03 March 2015

Mission Critical: Why the Mission of the Church is More Important Now Than Ever Before

            Recently I have been catching myself repeating one of my favorite catchy one-liners in a lot of conversations. For those of you that know me you know that I tend to enjoy a classic one-liner. They’re simple, portable truths that can stick with you after the meal is done.

            Plus they make me feel smarter than I really am which is a huge plus!

            Back to the story, I have been saying over and over again this statement: This is proof that our mission is more important than ever. That has been my tagline to a myriad of separate issues.

Someone is having marriage problems? This is proof that our mission is more important than ever. Someone else is wrestling with identity issues? This is proof that our mission is more important than ever. Someone just got a negative health scan from a doctor? This is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

You get the picture?

Honestly I haven’t been trying to flippantly respond to any particular crisis. I have simply been reminded that our mission – Pointing people to the love of God through personal relationship with Jesus Christ – is more important now than ever. It is that life-giving relationship with Christ that will ultimately sustain. Jesus came to bring healing and freedom and my job isn’t to try and overcome your issue my job is to point you to the One who already overcame.

Again, this is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

People need the love and mercy of God. Every day we encounter countless men and women who are struggling with self-worth. We are constantly bombarded with images that tell us that we aren’t good enough if we don’t live in a certain type of home or drive a certain type of vehicle. Media outlets remind us that value and worth is tied to what we own so we constantly chase our tails in an endless struggle to obtain more stuff only to find out that in the end the stuff owns us and we don’t own it.

People are committing suicide at earlier ages now than ever in history. Marriages are struggling and falling apart. Young girls are looking for love and beauty and willing to pay anything to anyone who shows her a little attention. Teenage pregnancies are on the rise. Sexting runs rampant even in children as young as middle school. We glorify films and music that objectify women and glorify sex in any way, shape, or form. We live in a generation that wasn’t satisfied with the twerk and therefore created the wall-twerk.

This is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

People need to know that there is a God who loves them and validates who they are as people apart from anything they could do to earn his acceptance. This world needs to hear that there is someone greater than they that desperately desires to be connected to them in a meaningful way not in an abusive way. Our mission – The Mission – matters and people need to be forever made whole because we rise up and get on mission.

This is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

I’m not trying to be preachy here. I’m just struck with the reality that if we don’t get fired up about our mission then we will never meet the needs of humanity that is lying – even dying – at our doorsteps. I’ve found that in the church world we would rather sing about it, talk about it, preach about it, small group about it, blog about it (myself included) than be about it. We like to do the above because it satisfies our guilt for not doing it while never actually holding our proverbial feet to the fire pushing us out of our comfort zone and actually doing what Jesus told us to do.

And in regards to our theoretical Christianity – this is proof that our mission is more important than ever. The mission has to work on us before it will work in us. If we aren’t compelled by The Mission then we need to reevaluate whether or not we have been touching The Mission. Don’t let a counterfeit mission give you empty calories focus on The Mission and leave with a full belly.

3 quick suggestions:

1.   Engage in mission everyday. That’s right. Everyday. It can be as simple as saying, “Jesus love you” or as challenging as crossing a jungle-river to share the Gospel with a local tribe of people in a remote corner of the third world. The size of the external is no indication of the size of the internal. What matters is that we are actively seeking ways to engage in mission everyday.

2.    Do Mission Together. That has actually become a rallying cry at our church. We plant the flag of mission in nearly everything we do. From Sunday morning services to small groups we are all about doing mission together. Three words: Do – Implying that we have to be active. Mission – The reason we are all here. Together – No more “Lone Ranger” stuff. We are doing this thing as a team. Jesus taught and modeled that mission is at its most successful when others are involved. He could have completed his mission alone, but he chose to take along 12 guys in a close-knit family. Let’s take a page out of Jesus’ playbook and do mission together.

3.    Pray missionally. God’s greatest desire is for his lost children to come home. We will never have more of God’s power than when we are seeking to engage in God’s mission. Peyton Jones, author of Church Zero, recently said, “Everywhere you see the power of God in the book of Acts it is in reference to people living on mission.” The truth is that when we pray missionally God begins to pour out his power in ways that we will never fully experience in other ways. Praying for God to open doors for the Gospel yield powerful times of God opening doors for the Gospel. He wants to get his message out and he wants you to be a chief brand manager. Begin to ask him to open doors for the Gospel in your life and then be ready to walk through those doors when he does!

Those are three simple suggestions to become more mission-oriented in life. There are many other suggestions and principles that many can add to this list. The important thing is that we are doing something to fully engage in the mission of God by serving those far from God and serving those close to God. To quote Nike, “Just Do It!”

04 February 2015

3 Things That Suck About Comparing Ourselves With Others

Continuing our Emotional Health conversation I wanted to list 3 things that suck about comparing ourselves with others. Here ya go:

  1. I'm not good enough. When we compare ourselves with other leaders, ministries, Christians, families, etc. we can often see them in a perfect light while seeing ourselves in a less than perfect light. We look at all their beauty and can't see that because of the comparison trap we have emotionally photoshopped their blemishes out of our eyes. Remember they're not as good as you think they are. They have more problems than you can see from the outside. They have issues too. Stop feeling less than good enough because you think someone else is better than you. Just stop!
  2. I'm better than they are. This is the opposite of the 1st point. Many times we will compare ourselves with others just to make ourselves look better. We end up saying to ourselves things like: "At least I'm not doing..." or "They're not as good as I thought they were" *translation "I'm glad that I can see how much better we are than they are!" Don't let comparison cause you to develop spiritual pride. 
  3. I'm right where I need to be. This is the one thing that may be the hardest to spot and cause the most damage in the long run. When we look at others and aren't encouraged/challenged to continue to move our lives and leadership forward we are in danger of becoming obsolete as leaders. As a leader we are always trying to improve. There is a reality to being comfortable with the process and I am not kicking against that. What I am kicking against is when we look at other ministries and never want to grow and get better. Don't get complacent. Stay hungry. Refuse to look at others and say, "Wow if I just keep doing what I'm doing I'll be just like them one day." God doesn't want you to be just like them one day - God wants you to keep striving and keep growing and be just like him one day.
Many more things suck about comparison. These are just 3 I wanted to highlight today. Enjoy!

22 January 2015

Emotional Health: The Leader's Best Friend or Worst Nightmare

If I had to list one area that will cause most leaders great joy or great difficulty I would say that area is the emotional health of said leader. Nothing derails leadership potential and productivity like an emotionally unhealthy leader. When we haven't taken the time and effort to maintain our emotional health we become insecure, needy, judgmental, and bitter - just to name a few! We move away from leading people and fly first-class to the land of needing people. When we place an unhealthy need on people we will never be able to lead them in a helpful way. When we hunger for approval we will do just about anything to get it. When we live with insecurity nothing will ever satisfy our desire for the validation of others. When we aren't fine with our personal leadership and identity then we will never fully appreciate and celebrate other leaders in our lives. Simply put, emotional health is one of the most important areas of a leader's life to focus on. 

One of the more prominent examples of an emotionally unhealthy leader is found in he Old Testament leader King Saul. Saul was he first king of the nation of Israel. He was chosen by the people the be the leader of the entire lot of people. He was tall, dark, and handsome - the picture of leadership and power. The problem is that Saul wasn't comfortable in his own identity and eventually became jealous and suspicious of others in his life. 

Enter David. 

David was just a shepherd boy. He was a teenager who wasn't old enough to fight in the war sent to the frontlines by an errand for his father. He wasn't setting out to change the course of history, but as many times in life history had a different plan for him. David eventually defeats Goliath, the overgrown nemesis of the nation of Israel, and finds himself becoming a pretty popular man in the area. As a matter of fact, ladies sang songs in his honor. 1 Samuel 18.7 says, "As they danced, they sang: 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.'" Talk about notoriety! David was the new national hero. He was the name on everyone's lips. Young Jewish boys would pretend to be David in their backyards and playgrounds. Gone were the days of everyone worshipping the power of Saul. Now David was the favorite dish on everyone's menu. 

These things are good...if you are David. If you are Saul now your emotional health is being stretched to the limits. Unfortunately for Saul he could never find a way to let David into his life and ultimately his leadership and life was cut short as a result. 

1 Samuel 18.9 - "And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David."

Saul was jealous. He was emotionally unhealthy. He was scared that David would forcefully take he throne and run him out of town. What he missed because of being emotionally unhealthy was that David could have been his greatest ally instead he made David his greatest enemy. His unhealthy emotions caused him to sever a relationship that could have solidified his kingdom for generations to come. 

Here are 3 things to learn about emotional health from Saul's life:

1. Emotionally Unhealthy Leaders Can't Handle New Leaders Emerging Within the Group

Saul couldn't handle the rise of David. He was insecure and jealous. He was fearful of Dacid's growing popularity. I've noticed that emotionally unhealthy leaders never do well with emerging leaders. Emotionally unhealthy leaders are always suspicious and jealous of emerging leaders. They view new leaders as threats instead of assets to the group.

How do you combat this kind of insecurity? 

Be comfortable in your own skin. Only you can be you. You are a valuable part of the team and no one can take that from you but you

Expect and celebrate the Davids in your life. New leaders emerge. That's just a fact of life. Be okay welcoming new members to the team. Celebrate the fact that your organization is growing at such a pace that it requires and encourages new leaders to emerge. Refuse to let jealousy put you in a choke hold. 

2. Emotionally Unhealthy Leaders Care More About Their Position Than the Mission of the Group

Saul was worried that David would replace him. That's classic positional leader thinking. Stop being obsessed with titles and position and start being intentional about fulfilling the mission of he team! Saul was upset because David defeated Goliath and received the accolades that comes along with a great military victory. Remember that Goliath was a serious problem that Saul needed to deal with. David solved the problem, but Saul couldn't handle the threat to his position as the great king. Nothing screams unhealthy emotions like a leader that is more concerned with his or her position than the mission of the group. John Maxwell in The 5 Levels of Leadership says, "The leader makes the position the position doesn't make the leader." Refuse to let the trap of positional leadership hold you in its grip! 

How do you combat the positional leadership trap?

Remember why you started. Go back in your heart to the day you decided to join the team. Remember the passion you had when you first got the job. Rekindle the flame of your hunger to make a difference. Often times we can get so caught up in the everyday operations that we forget that we are actually impacting people in a positive way. Don't let the lust for a position stop you from embracing emerging leaders and growing the impact of the organization. I can promise you that if you spend the bulk of your energy leading and growing you will never lose your position no matter how many Davids arise within the group. Focus on making a difference not achieving/maintaining a position.

3. Emotionally Unhealthy Leaders Need the Validation of Others

Saul started to slip into an unhealthy frame of mind not when David defeated Goliath, but when he heard the women of the city singing songs about David. In the same way emotionally unhealthy leaders need the validation of others to make them feel satisfied in life. These are the people who are always fishing for compliments. They always need someone to tell them "good job" or "attaboy." When you lead only for the positive affirmation of the crowd you will never lead beyond the impact of your least popular decision. As a leader you will many times have to make decisions that some people in the organization will not fully agree with or like. If you have to have everyone singing your praises then you will never make the difficult decisions because you need the validation of the crowd.  Don't worry about whether people like you as much as you worry about fulfilling the mission of your life.

If you constantly need people telling you "good job" or "wow, you're awesome!" chances are you will never allow David to add value to your team. 

How do you combat the validation trap?

Learn to get your validation first from God and secondly from within yourself. If you aren't happy with the job you are doing then no one else will ever fill the void left by your feelings of inadequacy. Stop needing the affirmation of others and be comfortable being who God created you to be! 

The subject of Emotional Health could fill up a million different blog posts and books so I will stop here for now. Spend some time searching your own heart and see how healthy you are emotionally. If you find insecurity and jealousy lurking around the corner I would encourage you to stop and focus the next few weeks of your leadership on finding wholeness. Remember you will never be able to consistent,y lead people beyond your own emotional health. 

23 September 2014

Manage Like a Leader (How Effective Management is Great Leadership)

Growing up I saw managers and leaders in different levels. My father was a police officer, and before retiring, was a Corporal in our county’s Sheriff’s Office. I had a variety of bosses at every job I had; some good and some that made me rejoice on my days off. Looking back, I see that not everyone that had authority was a leader, some were just managers.

There is a vast difference between managers and leaders. Being a manager is all about accomplishing tasks and to keep things running. Managers keep things the way they are, they merely maintain the status quo. Leaders accomplish tasks that move the organization forward. A leader’s main goal isn’t just drawing a line through a task, but seeing how that accomplishment made the organization better. 

Great leaders are great managers, but great managers are not always great leaders. For you to be a great leader you have to be a great manager. You will manage tasks, people, positions, vision, schedules, e-mail, phone calls, (insert endless list of stuff you secretly complain about). Leading is not only rallying people around a common vision, but also empowering and equipping them to make that vision a reality. Every other leadership blog will tell you how to be a better leader, but if you are a poor manager you will be a poor leader. To be led by a leader that’s great at getting people excited but terrible at turning that vision into reality is frustrating. This leader will have high turnover and a low productivity rate.  Refuse to fall into the trap of over-promising and under-delivering. Do not fail to become a better manager as you grow as a leader. 

To be a better Manager you have to improve three areas of your organization. Improve your systems, people, and schedule. Often times most stress comes from these three areas because we haven’t managed them well. Our systems are outdated, we have the wrong people in positions, and we neglect to schedule our time. Take time to read and answer the questions below. Review every system, person, and schedule you are over, and do what every leader should do, make them better.

1.    Improve Your Systems
a.    Why are we doing this?
b.    Is there a better way to do this?
c.    How can I learn from other organizations’ systems?
d.    Is there someone besides the main leader to run this System?
2.    Improve Your People
a.    Is this the right person for this role?
b.    How are developing your team(s)
c.    How are you challenging your team(s) to develop themselves?
3.    Improve Your Schedule
a.    What are the things only you can do?
b.    What can others do? (everything you didn’t list above)
c.    Divide big tasks by days. Don’t just make a big list of things to do; you’ll never complete it. You’ll just keep pushing stuff off and rush to finish others. Designate each day for certain tasks, check out this blog from a friend about managing your schedules.

At the end of the day, our lives are where they are because of the choices we’ve made. The organization you lead is the way it is because of the choices you’ve made. This realization either causes a moment of celebration or a desire to kick me in the head because you are in denial. Either way, whether you are at the top of the game or ready to quit, you can get better. For you to be a great leader, you must be a great manager. Slow down, analyze your surroundings, adjust your systems, and move forward.

Keith serves as Executive Pastor at Thrive Church in Richmond, Virginia. He oversees the organizational structures that has helped Thrive reach hundreds of people in the Richmond area and grow to a multi-site congregation. He has been married to his lovely wife Lauren for 6 years and they have a beautiful daughter Amiah who is 3 &1/2 years old. You can connect with Keith here

18 July 2014

5 Things to Do When You Fail

1) Acknowledge Where You Went Wrong

Most *all* of us have a hard time admitting we're wrong. Get over your pride. When you mess up fess up.

2) Don't Take it Too Hard

As leaders we beat ourselves up for failures. Don't let a small failure have a big impact on you. Generally try to let the size of the issue be as close as possible to the size of your reaction.

3) Get Help

Whether or not the failure is because you went all "Lone Ranger" on everybody the truth is an extra set or two of eyes is always helpful in regaining your upright posture as a leader. Get some trusted advisors and maybe a coach or two in the mix.

4) Evaluate

Evaluated experience brings efficiency. You could spend 40 years installing screen doors on submarines and you would have decades of experience, but it's not helpful to the functionality of a submarine. Set aside time to look at the problem from as many angles as possible and if possible get someone else up help.

5) Try Again

If you're going to do anything significant in leadership you will fail many times. Mehta matters is that you learn from your failure and move on. If your mission is life-altering you will find a way to keep going.

17 March 2014

Maintenance vs. Renovation -- Guest Blogger: Bryan Johnson

Guest Blogger: Bryan Johnson - Youth Pastor, Social Circle United Methodist Church

Pastor Bryan Johnson has served as the Youth Pastor of Social Circle United Methodist Church for 6 years. He and his wife Anna have been married for 5 years and they have 2 beautiful dogs - Georgia and Caroline. Bryan is a 2007 graduate of Emmanuel College School of Christian ministry program and is currently in the M.Div course at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Bryan is an avid Georgia Bulldogs fan and loves playing guitar to some of his favorite Dave Matthews Band songs or John Mayer songs. Bryan has had tons of practical experience in various leadership roles and has a heart to mentor the next generation of pastors and leaders for the Body of Christ.

Maintenance vs. Renovation

            I hate the word “maintenance.” Maintenance implies that something is broken and it needs to be “maintained.” Maintained does not mean “fixed.” To fix something means to solve the problem.  To maintain something means to rig up a temporary solution that hides or ignores the problem.  Like I said, I hate the word “maintenance.” It is a stupid word. 
            Most of us look at our lives and try to perform maintenance on our problems.  We apply a temporary “fix” to a deep and complicated problem.  Then we wonder why we keep failing again and again and again…We fail because we keep performing maintenance on a problem that requires a complete renovation.  We need brand new parts.  Slapping paint on rotten wood does not fix the problem.  Pretty rotten wood is still rotten wood. 
            Renovation does not start with the outside and work its way inward.  You do not paint the rotten wood and then remove it.  First, you replace the rotten wood with new wood.  Then the painting begins.  The same is true for spiritual formation.  We cannot change who we are by “doing” more things.  I have discovered that if I want to pray more, than I can do one of two things: I can either force myself to spend time praying (which will not last), or I can let God transform my heart and give me the desire and passion to want to pray.  Forcing ourselves to do something that our heart is not prepared to do will never last. 
Here is a spiritual truth that we all need to understand: God changes the internal to produce changes in the external. True spiritual formation starts in the heart and works its way outward.  It says in 1 Samuel 16:7—“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God would rather change our hearts than us change our actions.  He knows that a transformed heart is the only thing that will produce true and lasting fruit.  (I highly recommend reading Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard).
So stay away from maintenance and seek renovation.  Don’t settle for maintenance on your heart when God is willing to give you a new one. 

07 March 2014

Insecurity in Leadership

8 Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 So Saul eyed David from that day forward.
1 Samuel 18.8-9
     Insecurity is a terrible thing. It makes us feel like we are less than perfect. It holds us hostage to unhealthy emotions and an unfair standard. Insecurity lies to us and tells us that we aren’t – when God is telling us that we are. Insecurity can ruin your leadership. It will slowly wrap around your faith and squeeze all the life out of you. There is no place in the life of a leader for insecurity.
     In the above passage we find Saul, the reigning king of Israel, succumbing to the lure of insecurity. He is stung by the words of the crowd and for the rest of his life lives in suspicion and jealousy of David. The ironic thing is that David would have been Saul’s greatest ally if only Saul had been able to overcome his insecurity.
     I wonder how many of us are chasing “David” away because of insecurity. Seriously. “David” is that new leader who has a ton of ideas. “David” is that church member that finally caught a fire for Jesus (the very passion that you have been praying she would get) and now suggests that you start new ministries. “David” is that person who you keep at arms distance because they have to “prove their faithfulness” before you let them serve in a greater capacity.

     If we are honest with ourselves we would say that “David” threatens everything that has “Saul’s” blood running through it. What I mean by that is we get comfortable with our status and position and when someone upsets the apple cart by offering fresh perspective and new ideas we can get territorial. All of a sudden we catch ourselves thinking negative thoughts about people on the team or in the church. “Why can’t he just listen to what I’m saying?” “I’m the one who has been here serving when no one else was here. She needs to chill out and just do what I said.” “He hasn’t even been a Christian for 2 months and now he wants to lead a group?!” The list goes on and on.
     Beware of places where insecurity has crept into your heart. Saul eventually threw spears at David trying to kill him. Actually, his overwhelming need to get rid of David was what ultimately led to his death. Like I said earlier, insecurity is a terrible thing.
     Here are a few observations about insecurity in Saul’s life that we might identify with:

1. He was more concerned with public opinion than with his God-given position.

     It was the singing of the town’s women that sent Saul into his insecure tizzy. They exaggerated the works of both men yet Saul was angry because the new kid on the block was given more credit than he was. I cannot tell you how many times I have been victim to this trick. In ministry it is so easy to draw our identity from the crowd. That’s why for many pastors the greatest day of the week and the worst day of the week is Sunday. On that day if the house is packed and people respond well to the sermon the soft whisper of insecurity reminds us of how great we are. However when we have lower numbers than usual or preach what we consider a “bad” sermon that same voice that once reassured us now confirms how terrible we are. “Well you bombed that one!” “I’ll be surprised if anyone comes back next week!”

     Ministry success in not defined by numbers. Period. Numbers don’t prove that you are a good leader. That day Saul placed too much emphasis on the movement of the crowd and not enough emphasis on his God-given position. Regardless of what those silly women sang as they shook their ancient tambourines that day there was still one simple truth…Saul was still the king. There song didn’t change his position. He lost track of that because he was more concerned with public opinion than with his God-given position. Don’t draw your significance from the song of the crowd. You’re better than that. If God has put you in your position celebrate His choosing of you and don’t let the jingling of the tambourines change your mind.

2. He jumped to unhealthy conclusions.

     Check this out: Saul actually took the words from a song that women were singing because they were glad the battle with the Philistines was over and in essence said, “Wow they have said David is amazing. I guess the next thing they’re going to do is kill me so that he can be the king!” Saul was displaying the classic tell-tale signs of a spiritual hypochondriac. He thought that matters were worse than they actually were.

     My wife picks on me because I tend to act like a hypochondriac at times. You know my type: a soon as I get a sore throat I go to WebMD and look at the symptoms only to realize that I have low spinal fluid, polio, and throat cancer! Stop laughing. You know how we can get! That’s what’s happening here with Saul. He hears a silly song (not from Larry) and freaks out because he thinks the sky is falling! It’s kind of like how us pastors can get when someone disagrees with a decision we make and we start looking at www.churchjobs.com for a new job. Calm down. Take a few deep breaths. Drink some cold water. It’s just a silly song. Don’t jump to conclusions. Let the younger leaders have their celebration. Heck, even celebrate with them! Don’t be so scared that the “kingdom” is on the line that you don’t enjoy the journey.

     I want to point out here that Saul was scared over a silly song that was sang in the heat of the moment. I don’t want to call the character of those young Israelite women into account here, but I want to point out that they were just making stuff up off the cuff. They didn’t put together a task force to research all of David and Saul’s military exploits. They didn’t bring in Randy Johnson from American Idol and have him coach them on the song writing process. They just opened their mouths and started singing. They were glad the war was over and that’s all. Yet the insecurity within Saul’s heart caused him to forfeit his joy over a few silly songs. Don’t let a silly song rob you of your joy.

3. He held a grudge.

     Verse 9 says, “So Saul eyed David from that day forward.” As a matter of fact on several occasions Saul tried to kill David. From that day forward all the affairs of King Saul’s administration were focused on eliminating David as a threat to the crown. Saul eventually ruined relationships with his daughter Michal and his son Jonathan because of his grudge with David. He even lost his throne over it. The one thing that he was trying to protect he ended up losing because the intoxication of his grudge clouded his judgment and hampered his effectiveness as a leader.

     That’s why we must labor to accept the Davids in our lives. Let them win every now and then. Pray for them. Ask God to surround you with Davids. Ask God to help you not be an insecure leader. If you are holding onto a grudge stop right now and let it go. Listen to me when I say you need David to help you be successful. David is not there to hurt you – he’s there to help you. Stop letting insecurity rob you of the blessing of teamwork. In ministry it really is true that we’re better together. Saul lost sight of that and it cost him dearly. Don’t make the same mistake.