Vision without love is a…


My friend Doug and his family have been searching for a church home. After visiting a particular church several times, they arranged a meeting with the pastor, thinking that they had finally found a place to belong. It didn’t take long for that thought to change, however.

As we chatted over a cup of coffee, Doug shared that his family has been searching for a while and had been excited at the prospect of settling down. The pastor’s teaching and preaching was sound and the congregation culturally diverse. It seemed like a good fit.

“What happened that changed your mind?” I asked.

“When we met with the pastor, he did all the talking. He never once asked what we thought we could contribute to the church, much less what we might need. He talked about his vision for his church. That was it. I felt like he was saying, ‘This is my vision; get on board with it.’ He simply had no interest in hearing about my desire for ministry or any needs I might have.”

What a sad end to what could have been a perfect match!

It’s so easy for a leader to get carried away sharing their vision for ministry. Most leaders are visionaries, and certainly there is a time and place for sharing vision–at a congregational meeting or a gathering of leaders. And, of course, with potential church members, who often want to know about the church’s “mission.” (Not that the church has a mission; the church is God’s mission…but that’s a topic for another conversation!)

However, no one likes to feel that they are simply a means to someone else’s end…a tool in someone else’s toolbox…an extension of another person. Each believer is uniquely gifted for ministry and, as a leader, it’s my privilege to help them discover their role in God’s kingdom, whether or not it fits in with our particular vision.

When I meet with newcomers to our church family, I make it a point to not only answer their questions about our church, but to ask about their needs and their interests. Only then am I able to serve them. Yes, I do share our vision for our church because I think it’s important that they know how we as a church participate with God in his mission. But God’s mission includes ministering to those he brings through our doors, recognizing their needs, calling forth the gifts of the Spirit that reside in each individual, guiding them into ministry either as a recipient or as a servant.

Valuing each person as a gifted individual whom God has equipped for ministry and helping each one discover their place and method of serving should be critical to every equipping leader’s vision for their church.

St. Paul–with the help of Eugene Peterson–says it much more eloquently:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.             -1 Corinthians 13:1-10 [The Message]



Meeting Phobia

Meetings… I’m one of the few people I know who has a healthy respect for well-facilitated meetings. I think they are the most efficient way to dream and strategize and problem solve when more than just me is involved. However, I’m definitely in the minority. Many of the people I know just groan at the mere suggestion of a meeting!

Email seems to be the communication method of choice these days. I admit that I like email. I can check it when it’s convenient for me, answering correspondence even if it’s 6am and the person I’m emailing isn’t out of bed yet, much less thinking about work! But when working with a team of people, email is inefficient. Everyone else shares the same privilege of looking at email when it’s convenient for them–which may not be convenient for me! Days can be wasted waiting for everyone to respond and some will inevitably miss bits and pieces of the conversation thread.

Conference calls are less popular but, in my opinion, a step up on the efficiency scale. At least everyone is present at the same time for the conversation… Or are they? I was on a conference call not long ago when one of the participants was walking down the city street. The traffic noise and his heavy breathing were so distracting that the facilitator asked him to mute his phone so that the rest of us could converse! I doubt he could hear much of what was being show meeting

Does your team groan when you mention having a meeting? Do you find that some say they will come but don’t, and others just blow it off completely? If this sounds familiar to you, here are three questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the purpose?

  • Information impartation? Email, letter, or phone call will suffice.
  • Delegation of tasks? Email, letter, or phone call will suffice.
  • Collaboration? Good reason! Call the meeting!

2. What’s your motivation?

  • Vision casting… Is the vision complete in your mind? Can you see it perfectly?
  • Problem-solving… Do you already have the solution for the problem?

Too often we invite people to a meeting ostensibly to develop vision and pathway or to solve a problem, when what we really want is a platform to share our idea and enlist people to get it done. That’s information impartation and delegation of tasks. No meeting required; send an email, letter, or make a phone call.

3. Who are you inviting?

The people who feel valued when they are invited to participate in planning and problem-solving are potential leaders. There will always be people who are happier with an email or phone call asking them to do a task, and that’s perfectly fine. Find the people who want to be involved and who are eager to collaborate. Listen to them, sincerely value their input, invite them to wrestle with your ideas and be willing to entertain theirs!

Work on answering those questions, then come back tomorrow for more about the cure for meeting phobia!


Scarcity Mentality


Henri Nouwen wrote…

As fearful people we are inclined to develop a mind-set that makes us say:  “There’s not enough food for everyone, so I better be sure I save enough for myself in case of emergency,” or “There’s not enough knowledge for everyone to enjoy; so I’d better keep my knowledge to myself, so no one else will use it” or “There’s not enough love to give to everybody, so I’d better keep my friends for myself to prevent others from taking them away from me.”   This is a scarcity mentality.  It involves hoarding whatever we have, fearful that we won’t have enough to survive.  The tragedy, however, is that what you cling to ends up rotting in your hands.1

What are we (as ministry leaders) hoarding?

  • wisdom?
  • understanding?
  • skill?
  • ministry?
  • encouragement?
  • appreciation?

What are our people (those we lead) hoarding? Adding to the list above…

  • their time?
  • their talent?
  • their resources?
  • their witness?

If we are going to build an equipping culture, we can’t hoard. Equipping involves giving the ministry away–along with the knowledge, skill, wisdom, and encouragement to exercise it. If we hoard our resources, all the riches of the kingdom we stood to inherit will rot in our hands, never having been offered to those who are hungry for abundant life in Christ.

1Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, ©1997 HarperSanFrancisco.

I want you to hear this!

record playerSome days (like today) I feel like a broken record–or, for those of you who aren’t familiar with vinyl, a scratched DVD. Repeating the same thing, over and over. But the interesting thing about hearing something repeated over and over is that it lodges in your brain–good or bad.

While watching a television program a couple of weeks ago, I became so frustrated that I almost turned it off. Not because of the content, but because of the annoying advertisement that kept repeating at every commercial break. By the end of the show, I could recite that advertisement in my sleep! Annoying? Very. Yet, on my next visit to the grocery store, I found myself scanning the shelves for that very product.

If you know me or you read this blog frequently, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a Seth Godin fan. Here’s a guy whose mantra is “Go make something happen.” He says it over and over. I’m frequently encouraged by his blog and today was no exception.

The charisma of a great speech, a powerful graphic design or a well-designed tool (and yes, a well-designed tool can have charisma) comes from certainty. Not the arrogance of, “I am right and you are not,” but from the confidence/certainty of, “I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it.” (emphasis mine)

Like Mr. Godin, I have a mantra. I am certainly confident of it, which is why I repeat it, over and over, like a broken record:

“do what you are called and gifted by God to do!”

I need to say it just this way and I want you to hear it. What’s more, I want you to sound like a broken record, too. Repeat it, over and over, until everyone you lead and influence gets it and is doing what God called and gifted them to do!

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Preventing ministry stoppage

I was recently reminded of an old Smothers Brothers skit where Tom and Dick are singing Boil the Cabbage Down. At one point, Dick turns to Tom and says “Take it.”  Tom turns his head and ignores Dick. The music stops and Dick explains to Tom that he is supposed to take the lead, but Tom evades the issue.

The music stops.stop

Sound familiar? Have you tried to hand off leadership to someone who refuses to take it? Meanwhile, the ministry stops.

There’s a lot of talk these days about releasing people into ministry, empowering leaders and avoiding the urge to micromanage. Like a knee-jerk reaction, I can’t help but wonder sometimes if the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Have we become so eager to avoid the appearance of hording ministry or micromanaging that we we have abdicated our responsibility to properly vet and prepare leaders before releasing them into ministry?

There’s a lot to be said for having a process for developing leaders before you hand off the ministry to them. Creating a solid infrastructure is critical to successful leadership development. Consider these steps:

  1. Identification. Who are the potential leaders? It’s easy to default to the cultural norm–that is, the charismatic extravert–and completely overlook the “diamond in the rough.” You might begin with these questions:
    •  Who do others talk about?
    •  Who do others listen to?

    Begin a list and keep adding to it as names come to your attention.

  2. Investment. It’s a mistake harried ministry leaders often make: Just as we must fight the tendency to plug warm bodies into ministry slots, so we must refuse to release the seemingly competent marketplace leader into ministry leadership without first investing time and energy in discipling them. A leader worth having is a leader worth investing in…and a leader worth having is willing to invest their time and energy in being discipled.
  3. Incremental release. Last summer I took my four-year-old grandson to his swimming lesson a few times. In the beginning, he was afraid to move off the steps leading down into the water, but when the instructor promised she wouldn’t let go, he would venture into the pool. By his last lesson, he was much more confident, willing to let go of the side of the pool even without the instructor close by. The “grand finale” was jumping off the diving board–a long way from the steps at the shallow end of the pool! What do you think would have happened if he had been told to jump off the diving board at the very first lesson?

These three steps of  identifying, investing in, and incrementally releasing leaders are essential keys to preventing ministry stoppage as you try to convince someone that it’s time for them to “take it.”

10 Keys to More Productive Ministry

Michael Hyatt recently featured a guest blog post from J. D. Meier entitled 10 Proven Practices for More Productive Leadership. While Meier’s practices target a marketplace audience, I think they are applicable to the ministry leader as well.

1. Know what problem you are trying to solve.  While this sounds obvious and simplistic, it is a practice that often gets lost in knee-jerk reactions. Case in point: You’ve just completed your annual stewardship emphasis and there simply isn’t enough money pledged to meet the budget. The knee-jerk reaction is thinking that people aren’t giving enough, but the real problem may be that you simply need more people. Potential solutions for those two problems are quite different!

2. Get smart people on a cadence. Meier offers this model: Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection.

  • On Monday the team identifies three wins for the week.
  • Each day the team identifies three wins for the day.
  • On Friday they reflect on the results by asking two questions: What are three things going well? and What are three things to improve?

This creates a momentum for recognizing glitches before they become train wrecks. It also provides balance between celebration of what’s going well and realistic recognition of what needs to be improved.

3. Set boundaries and buffers. Early in my ministry leadership experience I had three volunteers come to me within a couple months and say, “I’m done. I quit. I’m totally exhausted.” Each one was recognized as a high-capacity leader and had served on one committee or team after another. Two of them left the church. I vowed that I would do all I could to see that no volunteer ever came to me again exhausted and burned out. Boundaries are essential.

In my current role in a much smaller congregation, it is often necessary for a volunteer to serve in more than one role, even on two different teams. The buffer I use when creating the master schedule is that no volunteer serves in more than one capacity on any given Sunday.

4. Lead with your why. Meier rightly states that the key to great results is passion plus purpose. A critical question to ask, then, is “Why do I do what I do?” Figure out the why and, if you realize that your ministry is all work and no joy, re-visit key #1 before going on to key #5!

5. Give your best where you have your best to give. It is absolutely essential to joyful ministry that you and your volunteers know how God has uniquely designed each person to serve. When our roles align with our design–in other words, when we serve out of our strengths–work becomes fulfilling and fruitful. For example, positioning the introvert at the church door to greet guests is not honoring their God-given design. Within five minutes, they are exhausted from the effort of making small talk and are no longer offering a smiling welcome as people arrive!

Keys 6 through 10 in tomorrow’s post…

Lessons from the beach…a reminder for leaders

Tropical Storm Debby

I recently returned from a few days on Florida’s Gulf Coast, vacationing with my family. We arrived to a wet welcome from tropical storm Debby, which did a lot to dampen our vacation spirit (pun certainly intended!). We had dreamed for weeks of fun activities and long walks on the beach…but for the first three days, we were barely able to stand on the beach, much less walk on it. The wind howled, the surf pounded, and the rain pelted the windows. We heard that roads were closed and, since we were not familiar with the area, we were unwilling to venture out. I couldn’t help but wonder if our vacation would be ruined, and I found myself asking God what he might have to teach me in this.

As if the storm wasn’t enough of a spoiler, I also had laryngitis. Talking over the noise of the wind and surf was impossible. Since I was forced to be quiet, I found myself really listening to the conversations going on around me without thinking of what I would say as soon as I had a chance. Sitting on our balcony during a break in the rain, I listened to a bird singing the most beautiful song–even as she hung on for dear life in the top of a palm tree being whipped by the wind. It’s really amazing what I hear when I can’t talk!

Once the weather broke, we had a list of things to do and places to see. Two precious days were lost to the storm and we were anxious to make up for lost time. God had another idea. Between the posted speed limits of 25 to 35 mph and the detours imposed by high water, we had no choice but to meander along the beach roads, taking little detours here and there. We missed many of the activities on our list, but I observed some beautiful artwork on the outside walls of hotels and condos, noticed some funny  mailboxes belonging to equally unusual beach cottages, and was blessed by the local folks standing near those closed sections of road to help tourists like us find a way around. It’s amazing the interesting sights I can see and the kindnesses I can appreciate when I slow down, take my time, and just meander.

I’ve returned from a few vacations energized by sightseeing and fun activities packed into every day, only to find the energy fizzle quickly. Not this time. God used the first couple of rain-soaked days to slow me down. I intended to hit the ground running, but what I really needed was just the opposite…to slow down, unwind, relax, get calm and quiet.

There’s something about spending a week in unfamiliar surroundings that changed me. My attention was somehow sharpened and I became more receptive… more aware of what was going on around me and how I perceived it. It was refreshing! I have come home with renewed energy for life and mission.

After the storm

So, how’s your energy these days? Does life and mission feel dull and draining?When is the last time you stopped talking, stopped doing, and just relaxed? In our ridiculously fast-paced culture, time out for rest is not a luxury… it’s a necessity. Think about it: How often do you have to recharge your phone or your laptop? What happens when you think you don’t have time to plug them into the charger? Uh-huh… so take some time and recharge YOU!