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?


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.

Tough Weeks

lightstock_177929_medium_user_2298620Every leader I know has tough days and tough weeks.  No matter what you lead, or in what context, you WILL have difficult seasons.  I’m in one right now.

Last week, a friend of mine committed suicide.  Those are difficult words to type.  Many of us at Southview knew him and consider him a friend, and this has been a challenging and difficult week as we seek to process what he did.

Right now at Southview, we’re in a series of messages called “Overwhelmed.”  When we planned this series last fall, we planned for messages on being overwhelmed by the “perfect parents” around us, on being overwhelmed by anxiety, and on being overwhelmed by depression.  We had no idea what this week would hold.

This Sunday, I’ll be speaking on a topic we didn’t plan to discuss – suicide.  I want to walk through what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about this topic.  In recent days I’ve seen a lot of things being said online that are unbiblical and unhelpful, and I want to teach about what the Bible says on this very difficult topic.

We don’t talk a lot about suicide and depression in the church today.  And I don’t believe that’s right, because it affects so many people. There has been a stigma, a sense of judgmentalism, around this topic, despite the fact that so many have encountered it among those they know.  I’ve heard so few sermons on this topic, so little teaching about something that affects so many.  


  • 37,000 people will take their own life this year.
  • Once every 15 minutes, someone in the US takes their own life.
  • Once every forty seconds, someone in the world takes their own life.
  • The greatest number of suicides happen with white males age 45-64.
  • Suicide is now between the second and third leading cause of death for those age 15-24.
  • The leading cause of death by suicide is clinical depression.
  • Almost everyone has at least a distant experience with suicide in their extended family or circle of friends, if not closer.

It is normal at times like this to have questions.  I know that questions, thoughts, and emotions have been running through my mind during the last 4 days.  That’s normal.  But my goal as a pastor is to help us look at and interpret our experiences through the lens of Scripture – to examine what God says about our circumstances and what happens in our world – and allow what He says to influence and direct our thoughts, our words, and our feelings.

Leaders, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid the tough topics.  Especially when addressing them could bring hope to someone who’s struggling today.

What Do You Look For When You’re Hiring A New Team Member?

Across the fields of business, non-profits, and the church, I’ve been in and around leadership circles for over 20 years now.  In my first experience leading a team, where I was responsible for a team of 20-25 people, hiring, training, and in some cases firing, I learned a lot of lessons – many in what not to do!

In the early 2000’s, I first heard a pastor named Bill Hybels teach on what to look for when you’re hiring a new team member. You can watch a six minute explanation by Bill of what he looks for:

I’ve used that list for nearly 15 years now.  Every time I’m looking for the next member of our team, I look for character, competency, chemistry, culture, and calling.  If one of those is not a good fit, that’s a red flag and we need to slow WAY down and look more closely at it.

I can recall early in my leadership once making in incredibly poor hiring decision. At the time, I thought it was the right call, but it wasn’t even close. The employee was a poor culture fit for our organization, which I could have and should have recognized during the hiring process (which I should have taken MUCH longer with). The employment relationship didn’t even last four months.

I could have said, “Well, this person just didn’t work out. It’s their fault, and I’ll just try again, using the same hiring methodology I used the first time. “ But my goal was to see this as a learning moment, and to do that I had to systematically evaluate what had happened and “own” my contribution to this hiring failure. I evaluated the hiring process with fresh eyes, seeing where I should have paid attention to warning signs and comments during that process and not proceeded with the hire, especially at such a high speed.

I’ve heard it said many times: hire slow, fire fast.  I think there’s great wisdom in that, and I think if you do the first, you won’t have to do the second nearly as often.

What do you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?


When Leaders Compromise

lightstock_167786_medium_user_2298620A few months back, I observed one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a while.  A leader stood up in his church and compromised what the Bible teaches about a topic, simply because it’s not socially acceptable in our culture to teach otherwise.  He chose to go with what was socially acceptable, and relegate the Bible’s teaching on this subject to applicability in antiquity, not in our lives today.

This is not the first time I’ve seen or heard such a thing, but each time it happens, it’s so sad to me.  To stand up and say, “This is what the Bible teaches – I don’t like it, and I don’t fully understand why, but this is what it says and this is what it means, regardless of what I think about it” – that’s honest, and I can respect that.  I’ve felt that way at times.  But to offer  your opinion as what God really means, despite what the Biblical text clearly says – that’s not ok.  And to see a leader compromise the truth of Scripture and the integrity of their ministry like that is really heart breaking.

Teaching is hard.  James 3:1 writes that, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I fully understand and can empathize with the fact that it’s not always fun and enjoyable to bring the whole counsel of God’s Word to people.  I certainly don’t always want to hear it!  Scripture convicts and challenges my ways of thinking and living, and that’s not always pleasant.  But it is a standard that is unchanging and immovable, regardless of how I feel or what I think (which can change from day to day or year to year).

Leaders, be aware: when you choose to compromise, to take the easier road, you don’t just make a poor choice for yourself.  You lead all those who follow you down that path, and the ripple effect spreads farther than you know.

I share this post in all humility. I’m CONFIDENT that in nearly 20 years of teaching the Bible that I’ve made errors when I’ve taught. I’m CONFIDENT that I’ve not always done the absolute best job possible exegeting and teaching the text.  Young teachers can make terrible mistakes as they are learning, and I was no exception.  But it’s never been intentional.  It’s never been because I didn’t like what I read in Scripture on a topic and felt the need to “update” the Bible.  Leaders and teachers, we don’t have edit rights to that document.

The temptation to compromise the teaching of Scripture is nothing new.  It was present in the early church and in every generation that followed, and it is very present in our day.  What is politically correct or socially expedient might be easier to stand and deliver, but that doesn’t make it biblical.  And when we choose to present it as such, we compromise the leadership that is entrusted to us and the role of teacher that is placed in our hands.

Fight the temptation.  No matter how uncomfortable, no matter how difficult, present the truth of Scripture.  And trust God to use it as only He can to change lives.

Have you ever been tempted to compromise the truth of Scripture as you prepare to teach or as you stand to present it?  How do you guard against that?