April 23, 2016

5 Crucial Social Media Cautions for Pastors

social media pastorsOn Tuesday this week, Mark DeMoss addressed a group of fifty senior pastors on the topic of social media. As a well known Christian public relations guy, I expected a list of pros and cons. But Mark shared 30-minutes worth of cons only, focusing on the unintentional abuse of social media by leaders and the downsides of engagement without reflection. After a few days of ruminating on his insights, the following “cautions” are my re-articulated points of his advice to pastors.

Crucial  Caution #1: Beware of a gradual grip of narcissism 

As someone who studies the brands of ministries and Christian leaders, Mark made a provocative statement. He noted that there is little difference sometimes between the social media of famous Christians and those just “famous for being famous.” While social media doesn’t change the heart or create narcissism, it certainly can be a tool to accelerate an unhealthy focus on self.

Crucial Caution #2: Don’t let immediate emotions get the best of you

The instant access to publishing on social media means that we can start “talking” in public while being frustrated and angry. Recently Perry Noble, the lead pastor of NewSpring Church, tweeted his frustration at American Airlines. His blog and apology for “I freaking hate American Airlines”  is a worthwhile lesson for any pastor on social media.

Crucial Caution #3: Consider whose benefit you are posting for

The question is, “Who is your constituency?” Who really is the designed beneficiary of your social media content. You? Your family? Your peers? Your congregation? Your “followers?”  Is it the people who sit on the front line of your ministry or other pastors in your network? I think it is easy for pastors to post content that is positioning themselves rather than serving the people they lead. 

To help calibrate the social media content for a pastor, Mark suggested asking this question: “Would an unemployed person in your church, whose spouse is battling cancer, appreciate your post?” 

Crucial Caution #4: Manage content to minimize “dueling brands”

It’s possible over time that the messaging of your social media feed starts to contradict your mission. What types of content create a disconnect from your true calling among the people in your sphere of social influence? To dramatize the reality that your social media is always emanating a brand, a message and a mission, Mark posed the scenario: “What if the next time your were introduced, they pulled up your instagram feed instead?” Would your most recent pictures and content be a suitable introduction? Would the mission and values of your life and ministry be present?

Crucial Caution #5: Don’t respond to critics in the social media space.

Because Mark deals with crisis management, I thought his black and white advice on responding to critics was helpful: Don’t! Due to the public nature of social media and the inherent lack of accountability and control of people who can attack, manipulate and fabricate, he recommends not responding.

One humorous example Mark gave involved a pastor who was responding back and forth to a critic on twitter. The pastor, with tens of thousands of followers, engaged in what become a social debate with the critic. The pastor soon realized that the critic only had a dozen followers. The critic was criticizing and no one was listening. No one was listening that is, until the pastor starting responding.

March 21, 2016

How Great Pastors Learn “Not to Care”

Great Pastors - Not to CareGreat pastors care about a lot of things and a lot of people. But with the non-stop opportunity to minister to peoples’ never ending needs, every pastor must eventually face a crazy question: “Is it possible to care too much?

An essay I read as a young pastor marked a pivot point in my life. It was an essay by Eugene Peterson entitled, “Teach us to Care and Not to Care” in his book Subversive Spirituality (The essay title is taken from a line in the poem by T.S. Eliot,  Ash Wednesday.) The big idea is that we must let God be God and not take too much personal responsibility for the spiritual growth of others. God is the one who causes the growth, not any man’s skill as an evangelist, teacher or shepherd. Great pastors must learn not to care too much.  It was a classic call to repent of the the “messiah complex.” Jesus is the only true rescuer.

The timing of a provocative article like this is everything. A a few years earlier in ministry journey, and the essay would not have made much sense. But at that time I was overwhelmed as a spiritual formation pastor with several thousand congregants in our church. I was feeling the increasing weight, week after week, of disappointing people by trying to do too much for too many. Peterson’s exhortation “not to care” was useful in breaking my spirit of self-importance.

This important essay would expand in its meaning over the years. Not only would the words “not to care” help me learn humility, they would remind me to focus my calling. Today,  I remind myself not to care in at least four ways. I will repeat Eugene Peterson’s phrase to keep the boldness of “not caring” anchored in a fundamental call to grace and kindness.

#1 – Great pastors don’t let anything but the gospel become the power center for life change. Teach me to care and not to care if I think my personal presence in any way becomes a source of transformation for other people.

#2 – Great pastors don’t let success in  ministry distract from their presence at home. Teach me to care and not to care if my ministry career is keeping me from coming home on time.

#3 – Great pastors don’t try to help everyone personally in their sphere of influence; they look long-term to multiply their ministry by investing in a few.  Teach me to care and not to care about doing the work myself when God is calling me to develop others who will multiply the work.

#4 – Great pastors don’t let the flood of trivial tasks distract from their core calling.  Teach me to care and not to care until I have given my best energy and effort every day to my most vital responsibilities.

Warning: One way that “not to care” will backfire.

Years ago, church consultant Lyle Schaller used an important idea to describe the pastor’s foundational work. He said a pastor must “pay the rent” when it comes to the basic expectations of the church board and congregation. Showing up to preach a good sermon is paying the rent. Showing up on time at the elders meeting is paying the rent. Doing the funeral only you can do is paying the rent.

I think that the “paying the rent” work of ministry is always important to care about. If my “not caring” ever becomes lethargy or laziness, then I have crossed a dangerous line. “Not caring” cannot justify sloppiness or slothfulness

Be passionate, work hard, and  stay focused by not caring too much.

February 27, 2016

5 Reasons Why Disciples Need Ministry Tools More than Sermons

Will Mancini on Ministry Tools
The discipleship results of your ministry are not defined by content of your preaching alone.  One significant factor that impacts disciple-making is tool-making.  Unfortunately, you might not recall any seminary classes or conference breakouts on making ministry tools.

Why not? The simplest explanation is that we rely too much on teaching. As a result, we as pastors, do not become good at training and spend little time on toolmaking. In fact the average pastor rarely pursues improved competency as a trainer. But pastors go to great lengths— attending workshops, digesting sermons, and reading books— to become better preachers. 

Think about it for a minute: Is your church better characterized as a teaching center or a training center? Do you consider yourself more of a bible-communicator or a people-developer? When is the last time you thought about finding or making ministry tools?

I know what you want to say— “It’s both Will, why would you separate it?” Of course your intent is both to communicate well and see a disciple form as a result.  But I want to separate the two so that you can double check your assumptions and expectations about how people change and grow. Does your teaching provide the pathway toward the modeling, practicing, and evaluating of new life skills? Are you really helping people develop new life competencies in the way of Jesus?  Or are you just preaching?

One proof that you are good at training is the presence of ministry tools. What tools have you given to people lately through one of your sermon series? When was the last time you brainstormed with your team about a new ministry tool to create? If you have small group leaders in the church, what ministry tools have you provided for them in the last year?

What’s the bottom line? If you are not adding ministry tools to the lives of your people, you are not close to maximizing a disciple-making culture. You are probably not equipping people that much.

Before explaining why, let’s define what we mean by a tool. One definition reads:

Tool: A handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task. The basic definition brings to mind a hammer or screwdriver that you hold in your hand. The definition may expand if a tool doesn’t have to be literally handheld. Another definition reads: a device or implement used to carry out a particular function.

The term “device” broadens the range for disciple-making purposes. For example, the model prayer of Jesus was a device to train the disciples how to pray. Jesus used questions, metaphors and parables as devices or tools of disciple-making that weren’t “handheld” per se.

So what are examples of ministry tools? Here are five:

  • A church does a sermon on praying and provides a prayer journal (ministry tool) as people walk out the door.
  • A pastor preaches on missional living and creates a table tent (ministry tool- a triangle-shaped brochure that stands in the middle of the dinner table)  for family conversations designed to encourage the application of being better neighbors for the sake of the gospel.
  • A team codifies a definition (ministry tool) of what kind of disciple their church is designed to produce and then creates a self-assessment (ministry tool) to use in small groups.
  • A pastor uses a 4-question, gospel fluency matrix (ministry tool) –drawable on a napkin–to help the congregation apply the gospel to the daily fluctuations of sinful emotions and actions.
  • A bible study leader passes out a business card (ministry tool) with a daily bible reading schedule and three applications questions to ask for every passage of scripture.

This is a short list that begins to illustrate the endless possibilities of ministry tools. Keep in mind that I didn’t even reference the internet or digital devices that really explode the possibilities ministry tool-making.

Now that we have defined and illustrated what a ministry tool or device is, let’s get to the heart of the post. Why do disciples need ministry tools more than sermons? Why should we not rely on preaching alone if we are to train people to follow Jesus?  Here are five compelling reasons:

#1 – A ministry tool signifies importance.  A tool highlights the greater importance of the idea thus setting it up for application and helping stand out among the competing messages in every area of life. When a tool is introduced in the flow of communication, the idea behind the tool will trump every other idea. The tool immediately indicates the value of repeatability as well.

#2 – A ministry tool activates learning. A tool utilizes a part of human brain that is activated by a concrete object to hold and use, or an audio device to return to like a question or repeatable story. Again this sets up an important step toward application. It engages visual and kinesthetic learners.

#3 – A ministry tool guides application. This is the main idea. The tool itself provides a “how to” that can be practiced, repeated and eventually mastered. It shows the way and validates when action has been taken or not.  The device clarifies a step of implementation. In a way, a tool gently brings accountability to the table–every time I see the tool, I know whether or not I have used it.

#4 – A ministry tool creates energy. A tool helps people feel excited about ideas. It helps people win. And by the way, may pastors can unintentionally create a sense of failure for their people.  As people listen to sermons year after year, they oftentimes feel like they aren’t growing like they should. A tool can reverse that dynamic. It’s focuses application, so they can do it. And that gives pastors the opportunity to celebrate their new skill development. Then, even more energy is created!

#5 – A ministry tool reproduces training. A tool makes every person a trainer not just the pastor or preacher. As a leader, it’s not important what you can do; it’s important what you can duplicate. If you make a tool, it can outlast you and be passed from disciple to disciple to disciple until Jesus returns again.

This last principle has changed by personal conviction that I must spend time to make tools. In fact my two most important books (tools themselves) are Church Unique an God Dreams each of which cover how to create a master tool for church leadership, the Vision Frame and the Horizon Storyline, respectively.

Ministry tools- family tree trainingI would love to hear from you. What is your favorite ministry tool? What ministry tools have you created recently?

A final illustration of one of my favorites is a how-to PDF and video on creating a family tree. This tool comes from a short sermon series at Clear Creek Community Church, my home church. To help people gain perspective and apply the gospel to the brokenness of extended family dynamics, they encouraged everyone to practice writing out their family diagram.

February 20, 2016

Only 4 Types of Pastors Excel at Vision – Are You One of Them?

Pastors that Excel at Vision

I was having a conversation with Bryan Rose on the Auxano team recently. We broached the topic of “pastors who get it.” That is, we discussed the kinds of pastors who really press through the vision process to gain great clarity. These pastors lead with humility and tenacity. These pastors build great churches. These pastors see the kingdom grow right in front of their eyes. These are the true visionaries.

We believe these leaders fit almost perfectly into one of four categories or four types of pastors.

These are four types of pastors that are willing to learn, discern and do the hard work of visionary leadership. Another way to say it is that these pastors are leading today what will be the great churches ten and twenty years from now.


#1 – The relevant rookie pastor: “I don’t know what I don’t know”

These pastors are sharp younger leaders (20s and 30s) who are in tune with their personal calling and dialed in to the prevailing issues of popular culture. They are probably in a new role that brings new responsibility; or they may be launching out on their own as a church planter. jason webbThey are naturally hungry to learn. They are culture savvy and they are connected to the people they are leading. 

They understand that they don’t know everything about organizational leadership. They are humble enough to invite a coach to the table. But their humility does not dilute their tenacity. They are the new breed of visionaries. They are tired of the old scorecards and will do whatever it takes to communicate the substance of the culture and vision of the church. 

Client profile: Jason Webb at ElmBrook Church recently completed a 9-month vision framing process.  “Rookie” doesn’t reflect Jason’s stellar church planting track record. But as a 30-something leader walking into a 5,000 plus attendance church, others might assign that adjective. (Especially when following in the footsteps of Stuart Briscoe and Mel Lawrenz, two former senior pastors.) Jason did an amazing job stewarding a vision process with a highly tenured team. They are 8 months into their vision roll-out. The completely new sense of team is felt and focus on the future is extraordinarily clear. Their passion is to help spiritually adrift people become rooted and released in Jesus Christ.

#2 – The legacy minded pastor: “I want to leave something valuable”

On the opposite end of the “rookie” spectrum is the legacy minded pastor. These pastors have likely led for decades in the same church. They have a lifetime of trust building and faithful service creating solid and influential ministries.

But they know that times are changing. They are now aware of the generational pattern of failed successions of senior pastors.  They are not quite ready to pass the baton or even make any long-term succession announcements, but they want to start putting the house in order. They are probably 3-7 years away from leaving their position.  They want to be more relevant. They want to re-clarify what their church can do best and re-align ministries to strengthen impact. They are tired of just doing more and want to prune ineffective ministries. They want to leave a strong and self-aware church to their eventual successor.

Client Profile: Pastor Clint has been leading his church for 25 years. At age 62, he feels that he has at least five more years left. He has built one of the best megachurches in North America. The church is getting older than people want to admit. Even though younger leaders are present, they are not present with serious responsibility yet. Pastor Clint has raised the money to do a 12-month vision process and it has reinvigorated his life and ministry like nothing before. As each month brings increasingly clarity, he is leading better, allowing others to lead better and is gaining confidence toward the long-range future.

#3 – The newly stuck pastor: “I have barrier that I now realize is not going away and I am not exactly sure how to fix it.”

The newly stuck pastor has a very simple story. You keep growing until you don’t. After five or 10 years of year-over-year growth, the church just stops growing. Giving is not going up; or at least not as much. By the way, you know you are in this place when you push really hard to “feel like you are growing” even though, deep inside, you know you are not. For example, attendance may be flat, but you put your hope in the fact that the church had slightly more attendance at Easter. Or you keep focusing on a few months where giving is slightly higher. You take momentary relief in the trend that your most faithful members attend church less. 

To make matters worse, if you look around the church, everything is going fine. All cylinders are hitting. Buildings are great, staff is relatively healthy. It’s hard to know why the growth is not just happening any longer.

The truth is that the organization is perfectly designed to get the results that it’s getting. Something about the structure, the culture, or the complexity of the church is holding it back. But because all of the successful years, the answer is not obvious or automatic. Finally something happens: you realize you need some perspective from the outside. You’ll do whatever it takes to break that glass ceiling.

Client Profile: Pastor Dan is 55 and has been leading a church for 10 years. Five years ago the attendance plateaued at around 1,600 in weekend services. He has kept hoping for the best and has become increasing bothered by their lack of growth. In fact, they built seating capacity to handle double their current attendance.  Every Sunday, Dan feels the pain of the empty seats   On Sabbatical two summers ago, he read Church Unique and began to think about both his vision and his organization dynamics. Recently he finished a 12-month vision framing process. He is more excited than ever to be in ministry. He is seeing people excited as he creates and models a culture of mission. He is leading with vision like never before. Attendance is already on the rise and giving has dramatically picked up.

#4 – The rapid growth pastor: “I don’t want to grow bigger, unless bigger is better.”

There are two types of rapid-growth pastors: those who fixate on attendance only and those with a passion for disciple-making in a growing church context. I work primarily with the latter and that is the profile I am now describing. David SaathoffThese pastors understand that all growth is not good growth. They understand that growth out of alignment in the human body is called cancer. What then, do you call growth in the body of Christ that is out of alignment with the DNA of Jesus?

The rapid growth pastor sees a growing attendance as a critical stewardship. It’s a starting point not an end point. Are there clear next steps not just to “get involved but” to really grow as disciple-making disciples? Is leadership development and people development taking place? Is growing attendance happening under the banner of a vivid sense of the church’s impact for the next 5-10 years? Are we sending as well as we are attracting? Are we managing our culture or letting the growth manage us? 

Client Profile: David Saathoff leads City Church in San Antonio. Dave has engaged the Vision Framing process several times since he launched the church 20 years ago. He continually manages clarity in the complexity of growth and the messiness of reaching people far from God. He has literally reached thousands with the passion to become catalysts of spiritual and social change in the city. He has one of my favorite mission measures which codifies the practices of “how we live” across a large church community. Even if new people are added at a fast rate, the expectation of disciple-making is delivered at concurrent speed. How do they articulate it? How we live: We listen to God, be the church, share a meal, downsize to maximize, peel the onion, keep our passport current and lean towards green.

These are the four types of pastors that excel at vision. Which one are you?

February 16, 2016

7 Practices to Make (Much) Better Team Decisions

Will Mancini Team decisions
Most church teams enjoy hanging out together.  The weekly rhythm of doing church brings staff and volunteers together across a broad span of activities– the laughing and praying of our leading and meeting. While no church is perfect, many staff teams enjoy a strong bond and collegial spirit.

But good team spirit doesn’t ensure better team decisions. Did you ever reflect on the fact that healthy fellowship among church leaders by itself doesn’t lead to an effective culture of decision-making? In fact, I have discovered an opposite dynamic. Sometimes the common bond of ministry actually enables weaker decision-making practices, and as a result, poorer decisions. Ironically, a mutual respect can backfire to empower a “you do your thing and I’ll do mine” attitude of disengagement.

What’s at stake if teams don’t make better team decisions? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

Lost time: Poor team decision-making simply burns more time. It may be more time in the meeting itself because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.

Dissipated energy: Poor team decision-making leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.

Mediocre ideas: Poor team decision-making fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-n-past the ideas of others because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.

Competing visions: Poor team decision-making invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of there future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create a dynamic of collaborative decision-making?  Try these seven practices for making better team decisions.

1. Define how the decision will be made.
There are several ways to decide something together. The same team could even use multiple decision-making methods in the same meeting, as long as the team is clear about the method being used for each decision. Here are some questions that will clarify which type of discussion you are having.

  • Are we giving input to the decision maker? (executive decision)
  • Will we discuss and then vote? (majority rules)
  • Will we discuss until we all agree? (consensus)
  • Will two people bring a solution under another leader’s authority (compromise)

Of course, there are variations to all of these. For example, in our collaborative visioning work we use the 100/80 principle: “Do 100% of us feel 80% good about the decision?” We consider that a truly collaborative decision.

How many hours of team time has been wasted trying to get consensus on something that is really an executive decision that will be made by the lead pastor? Don’t waste that time.  Let everyone know up front how the decision will be made and then begin the discussion.

2. Listen.
You might think this goes without saying, but it’s so crucial to good team dynamics. Many people—especially leaders—come into a conversation with their minds already made up. All they’re doing is waiting for everyone else to be quiet so they can say what they think.

Instead, listen to what the team is saying. Ask clarifying questions. Listen to understand, not to respond. Try your best to understand not only what each team member is saying, but their driving passions and underlying concerns and built in assumptions that they’re not voicing. You will make much better decisions as a team if you all learn to listen well.

3. Share with an appropriate level of honesty.
Every member of the team should feel free to honestly say what they think. But how many times has a discussion been derailed by what a team member defensively calls brutal honesty? If you have to preface your comment with something like, “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but…” is usually a clue that you should rethink and reword what you were about to say.

Honesty is good. Brutal honesty is brutal. You don’t need to be brutal in order to be honest. By sharing thoughts and opinions with an appropriate level of transparency, you can will both share openly and honor your team members.

4. Say it in the room.
If you have something to say, especially if you disagree with the direction being considered, you must voice your thoughts in the room, not in the hallway afterward. This is one of the most destructive things a team can experience. It can bring division and strife, wrecking unity and blocking momentum.

If you think of something after the meeting is over, let the whole team know that you’d like to revisit the conversation. Side conversations and adjusting the decision after a team discussion devalues every person on the team. “Why did we have to sit through that whole discussion if they were just going to change it after the fact?” If you have something to say, say it in the room.

5. Ask the question, “Is there anyone else should speak into this decision that isn’t here?”
Many times there other people on the team, no matter where they sit in the organizational chart, that have experience, insight, or such a stake in the decision that their input should be included before a final decision is reached. At the very least, it’s always important to think about the people that will be directly impacted by the decision and communicate with them as much information as possible. No one likes to be blindsided. I’ve seen too many church leaders rail about the “immaturity” of a team member that could have more to do with the way decisions are communicated than it does with the maturity level of the team member in question.

6. Make a decision.
You’ve heard this before: “Not making a decision is still making a decision.” That’s true. And there are going to be times when this is the right thing to do. But at least acknowledge that you’re making a decision to table the issue or include other people in the conversation. No matter what, make a decision and be clear about it.

With our Auxano team, we use the phrase “Decide/Commit” to signal to the team that I think we’ve had enough discussion about a topic and it’s time for us to make a decision. To learn more about the different stages of a collaborative discussion, check out the Collaboration Cube. It’s a great tool to help your team collaborate more effectively.

7. Stick to the decision after the meeting.
This might sound obvious but it’s violated so often that it’s worth repeating. Once you’ve made a decision, stick with it! Changing the decision after the team has agreed on a direction basically communicates that you didn’t really need the rest of the team’s input anyway and you’re just going to do what you want to do. Guard the long-term effectiveness of your team by sticking with the decisions you make together. If you do need to change a decision, get the team back together to discuss it again first. Yes, even if that means missing the deadline or pushing back the timeline. Your team is more important.

If your team will use these seven practices, you’ll experience a dramatic synergy. What will better decisions do? You will:

  • Save time. 
  • Add energy. 
  • Generate great ideas.
  • And play on the same page with the same vision.