April 30, 2016

8 Tips on How to Access Free Advice from Any Expert or Mentor

Free Advice Will ManciniAfter walking out of a crowded breakout session at the Exponential Conference last week, a guy handed me a folded-up note. The kind of note you get from your best buddy in middle school, crinkled and hand written. He wanted free advice.

Here is what the note said:

Will, I can’t (currently) afford your time, and I know your time is not only valuable but I’m sure very limited. I am not very good at what you are great at. I need to be better for the sake of the kingdom. If you can help me think about my Vision Frame and future dreams, I’d love to connect. No pressure– If you can’t right now, please don’t. Thanks for what you do.

The purpose of this post is not just to respond to my conference attender (his name is Scott) but to equip you with how to get free advice from experts and time with great mentors.

Why did Scott’s note trigger this post? I stand on the shoulders of  many superb leaders who were always willing to take the time for me. But the more I grew in leadership the more inaccessible the best experts became. And yet, I still found ways to get free advice and time with great mentors. 

There are times when I pay for coaching and consulting. I think every effective leader should. However, I have received amazing benefits by working hard to find excellent teachers and rare mentoring moments. Depending on your experience level and resource base, the next best step for you is probably some cost-free advice or a significant mentoring engagement.

TIP #1: Don’t waste your breath stating the obvious; like talking about time and money.

If you ever want to spend a moment with a great leader or a well-known expert, don’t tell them that you value their time. You just wasted their time by making the statement. Show them that you value your time, by the first thing that comes out of your mouth. (More on this to come.)

Don’t tell them that you don’t have money. The person you want to learn from is not thinking about the money. Making the statement, “I can’t afford you” is lazy at best and an insult at worst, albeit unintended. Scott, who wrote the note above, could have spent time with me and learned from me, if he was prepared to learn from me. Money has nothing to do with it.

Keep in mind that most people you might want to learn from didn’t become experts by worrying about the money. They became experts because they are passionate, focused and experienced at what they do. They is always a path to access if you really want.

TIP #2: Know what you want from them before you approach

You are not ready to learn from an expert if you haven’t done a little homework. Do you know  what you are looking for? Do you know where you are stuck? Have you located your issue in the would-be mentor’s body of expertise? Imagine the difference between the next two appeals: “Thanks for your writing.  I have a question about vision…” Or, “I really appreciated chapter 14 in your latest book, and I have a question about the napkin-sketch version of our disciple-making strategy.” You won’t get free advice if you don’t know what kind of advice you need.

TIP #3: Be prepared with precise questions

This tip is the most important in this list. In fact you should probably list several versions of the same question to hone down exactly the best way to ask it. An expert by nature is most motivated to help you where nuances are important to performance. Avoid big, giant questions that are too general and imprecise. These questions expose either: 1)  Your lack of pre-work or 2) Your passing interest in the topic that you aren’t really going to follow-up. Look at the questions below to prompt how to begin asking a quick question that could deliver big value:

  • Would you invest a moment’s attention to tell me what you like best about this.
  • Your second point today had to do with this.  Here is our current approach on this. What do you see as our greatest limitation?
  • I have spent hours with a our team and have boiled down our best options to this and this. What question would you ask to help our team decide which one is best?
  • If we were to make this decision, what do you fear we have failed to consider?

TIP #4: Use their “love language”

Make your presence interesting and engaging for the expert by showing that you know something about them. Penn State. Mountain Biking. The names and interests of my wife and kids. Kite Boarding. Favorite travel spots. Fishing for smallmouth using topwater lures on a river. If these things are salt and peppered into a conversation with me, I am going to lean into the conversation and laugh with you.

If the person you want to learn from has just spoken at a conference or has written a book, there will be plenty of things you can pick-up and use. Experts are people too. Make the connection!

TIP #5: Have next steps ready depending on their response

The most important free advice may require a little extra time or effort from the teacher. The key question is, how do you get access? It’s important to think through what next steps might be involved. For example, maybe you are asking permission for  15-minute phone call or a lunch appointment.  Maybe you need them to review something you have created. How do you get a next step of commitment from them? First follow tips 1-4. Then follow tips 6-8. But as you do think very carefully about the scope of your follow-up request. Have 2-3 options or different “sized” requests ready based on the feel and vibe of the conversation. If the expert feels engaged make the bigger ask. If they feel distant, ask for the smallest next step possible.

TIP #6: Make a “next step ask” by appealing to an investment paradigm 

The more inaccessible the expert, the more thoughtful the appeal of the request must be. I like to use an investment paradigm. What does that mean? It means that I position myself to be the best investment of their time and energy. I let them know that I want to increase their impact and legacy. I want them to know that they are missing a great opportunity not to invest in me. Of course this could easily become arrogant. So don’t make it sound prideful. It is about how important they are, not me.  It’s about how busy they are not me. I want to simply differentiate why they should spend 15 minutes on the phone with me.

Show the expert quickly, precisely, and humbly why your request is worth their time, without talking about time. Don’t be afraid to list a 2-3 things that you have accomplished.

For example, one time I asked Carl George, if I could spend 3 hours with him over a long meal. I let him know that I lead a team of consultants in a non-profit church consulting group that works with over 300 churches a year. I told him I want to multiply his learnings for my generation. And he was glad to give me his time.

TIP #7: Never leave the initiative with them 

The saddest thing about Scott’s note to me, is that he wrote his cell phone down and asked me to call him. He thought he was respecting my time, but he wasn’t. He put a thing on my to do list that I will never get to. (Remember I am willing to spend time with him.) If he would have stopped me and said, “What’s the best way to ask a brief but intelligent question about church vision when you are not surrounded by people?” I would have given him my cell number and told him when to text me.

TIP #8: Model respectful persistence 

The single greatest mentor of my life was Howard Hendricks. I learned that his love language, like many accomplished experts,  is genuine initiative. Many students would flock to him after his inspiring teaching sessions. The after-crowd was big, but the real follow-up was thin. Why? Prof, as he was called, was not very dynamic and funny one-on-one. People got bored quickly with him in smaller settings, because they didn’t know how to learn from him.

Thousands are interested but very few are consistently persistent. If at first the expert does not respond,  try again. Differentiate yourself with great questions, engaging follow-up, and real initiative.

As you can see from this post, I love to learn. Here is my favorite post on learning: 6 Radical Steps to Learning What you Don’t Know

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?