths from God’s Word taught at their level.  That was the “end” I had in mind; getting there involved multiple steps and multiple projects.

We talk a lot about environments at Southview, something Andy Stanley has written about extensively in his book Deep and Wide.  We don’t control the work of the Spirit of God in a person’s life, but we do control the environments at Southview – and we know that environments can be a key factor in someone hearing from (or not hearing from) God.  If they are distracted by clutter, disorganization, disorderly words or actions, a lack of harmony, or unkempt spaces, then they are less likely to spend time focusing on what we’re communicating verbally.  We want to create (as much as possible) distraction free environments, where people can come, see, and hear a message that is consistent in the environments, actions, and words of the people at Southview.  That’s the end we want to see happen.  By beginning with the end in mind, it helps us develop systems that get us there.  From our First Impressions team to our Hospitality team, from our Kids Worship team to our Kids check in process, we strive to have systems that are intentionally designed to help people focus on the message, not be distracted by something else.

Sometimes there are multiple “good” options – which do you want?  Either can be a good answer in some cases – but unless you choose, you’ll never reach the “end” you could have achieved had you focused.

Begin with the end in mind.  That’s helpful advice for visioning, for systems design and implementation, for leadership development – even for personal development!  What kind of man do I want to be?  What do I want said about me at the end of my life?  What kind of husband and father do I want to be?  By knowing the answers to these questions, we can then evaluate what we do now and see if it’s moving us in that direction or away from it.

Have you determined what you want the desired “end” to be in your leadership, organization, or personal life?  What steps are you taking to move that direction?

4 Tips To Be A Better Communicator

Ken Davis, from WhatTheSpeak.com

In 2003, I attended the “Communicating in Today’s Reality” conference at Willow Creek Community Church.  The conference was designed to help those who communicate regularly in churches, businesses, or other organizations to get better at communication.  At the time, I was serving on staff at a church in Texas, and I wanted to get better at what I saw to be a critically important skill.  That investment is one I’ve never regretted.  Did it improve my communication?  Well, that depends on who you talk to!  But it clarified so many things in my mind around the topic of effective communication.

Later this week, I’m going to a gathering of host site pastors for the Global Leadership Summit, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to spend two days focused on intentional learning with regard to leadership.  One of the speakers will be Ken Davis, who I first heard at that communication conference in 2003.  Here are four principles that really impacted me when I first heard Ken speak.

1. “If you’re going to stand and deliver, you must deliver with crystal clear focus.”

How many times have I messed this up!  A seminary professor named Howard Hendricks used to say it this way: “a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.”  If communicators and teachers are not communicating with crystal clear focus (a mist), then by the time the hearers hear it, it’s just a fog – it can’t be grasped at all.  Clarity is critically important.

2. “A survey was done of 2500 people coming out of church:
75% of people couldn’t say what the point was in a sentence
50% of pastors couldn’t say what the point was in a sentence
If you can’t say in one sentence what the point is, you can’t do it in 30 minutes”

Crafting one point statements that are memorable and sticky is challenging week in and week out.  But if we don’t spend the time and do it, we’ll find that the main idea that we struggled with all week will float out of people’s minds very quickly.  Sometimes, before they leave the room.

3. “Ask other to critique you.”

Every week at Southview, all of the pastors fill out an evaluation form where we think through how every element of the weekend went.  From our Adventure Zone kids ministry to our First Impressions team, from our 412 student ministry to our weekend services, we evaluate everything.  And that includes the sermon!  I’ve found it incredibly helpful to get feedback on what worked, what didn’t, what was helpful, and what could have been left out. It’s not always what I’d like to hear, but it’s almost always what I need to hear.  While this is subjective, it’s very helpful to get different perspectives.  But if I didn’t ask for the critique, I likely wouldn’t get it.  We have to ask.

4. “Who killed the Bible people? We did!  We suck all of the emotion and drama out of the people and stories.”

This idea changed the way I read the Bible.  When I read, I try very hard to read it with emotion, with passion, with feeling – like I would if I were telling a story that happened to me the other day.  I believe the accounts in the Bible really happened, just like the story of when I was at the grocery store – and I need to communicate it with the same level of passion and feeling.  When we read it in a tired, monotone way, or we create a big difference in how we read the text and how we tell a story, we communicate that there’s a big difference between what happens to me and what happened to people then.

Leaders know how important communication is.  And the best way I know to get better at communication and leadership is to get around people who are farther down the road and better at it than you are so you can learn from them. That’s why I go to gatherings like the one this week; that’s why I go to conferences like the Global Leadership Summit and Leadercast; and that’s why I read books about leadership and communication.  Leaders, getting better doesn’t just happen – it’s up to you to invest in yourself and your leadership.

What communication mistakes do you see happen often when people stand to speak?  How are you intentionally seeking to get better at this in 2015?

3 Ways To Be A Proactive Leader

proactiveI’ve been reading a book that many consider a classic – Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’ve never read it, and I’m finding some great leadership principles that are very applicable to my life.  I’m going to do a “mini-series” of posts here on the blog regarding some of my thoughts about these principles and how I think they are applicable in my context as well as in your leadership.

The first habit is “be proactive.”  Of them all, I think this is the one I have the least difficulty with – and the most difficulty with. Let me explain.

Covey states, “Proactivity means more than just taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions… Highly proactive people do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

This was one of the most helpful and challenging parts of the book for me.  I typically don’t have problems taking initiative, which is what I thought when I saw the name of the first habit.  That’s what leaders do!  They don’t sit around waiting on someone else to solve problems; they jump in, define the problem, and move to the solution side.  I’m all about that.  Covey’s habit, though, is more complex than simply a bias toward action.  It involves our attitude – specifically, owning our lives.

Here are three ways this habit can be applied by leaders of any organization:

1) Don’t play the blame game. Far, far too often, I hear people in positions of leadership playing the blame game (for a great example of this, watch the speeches of members of Congress on CSPAN). Any problem always has someone who can be blamed – and it’s usually not the person speaking.  It’s easy to point and ridicule such behavior, but then I look in the mirror and wonder how often I fall into the same trap.

When confronted with a problem, is my first response to blame conditions?  To blame circumstances?  How often am I using phrases like “if only,” “I can’t,” and “I wish?”

When I make a mistake, the proper response as a leader is to own it, fix it if I can, and learn from it so I don’t repeat it.  When I play the blame game, I short-circuit that process and don’t learn from it.

2)  Focus on what I can control, not what I can’t. Instead of focusing and dwelling on those things I cannot control, I need to focus on what I CAN control – and often, that means me.  I can control myself, and so do you.

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about the fruits of walking in the Holy Spirit.  Among the fruits listed is “self-control.”  That’s a critical aspect of great leadership.

Leaders, what’s our response to unexpected conditions or circumstances?  How do we handle the surprises that are unavoidable in leadership?  By focusing on my own attitude, my responses, my reactions, I focus on what I can control. And when I get this right, I find that this has a ripple effect beyond me.

As a leader of people, you set the tone.  You know you do!  And when you’re constantly focusing on what you can’t control, you will lead others to do the same.

3)  Watch what we say. As leaders, our words matter.  A lot.  Andy Stanley says it this way: “as a leader in the room, my words weigh 10,000 pounds.”  If you’ve been a leader in a meeting, you know what he’s talking about!  Watching what we say and how we say it matters far more than we think it does.  And so often, I tend to forget this.

Too often, I can simply “react” to something someone else says or does.  And when I do, too often it’s not the best reaction!  Covey gives examples of reactive language: statements like “there’s nothing I can do,” “I can’t do that,” and “I have to do it.”  Statements like those reveal what’s underneath our words. When we move to a proactive attitude, we’ll say instead “let’s look at our alternatives,” “I choose to take this action,” or “how can we empower others to take appropriate action?”

It doesn’t matter if you lead in the church, in a non-profit, in business, or in public service – these principles can transform how you lead.  And when you apply them, you’ll see others in your organization begin to follow your lead.

Can you remember incidents when you applied (or didn’t apply) these principles in your leadership?  What steps can you take to help you remember them when you need them?

21

Photo from The Gospel Coalition website

On Sunday, a video was released by ISIS showing the beheadings of 21 Christians who refused to recant their faith in Jesus.  The world has been shocked and horrified month after month by the violence that these terrorists have unleashed, and this latest video only adds to that.

Two blog posts have stood out in my reading about this: one here by Tom Schreiner, where he offers an excellent biblical meditation on these executions.  The other is here by Ann Voskamp, where she offers extended thoughts on the church’s response to such violence and hatred.

The video that ISIS uploaded is titled “A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.”  It is intended for those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ, and it is intended to create fear and anxiety that will lead to a denial of Jesus.  May it never be so.

I am greatly troubled at heart by what I see in the actions of these terrorists. Their cruelty and hate filled actions reveal hearts of wicked darkness.  But I am overcome with joy at the knowledge that these Coptic Christian brothers are now with Jesus, experiencing the hope that is promised to all who believe.

Upon learning of their executions, Pope Francis said “Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ They were killed simply because they were Christians. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a witness that cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

We’ll be talking about persecution to close out the Overwhelmed series at Southview in a few weeks.  I believe it’s important to know what Jesus and the apostles had to say on this subject, and we’ll also be talking about how to respond when faced with persecution because of our faith.

Today I pray that every follower of Jesus would have the courage and fortitude to face persecution with that kind of strength. I pray for the families of these men, that they would find comfort in the sure knowledge that they are now with our Lord Jesus.  I pray that believers around the world would not give in to the demons of hate and anger, but instead do as Jesus taught us and respond to hate with love. And I pray that leaders in particular would rise and stand against this evil.  In the infamous words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Pray for Christians who are being persecuted and martyred today. And pray that every one of us would stand as firmly with Jesus as these 21 men did should we ever be faced with what they were.