Two easy ways to be a terrible leader

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background image via Forest Cavale. CreationSwap.

There are all kinds of things that people say leadership is. Ways they sum it up. Retweetable quotes. Instagram-inspired sunset-in-the-background-laden thick-fonted quotes. Ones that make you go, “Wow…that’s good.”

But at the end of the day, leadership is about making decisions. Yes, it involves a lot/ But at the end of the day, leaders make decisions. Lots of them. Every single day.

Every leader must make a lot of good decisions. They also make a lot of decisions that don’t turn out as well.

In other words, good leaders make both good decisions and bad decisions. And so do bad leaders.

So what is it that distinguishes a good leader from a bad one? (let’s not talk about character issues here…that’s another issue for another day)

It’s true that good decisions will earn you more respect, and help push the ball forward faster, than bad decisions will. But there’s a factor in making decisions that, if overlooked, will leave you taking a walk in the park rather than leading people.

What separates a good leader from a bad one? Relationships. (Tweet that)

Leadership is a relationship between those desiring to lead…and those who have the choice to follow or not.

And it’s not just about being chummy with everyone you lead. Relationships are vital in two different ways, and they parallel how to be a terrible leader. They also happen to correspond with two different animals. :)

The 2 ways to be a terrible leader

1. Make decisions like a rabbit.

Rabbits never stay around to fight. At least not the rabbits I’ve run in to. When I get within 5 feet of them, they tuck their little cotton tail and hop away. They let other people do the fighting…they do the running.

As a leader, this looks like building leadership relationships purely on friendship, and making no decisions. Landing on nothing. Letting everyone else make the decisions for you. Putting your head down and running away. Assume everyone else wants to eat you, make no decisions, and lead out of fear. (Tweet that)

2. Make decisions like a bull.

Bulls don’t just stay around and fight. They don’t consult the other cows, either. They just charge.

In leadership, this looks like putting your head down and charging through everything. Assuming leadership relationships are purely top-down in-charge with no-respect for others’ gifts, time, talents, or other responsibilities. Put your head down, stomp your hoof in the dirt, and charge. (Tweet that)

But there’s a better way.

Leading with others in mind.

Leading with others in mind means you value collaboration. You value others’ gifts. Passions. Responsibilities. You allow people to use their expertise. You know you aren’t always be the smartest person in the room. You lean on others, because you weren’t created to be all things. God hasn’t gifted you with everything.

Leading with others in mind also means you value making decisions collectively, but you know you are the one on whom the buck falls. You take responsibility, make a decision, and move forward. (Tweet that) You know that, though you’re not the smartest, you must make a decision. You are the leader. You must move things forward. You don’t lead out of fear.

  • Fear of making the wrong decision. 
  • Fear of letting people down. 
  • Fear of being viewed as an idiot.
  • Fear of not having all of your ducks in a row.
  • Fear of not knowing the next step.
The book of Proverbs sums it up well.
Walk straight. Consult others. And give an apt answer.

Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!

– Proverbs 15:21-23

 

Measuring new small group health

When a group leader launches a new small group, they’re curious. They want to know if they’re going to have a successful group. They don’t know if their group is going to stick, if people will come back, or if they’ll take steps of faith together.

How do you know if your new small group is going to “work”? How do you know if they’re going to stick together and grow and have dynamic stories of life change?

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image credit: iStockPhoto user Daft_Lion_Studio

Is it that you have solid biblical discussions right off the bat?

Is it that for the first few weeks everybody shows up?

Is it that they’ve already started talking about the group serving together?

Is it just that sense of “peace,” that fluffy feeling in your stomach, that you sometimes get?

I submit something different. I saw the #1 marker of success in the small group that my wife and I lead, and I saw it last night. How do I know we’re going to have a successful group?

They stayed at our house until almost 11:00.

And we started at 6:30.

Relationally, we’ve already made deep connections. When we say, “Amen,” we’re not done. Our group isn’t defined by our study alone. Our group isn’t defined by the fact that we meet on Tuesday nights. Our group isn’t defined by our life stage or our kids’ ages. Our group is defined by significant relationships, built around the stories God has written with our lives and the story He’s writing with us together as a group.

We’ve built authentic community quickly. It just took us a few weeks, but God’s woven us together beautifully. We’ve made a priority out of getting to know each other at a level deeper than the surface. And it’s working. Late into the night every Tuesday night.

If your group hangs around after you say, “Amen,” you’re doing something right.

Without significant relationships, your group won’t last. Mark my word.

 

Ron Swanson on building relationships

image credit NBC.com

Ron Swanson, Parks Department Director in Pawnee, IL on NBC’s Parks & Rec, shares his wisdom on building relationships:

When people get a little too chummy with me, I like to call them by the wrong name to let them know I don’t really care about them. – Ron Swanson

Pastors, we’ve got to be better at this. Write new names down. Save them to your phone. Ask for a bit of help.

But there’s no excuse to not remembering people’s names. “I’m just bad with names” doesn’t cut it. “I’m good with faces” doesn’t, either.

Name recognition shows you care nearly as much as any single act. Going out of your way to make this a priority builds bridges.

Don’t overlook the power of remembering someone’s name.

Question:

Are you good with names? Or is it a discipline you need to learn?

 

This is awkward, but…how’s your sex life?

My wife and I had a conversation with a young married couple about sex a few weeks ago.

It was incredibly refreshing. We could be open and honest with them, and help them take steps forward in their marriage.

Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

Church leaders should talk with people more about sex, in a positive light.*

Most of the “sex talks” that happen with church leaders are

  • a premarital conversation that goes something like this: Don’t have sex. Quit having sex. Wait for a few more months.
  • a sermon series in the student ministry that lasts for 8 months. Think I’m joking? I’m not…I ran into a student pastor who said he’d been preaching on sex for 8 months with his students. “I think we’re just about done” he said. “I bet they’ve been done listening to you talk about it for about 8 months, because that’s way too long for students to hear their 50-somethings youth pastor talk about sex” I replied…in my head, of course.
  • an awkwardly timed, not-so-funny joke in a sermon on Sunday morning. Either you think, “Can I laugh at that in church?” or “Can I laugh at that, just to make my pastor feel better? That wasn’t funny…”

Church leaders should have more frank conversations about sex. Not in a “sex is dirty” kind of way, and not in a way that’s constantly condemning the bad things about sex. But in a way that helps a couple honor God with this area of their life.

Culture teaches us a lot about sex, most of which is glamorized, made out to be some sort of physical-only act that’s super easy for a couple to enjoy together.

It Ain’t That Easy

If you’ve been married long at all, you know that sex isn’t easy to get “right” (meaning something that’s mutually enjoying and honoring to God). More often than not, especially in the first few years of married life, sex is frustrating for husbands and wives. It’s not the beautiful act that God intended, but a point of contention. Instead of an act of union and love, it drives a wedge dissatisfaction.

And sex is so, so important to a marriage. It’ll bring a marriage down in a heartbeat if it’s not addressed. We’d be foolish to assume that all couples just know how to flourish in this area of their lives. Understanding your spouse is something that takes time…it’s not an intuitions you’re born with. As quickly as it can bring a marriage down, it can also help a marriage turn a corner. God intended sex to be an emotional, physical, and spiritual act. It’s intended to be a deeply satisfying intimacy for which no other act can substitute. (don’t believe me? Try reading Song of Solomon and not blushing)

A Little More Conversation, A Little More Action

Don’t wait for your church to have a sermon series on sex. Even if they do, it’s impossible to cover every specific issue for every couple. While there may be general problems, ideals, pitfalls to avoid, and healthy steps to take, in no way can a sermon be comprehensive. Those comprehensive questions and concerns and frustrations need to be worked out in the context of healthy relationships.

So go ahead. Ask the awkward question to someone you have a close relationship with:

How’s your sex life?

You’ll get them snickering like middle school girls. But you’ll also open up the opportunity for a beautiful conversation.

And if you’re not having good sex, it may be time to ask for some advice.

Drink water from your own cistern, And fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone, And not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love (Proverbs 5:15-19).

*Talking about sex isn’t just relegated to church leaders…all followers of Jesus should make it a point to talk openly and honestly about this issue. Church leaders especially. This blog just tends to be read by a majority of people who are, at one level or another, leaders in their local church.

* image credit; Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

* catch up with the “this is awkward” series HERE.

 

Evangelism simplified

image credit: CreationSwap user Douglas Shelton

If you’re anything like me, witnessing comes super-easily. It seems I can winsomely turn every conversation I have back to the foundations of the gospel, have people laughing, nodding their head in agreement, crying, and saying, “Amen!” within just a few minutes. I quote a verse, and people cry out, “Please, more truth, Ben!” I sing a hymn while walking down the sidewalk, and people never look at me like I’m a freak … nay, they begin singing along, raising their hands in worship. I just have to encourage them not to close their eyes while they’re walking!

I carry tracts in my pocket, because every time I meet an unbeliever and give them one, they ask me if I’ll baptize them on the spot. I say, “It seems you need to hear about Jesus …” and they immediately respond, saying, “Yes, I’ve been waiting all my life! Please tell me more…” I always have the perfect word to say, the perfect prayer to pray, the perfect timing, and the perfect closing.

Don’t you?

No?!? Yeah, me neither. To me, witnessing is tough. It often feels stilted, forced, and unnatural. I never seem to have the right timing. And trying to perfectly remember each point about the gospel, combined with the fact that I’m nervous — that I feel like the other person hates me for bringing it up, that I feel woefully inadequate to share, that I feel like I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I just know that the other person has to be somewhere else and do something else — makes sharing my faith one of the most difficult activities I ever do.

I think we make it too difficult, though. I know I do.

When it comes to sharing the gospel, let me offer you three steps to think through.

3 Steps to Sharing the Gospel

Follow

Follow Christ. That’s what He calls each of you to do, right? You, living the life God has called you to live and being the person God has uniquely gifted you to be — that’s a great testimony to God. Each of us is a walking billboard for the goodness of God and a testimony that God can redeem, right, and set straight a person’s life. You don’t have to be perfect. Nobody expects you to be flawless. (Gasp!) And if you try to portray that to people, you’ll come across as arrogant and fake. You don’t have to have a perfect testimony, but you do have to follow a perfect Savior. That’s essential.

Share

Share your story. Your story is compelling. Riveting. Life-changing (assuming you actually have been changed). And sharing your faith involves sharing your story. Be honest, transparent, and vulnerable. People will connect with your brokenness more quickly and fully than they ever will your “awesomeness.” Share the junk God’s redeeming you from, the junk you’re done with, the bigger picture He’s inviting you into, and the ways His grace is sufficient and His love is captivating.

Invite

Invite other people into your story. Build relationships with people. And not just so that you can “get them saved.” Genuinely love people. Invest in them. Be their

friend. Listen to their story. Value them as God’s crowning creation. Look for ways to serve them, expecting nothing in return and with no strings attached. In so doing, you’re inviting them into the story that God’s writing through you. I’m convinced that people want to plug into something that’s bigger than themselves. Inviting people into your story, showing how your story fits into the broader story of God’s redemption of His people, does just that.

“THAT’S ALL?”

That’s it. Sharing your faith is much less complicated than we (church leaders) often make it. But it’s also much more difficult. Much more engaging. Much more demanding of your time and effort. Much more challenging of your life.

The goal of evangelism isn’t for the person to walk away with the “right” doctrine. Though doctrine is important, it’s not an end in itself.

Right doctrine should

  • drive us to love others more, not less.
  • move us toward people, not away from them.
  • move us to condemn less, and love more. It should propel us toward kindness and patience, breaking our hearts for those far from Christ.
  • drive us to serve others, looking for nothing in return.

“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21, ESV). All. Day. Long. God’s hands are full of hope, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and blessing. He sent His Son to earth to have a relationship with us. Let’s not reduce the beauty and power of that to mere words. To do so rips the truth of its love, grace, and mercy.

Follow Christ. Share your story. Invite people in. It’s that simple.

Without love, truth is …

Obnoxious.

Offensive.

Impersonal.

Insignificant.

Empty

Relationships matter.

Question: 

Have you ever given someone a tract, and seen the heavens instantly open up?

* I originally had this article published in the Fall 2011 edition of Collegiate Magazine (with a couple of minor tweaks here to fit it in as a blog post. To read more, pick up the magazine HERE

** Image credit: CreationSwap user Douglas Shelton

 

 

The most powerful way to encourage attendance

I recently got an invitation to attend a lunch with other like-minded leaders in Nashville. I was invited by the organizer of the event, because apparently “this is an event you’ll like.”

And I said, “I’ll be there.”

Was the exact same DM (that’s twitter shorthand for a message sent directly to you) sent to (probably) hundreds of other guys?  Yep.

Was it really just a way of getting a bunch of leaders in the same room to promote what they wanted to talk about?  Yeah. (I know, I know…you told us it wasn’t…but be honest)

If I’d gotten the exact same DM from the sponsoring company, would I have gone? Not a chance. *(this is an important marketing tip for churches and businesses.  If I receive an invitation from your corporate account, 99 times out of 100 I’ll ignore it.  Send it from  your personal account and it’ll get at least a second look)

But do you know why I went?

Because I got a personal invite from a real person.

I felt needed. I felt valued.  I felt that this event would be worth my time and effort to attend.

If the parent company had sent the DM, it would’ve felt pushy.  But coming from the person, it felt…personal.

The takeaway

Instead of sending out fliers for your next church event, encourage people to personally ask their friends.

Instead of buying a spot on a billboard to promote your event, encourage word-of-mouth.

Instead of blasting a mass email, encourage people to invite a few of their closest friends on Facebook.

“Personal” is a stronger, more meaningful “ask” than the mass appeal.

Question: Would you be more likely to attend an event if personally invited by someone you trust?

 

 

The quest for the perfect cup of coffee

If you’re in the business of leading people, you must also be in the business of building relationships.

If you’re not, you can forget about having any significant level of influence.

Yesterday, I had a cup of coffee from a Chemex.  You know how long it took between the time I ordered it and the time I took my first sip?

Nearly 12 minutes.

Was I frustrated?

Not a bit.

It was a perfect cup of coffee.  Perfect.  It was clean, smooth, and a bit chocolatey.  Its roasty-ness wasn’t overwhelming, but its flavors deep and rich.

With the Chemex, you don’t just hit a button and watch the magic happen.  You have to stand beside it the whole time it’s brewing, continuing to add more water at just the right time.  Then wait for the percolation to happen.  Then add more water (with a very specific type of kettle) to the areas that are dry, starting with the center and moving out towards the edge.  Until finally, after all of the water has percolated through and the brewing process is complete, you get a decanter full of perfection.  The cup of coffee that comes from the Chemex is truly a work of art.

And relationships are no different.

We’d like to think that relationships are microwavable.  Quick, easy, and cheap.  But they’re far from it.

Truths about Significant Relationships

Relationships take time, effort, and expense.

They take constant care and attention.  Don’t walk away, or you’ll miss that key opportunity, that key moment that the next step forward is contingent upon.

Each relationship is different.

Building relationships is not a one-size-fits-all model.  Just as each Chemex cup takes a slightly different amount of time to brew, depending on the grind of the coffee, the speed at which you pour the water, and the temperature of the water, so each relationship takes a different amount of effort, time, and care.

You can’t have significant relationships with a vast number of people.

There’s just too much expense involved.  It’s not possible to give of yourself enough to have deep, significant relationships with significant numbers of people.

Relational investments take cultivation to grow.

Don’t expect to hit a button, wave your magic wand, and voila!  Cultivating important relationships is hard work.  You’ll have to let other things slide.  Other commitments, responsibilities, emails, phone calls, and things less important.

It is worth the wait.

If you’ll give a relationship the time and effort it needs, you’ll be surprised the mutual benefits that will follow.

If you lose sight of the end goal, you’ll get frustrated.

You’ll get burned, feel like it’s too big an investment, and feel the tension to just move on.  Like this is a hopeless cause that’s benefiting nobody.  Offering grace, mercy, love, and hope isn’t something you do because you are looking for immediate results.

“Love is patient…Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7)

 

 

5 ways to create trust online

For any leader, creating trust is essential.

Merriam-Webster.com defines “trust” as “reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something : one in which confidence is placed.”  So creating that trust in relationships formed is crucial for the growth of the organization that you lead.  And when it comes to social media, trust is absolutely crucial.  Since you’re one voice among millions, you get one shot with potential followers.  One eye-grabbing tweet.  One game-changing blog post.  And if you don’t capture people there, you’ve likely lost them forever.  Hate it if you want, but that’s the game.

Without trust, people won’t follow you.  Well…they’ll follow you for a little while.  But positional leadership will only get you so far.  With trust, you can develop healthy, robust communities.

5 ways to create trust online

  1. Consistency – I’ve given up on trying to figure out which posts are going to do well and which aren’t.  I’ve resorted to this: post consistently.  I’m bound to strike a nerve with someone at some point.
  2. Quality – Add value, create discussion, spark interest, share an idea, encourage change, or share your story.  If it’s anything less, then why post?
  3. Honesty – people are looking for transparency and relate-ability…not just someone who has got it all together.  Don’t just tweet the good things…tweet the bad ideas, the failed initiatives, and ways you’ve struggled.
  4. Generosity – it’s not just all about you, promoting your stuff, making a name for yourself.  It’s also not just about giving products away.  Give away ideas, encouragement, and insights.
  5. Uniqueness – if you start something new, then you are, by nature, unique in that area.  If you’re jumping into an existing area, let your platform set you apart from the rest of the pack.  Your story’s not the same, your passions aren’t the same, your job’s not the same, and your family’s not the same.  Don’t try to be me, and I won’t try to be you.

Trust is essential in building any relationship.  Social media is no different.

What am I missing?  How do you build trust?  Jump in the conversation HERE!

 

The anticipation

I love being a dad.

It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination.  But it’s good.

And one thing that we as a family love is laughing together.  And one way I personally promote that is by tickling my son.  It makes both of us laugh hysterically.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tickled a 2-year old, but it’s pretty funny.  It’s hard not to laugh along with them.

And I noticed this the other day: my son starts laughing before I even tickle him.

I just curl up my hand, like I’m going to tickle him…and just get it close to his belly, and he starts to cringe up in laughter.  And it’s not one of those courtesy chuckles.  It’s an all-body laughter.

The anticipation plays into his overall tickle experience.

 

And I’m convinced that Sunday mornings are similar.

From week to week, we should be building anticipation as to what’s coming next time.  Whether that’s through

  • sermon series
  • serving opportunities
  • small group/Sunday alignment
  • emails saying, “Get ready…”
  • social media connections
  • website resources
  • mixing things up on Sundays so people really don’t know exactly what to expect
  • building relationships that encourage continued gathering with other believers

We should be thinking, “What’s encouraging our folks to come back next week?”* Is there a reason for a newcomer (who may or may not be a follower of Christ) to return?  How are you communicating to them that coming back next week is vital?  Are you following up throughout the week?

If you believe that the message you’re presenting is valuable, why would you not create tension and anticipation for what’s coming next?

TV shows do it.  Movies do it.  Radio talk shows create it.  Teachers create it.  Guys who want a second date build it.

If you want a second round with a visitor, you’ve got to build anticipation.

How are you building anticipation?

Should we build anticipation, or should the message simply speak for itself, standing alone?

*Before you leave theologically charged comments, let it be known…I believe that God is the one who draws and changes hearts.  He is the Motivator.  It’s his kindness that leads us to repentance.  I just don’t want anything to get in the way of that, if I can help it.

 

 

 

Culture creation

We’re working to create a different kind of leadership culture at Grace Community Church.

Our staff doesn’t function like many other staffs, even though we are one of the most understaffed church staffs that I know.  And though we’re busier than ever preparing to launch a new campus (details HERE), it feels like the right kind of busy.  Here’s what our pastors do, that other pastors and leaders may not do.

Our pastors

  • Answer phones. We don’t have a receptionist.  If you call 931-647-6800, you’re going to immediately hear from one of our pastors.  But please don’t try it just for fun…I’m busy today.  And if you leave a message, our system emails us immediately so we can follow back up with you quickly.  Because we value resources, and don’t want to spend money on someone whose primary responsibility is something less than shepherding.
  • Are highly accessible. You can reach our staff members by Facebook, Twitter, Email, or cell phone.  Because we care about building relationships with those we’re seeking to minister among.
  • Set up on Sunday mornings. Our pastors are there as early as any volunteers, setting up tables, speakers, coffee, and banners.  Because we don’t want to ask our volunteers to do something that we aren’t willing to do.
  • Answer our emails quickly. Because we value promptness, and strive for excellence in our communication.
  • Book our own schedules. If we’re traveling to a conference, or scheduling a lunch meeting, we do that ourselves.  Because we hire pastors on our staff, not just administrative assistants.

Is this the right way to assemble a staff of leaders?  Is it biblical?  Is it the only way?  I don’t know.  But I do know that this is what we do, and it’s working well for us.

Difficulties and Rewards

Because we’re so accessible, more people feel the freedom to email and call us about random events in life at random parts of the day.  Which I think is pretty awesome.

Because we hire capable shepherd leaders, our staff is stretched pretty thin doing the work of ministry.  Which I think is pretty awesome.

Because we setup on Sunday mornings, we’re physically and spiritually drained by Sunday afternoon.  Which I think is pretty awesome.

Because we value promptness in communication, people have begun to communicate more, and more often.  Which I think is pretty awesome.

You can assemble your leadership staff differently if you want.  And I won’t fault you for it.  But I’m thrilled to serve here at Grace.

What things should a pastor be busy doing?

Does the way you spend your day show that you value relationships?