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Dump Your Doubt, Take the Risk, and Lead Forward

DiveNothing paralyzes good leadership like fear, and nothing fuels good leadership like taking risks in faith. Obviously, we must make decisions wisely, but when we know, it’s time to go. This is coming from a somewhat trigger-shy leader.

If you know what a DISC profile is, I’m a high “I” and a fairly low “D.” That simply means, I want everybody to be on board with a decision before I move forward as opposed to driving ahead on my own. So when I feel that people disapprove of my direction, I’m prone to want to plant my feet. Knowing this is half the battle, and dumping my fear and leading confidently anyway is the other half.

As leaders, we fight fear daily.

  • The fear of trying and failing.
  • The fear of criticism.
  • The fear of doing something dumb and getting everyone hurt.

Way back in 2000-ish, the church I was leading in Kentucky was averaging about 60 in weekly worship, so we set aside a Sunday as a big day and we set a goal of having 75. I announced it publicly. We prayed for it hard. When that Sunday finally arrived, we had a whopping 58 people present. (I later realized that while God indeed answers prayer, He also encourages us to have a plan for accomplishing our goals and to work hard at it.)

I stopped announcing big goals.

Fast-forward ten years and Angie and I are sitting in a worship service at Saddleback Church listening to Pastor Rick Warren teach part one of his message series, Decade of Destiny. Some of what Pastor Rick said that day re-shaped my thinking and has re-kindled a deep passion in me for dreaming and leading people. For example…

Your goals are only as big as your God. – Rick Warren

That’s not a theological statement about the size of God. It’s a statement about how we see and think about God. And the bigger He is in our eyes, the more we’re willing to trust Him to do.

We overestimate what we can do in a year but we underestimate what we can do in ten. – Rick Warren

That’s been true for me time and again.

But the real kicker was the part of the message where Rick asked us if we were currently doing and working on the one thing we wanted to be doing ten years from now. While I LOVED my spot on the Saddleback staff, I couldn’t honestly answer ‘yes’ because God was already stirring our hearts about church planting. So Saddleback wound up sending us with a blessing to start Grace Hills.

[bcoxlike]

Somewhere between there and here, Angie and I made some decisions about the rest of our lives. We were no longer going to settle for mediocrity, accept a mere facade of authenticity, and we would no longer lead in a way that was limited by our fear of the disapproval of others. That has been liberating, but it’s still a daily struggle.

And today, we have some BIG goals!

God loves faith, responds to faith, and always encourages us to act in faith rather than planting our feet and remaining frozen by fear.

My current challenge is charting a course for the future of Grace Hills Church, which involves getting better at what we do, possibly moving to a new location in the near future, raising up leaders, and making as many new disciples as possible.

Whatever your challenge is, decide that you won’t fail because of fear. You won’t look back and wish you’d given it a shot. Dump your doubt, take the risk, and lead forward.

So… what’s your challenge? What are you going to do next?

photo credit: juls10

If You Aspire to Lead, Start Leading Right Now

Step OneI’m afraid it’s all too common for people to have huge aspirations about who they want to become in the future, but almost no plan or willingness to get there. We love the idea of changing the world, but we fail to see that changing the world starts with making a difference in my own personal world – my own heart, the lives of those close to me, and then the lives of those with whom I find myself in close proximity.

When I started Bible college, I could only focus on two things. First, I wanted badly to marry the woman of my dreams, so I proposed to her about a month into our freshman year and she said yes. We were married the next summer. Second, I wanted to pastor a church. I didn’t care how big or small or how far I had to drive – I just wanted a pulpit of my own to preach from every week. That came true too. At the ripe old age of 19, I was married and serving as the pastor of a little church an hour from my home.

Both of those dreams came to pass after a series of steps. I first asked Angie out on a date. Repeatedly. And I learned how to take rejection when she said no about a hundred times. Finally her Mom convinced her to give me a shot and the rest is history. We dated. We got engaged. We planned a wedding and found an apartment. When I wanted to preach every weekend but didn’t have a church, I approached a professor about referring me for fill-in opportunities. I walked to a nursing home near campus each week and gathered a bunch of sweet older folks and would lead them in a Bible study. Eventually, I filled in at a church full of older people and they asked me to be their Pastor.

[bcoxlike]

Now, we’re planting a church, and it’s a big dream! We started with a vision and a name, “Grace Hills.” We knew we’d plant in northwest Arkansas but aside from one other family, we had no idea who would be part of it. We networked and spread the word and gathered 30 people in an office. We charted out a timeline for the first six months, serving the community on some Sundays and meeting for a Bible study on the others. Then we had some preview services and 70-ish of us launched publicly in a movie theater. We averaged 140 the first two years and this past year grew by almost 70 more, and we’ve baptized close to 100 people.

Baby steps.

Something is first. Then something is next. And the dream becomes reality a piece at a time. A life of influential leadership happens the same way Johnny Cash built his Cadillac – “one piece at a time.”

If you want to be a published author, start blogging.

If you want to be a CEO, get your MBA and a job and climb the ladder.

If you want to be the President of the United States, get involved in politics locally and then run for a state office or congressional seat.

You get the picture. We want to lead. We want a platform. We want influence. But often, we fail to figure out what the next best step is and go for it. I’m somewhere on the journey. I haven’t arrived and not all of my aspirations have come true yet, but I’m also determined to find the next step and to take it with bold faith.

And by the way, here’s an important warning: Never let your dream become an idol. We find our identity and our worth in how God created us, what Jesus did for us on the cross, and who we are as born again children of God. God Himself is the ultimate prize, not success. Nonetheless, leading and dreaming are still vital to the expansion of God’s Kingdom. So…

If you really aspire to lead, start leading right now. Lead those around you at work. Lead your kids and your family. Lead your fellow students. Get out of the box and get engaged. Something is bound to happen!

photo credit: t0msk

So tell me, what’s yo’ dream?? And where are you in the journey right now?

Leadership that Matters Is All About Conviction

Just two quotes that grabbed me, from Al Mohler’s book The Conviction to Lead:

Congregations and Christian institutions need effective leaders who are authentically Christian – whose leadership flows out of their Christian commitment. Wherever Christian leaders serve, in the church or in the secular world, their leadership should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction… If our leaders are not passionately driven by the right beliefs, we are headed for disaster. At the same time, if believers cannot lead, we are headed nowhere.

The leadership that really matters is all about conviction. The leader is rightly concerned with everything from strategy and vision to team-building, motivation, and delegation, but at the center of the true leader’s heart and mind you will find convictions that drive and determine everything else.

We need convictional leadership!

You Can Have Growth, Or You Can Have Control

Grace Hills Church In a Movie Theater

If Proverbs could have a 32nd chapter of nuggets of wisdom, David Chrzan would write it. In the five years or so that I’ve known and worked with David, he’s repetitively dropped advice that has shaped my own philosophy of leadership. For example, in a recent conversation David said, “You can have growth or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want.”

Wow. So true. David wasn’t implying that control is a bad thing. In fact, some level of control is essential. And “control” really refers to the amount of institutional structure and machinery required to guide a movement forward within protective boundaries.

This past weekend, Grace Hills set a new attendance record for the third time this year and it’s only February. At least five adults have trusted Christ this year in our services. And on Sunday, 36 people came to our Newcomer’s Lunch which is more people than we had in our very first public meeting two and a half years ago. Angie and I go home on Sundays and talk about how humbled we are to even get to be part of it, and then we usually talk about how scary it is.

Scary? Growth? Isn’t growth good? Yes. Growth is good for a church if it’s the result of God’s response to a healthy body. But with growth comes the feeling of a loss of control. Suddenly, we don’t know everyone anymore. We can’t remember all the names and match them up with all the faces. We are scrambling to staff our kids rooms and other areas with enough volunteers to keep things working well. It costs more money to minister to more people. People from different backgrounds are converging, which brings a broader array of philosophies into our small groups.

Our gut reaction to rapid growth is to immediately try to control it. We need more systems. We need more machinery. We need to stabilize the institution. I know… let’s form some committees…

As David shared the principle of how growth and control are fierce enemies, he also pointed out that as a church grows, some level of control is necessary. Systems are good. They help us keep people from falling through the cracks and getting left behind. But if a movement is gaining momentum because of the involvement of the Spirit of God, then who can really stand in its way?

So here’s an alternative plan to follow when growth comes.

  1. Celebrate the wins and the changed lives and the steps forward happening in the lives of people
  2. Try to get in front of the movement with a framework for making disciples that will scale with growth.
  3. Have a solid theological framework for doing ministry long before you start.
  4. Focus on developing leaders who can create healthy systems, not systems for which you desperately need leaders.
  5. Go with the flow. Follow the Holy Spirit’s movement, which can be as unpredictable as the wind.
  6. Realize that growth should be multi-dimensional. How will you turn this new crowd into a committed congregation?
  7. Never shift from an outward focus. It’s never time to “stop reaching new people and start discipling those we have.” Discipleship, by its nature, involves reproducing, so remaining outwardly focused is the best way to make disciples.

You can have growth, or you can have control. How much of each do you really want?

10 Ways to Raise the Spiritual Temperature of Your Church

ThermostatThere is a cold, hard fact I remind myself of often as a Pastor. No one does more to determine the spiritual temperature of my church than me, the Pastor. It’s part of shepherding. I’m the lid. I’m the limit.

I define passion as the heated desire with us to do or to be something. Paul talked about being on fire (ready is prothumos or “on heat”) to preach (Romans 1:17) and told Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God within him” (2 Timothy 1:6). I believe Pastors are the primary thermostat when it comes to the spiritual temperature of the church.

That doesn’t always mean a lukewarm church is led by a lukewarm Pastor. There are always exceptions. Sometimes passionate leaders lead apathetic people – just ask Moses. And sometimes apathetic leaders have passionate followers – but usually not for long. But since I’m writing to Pastors and leaders, I’ll simply say that if you’re frustrated that people don’t seem passionate and driven enough, you must start with a check of your own temperature.

When you find yourself in a spot where you’re leading a lukewarm body of people in a mission that demands passion, there are some things you must do to change the game. Fair warning – preaching at people out of your frustration isn’t one of them.

  1. Get alone with God. Absolutely nothing kindles passion within you like time with Jesus. He loves the church far more than you do – enough that He gave His life for it in a way that you never could. HE is the ultimate source of passion for ministry.
  2. When you get alone with God, repent of sin in your life. What I mean is, do a soul-searching, dark-dusty-corner-sweeping inventory of what might be distracting you from the main business of your calling. Whatever you find, repent of it.
  3. Pray more often, longer, and more personally than ever. I don’t believe God is offended by passionate praying. He is offended by flippant prayer that fails to recognize His supreme power and authority over all things. Go boldly and often!
  4. Talk to a mentor or coach. I’ve been encouraged through some of the darkest moments of my life in leadership by some of my greatest heroes on earth. Everybody needs models, mentors, and friends.
  5. Share your vision again… and again. Remember, vision leaks and the tank runs empty every six weeks or so. So cast your vision to key leaders individually, to teams collectively, and speak the language of your vision to the whole body regularly.
  6. Love people. If you don’t love people, you’ll get angry with them for letting you down and failing to help you accomplish your goals. But if you love them, it’s no longer about what they can do for you – you’re suddenly concerned for their own lack of joy and growth.
  7. Diagnose and remove leadership lids. One of the most important laws of leadership that John Maxwell has ever spoken about is the law of the lid. If you’re an 8 on a scale of 10, you’ll never lead others beyond a 7. So grow. Don’t be the lid.
  8. Go first. If you want people to have a servant’s heart, serve. If you want them to be people of prayer, pray. If you want bold evangelists, share Jesus. Never expect others to do what you as the leader have an unwillingness to go first in.
  9. Change the game. Change forces people out of their comfort zones and often provokes new growth, even when it’s painful. The moments when I’ve grown the most in my life have always been times of transition.
  10. Empower other leaders. Moses led well, but his leadership really took off when Jethro helped him get organized. Good churches are led by passionate leaders, but great churches are led by passionate teams of leaders.

It always starts with something spiritual – worship. Nothing stirs the fire of God in our hearts more than worship, praise, and prayer. The best place to start raising the temperature of your church is in your own heart, and the best place to start doing that is on your knees.

photo credit: Lars Plougmann