November 15, 2014

Stop Being an Overworked Pastor by Becoming an Essential One

I run into overworked pastors every week. In this second post of a series reflecting on the book, Essentialism, by Greg McKeown for the benefit of church leaders , I want to explore the reality that you are bombarded with the “trivial many” every day in ministry. In fact, you are probably an overworked pastor:

Now let me ask you this: Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilized? Have you ever found yourself majoring in minor activities? Do you ever feel busy but not productive? Like you’re always in motion, but never getting anywhere?

Of course you have. We all have, especially working in the church. What are you going to do about it? Allow me to recommend, in the words of Greg McKeown, that it starts by discerning the trivial many from the vital few! The key to being an “essential pastor” is knowing precisely what you are called to do. As you focus on the essential things God wants you to focus on you will accomplish more with less energy. And most likely, you will have more joy doing it. But you must find the “vital few.” More ministry and more joy without the burden of more work on your back. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?  I can assure you that its not. So, how do you get there? Three actions are the first steps of freeing yourself from the burden of “too much” and flood of the “trivial many:” You must start by escaping, exploring and evaluating.

The way of the Essentialist is to explore and evaluate a broad set of options before committing to any. Because Essentialists will commit and “go big” on only the vital few ideas or activities, they explore more options at first to ensure they pick the right one later.

ESCAPE: Enjoy the perks of being unavailable Whether you can invest two hours a day, two weeks a year, or even just five minutes every morning, it is important to make space to escape in your busy life. When was your last episode of deep reflection? Pablo Picaso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.

  • The overworked pastor is too busy doing ministry to think about life
  • The essential pastor creates space to escape and explore life

EXPLORE: Observe what really matters Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners. Knowing that the reality of trade-offs means they can’t possibly pay attention to everything, they listen deliberately for what is not being explicitly stated. What have others been saying that you haven’t wanted to listen to? What has God been saying to you? What are people talking about everyday about the ministry?

  • The overworked pastor pays attention to the loudest voice
  • The essential pastor pays attention to the signal in the noise

EVALUATE: Decide what matters most Through process of escaping and exploring the goal is to evaluate. What ministry is most important? Where is God a work? What relationships require the most energy? What is the most important thing I must today to advance the mission? Of course these questions can be asked for seasons in ministry or your task list this week. In my work with churches we try answer this first on the broadest level, “What can your church do better than 10,000 others?” We call it the Kingdom Concept. Only then do we move further in the process of planning.

  • The overworked pastor is overwhelmed by all the information
  • The essential pastor scans to find the essence of the information

ESSENTIAL LIVING: You can do it As you decide what matters most, you will run into things that wage war with your decision—the trivial many will want to push there way through! Specifically I struggle with three- the momentum of yesterday, the emotion of the moment, and the interruptions of the day. It’s natural to struggle, but the more you practice the more you’ll progress.  The single greatest tool I use in general to be an “essential pastor” is the Vision Frame that guides my ministry, my family and my life. The single greatest tool I use to practice essentialism each day, is to identify the two most important things I can accomplish by 11:00am.

October 25, 2014

Life is Like Whitewater: 5 Strategies for How to Ride

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 3.56.03 PMWe wall want to live with purpose.

One of my very short-term mentors is Kevin McCarthy. While I was still on the pastoral staff at Clear Creek Community Church, Kevin came in to consult with us. He modeled what expert facilitation looked like and spoke with great skill about organizational vision. One of his books is the On-Purpose Person and this post is taken from it.  Kevin skillfully summarizes what I am calling five strategies for making it through life. As you consider these it will help you live with purpose.

Imagine your life to be like a boat on a river of time. You captain your vessel. Some stretches of the river are smooth and quiet; other parts are turbulent with rapids. Most of the river is an endless converging and mixing of currents and conditions that inevitably move you along. The river exists, but its flow is indifferent to your presence. The harsh reality of ‘the real world’ inevitably hits us. How we deal with it matters. I’ve given the responses nicknames: floaters, fighters, fleers, flitters, and navigators.

Strategy #1: Floaters

  • Passively resign themselves to accept the river in its present condition
  • Aimlessly go along for the ride
  • Are unwilling to accept responsibility for altering their experience
  • Complain the whole time about how unfair the world is

Strategy #2: Fighters

  • Fight the forces of nature
  • Glory in ‘victories’ from time to time
  • Tout the virtues of perseverance and commitment
  • Fail to realize how little control they possess
  • Suffer from burnout, stress, and exhaustion because their strategy is futile

Strategy #3: Fleers

  • Check out of all responsibility and flee the flow of society
  • Fall into self-indulgent behaviors
  • Retreat from society in order to cope with their fear

Strategy #4: Flitters

  • Jump from job to job, person to person, or place to place
  • Are always searching but rarely finding what they’re looking for in life
  • Are masters at starting over but rarely take root
  • Feel productive because of their busyness, but never gain traction

We may all be floaters, fighters, fleers, or flitters to some degree, but these actions should be a technique, not a way of life. Navigating life and appropriately using these methods is the point. Strategy #5: Navigators

  • Know the flow, navigate to go
  • Accept the river and its ever-changing conditions
  • Are not resigned to futile determinism
  • Have not foolishly tried to change nature’s course
  • Do not run away
  • Do not panic

The difference between the floaters/fighters//fleers/flitters and the navigators is knowing the river, equipping oneself, and harnessing these resources to work with the flow of water or time. In a couple of words, it’s “lifelong learning.” It’s living with purpose.

Each of us owns unique knowledge and life experiences. Add to this our talents, strengths, and gifts and gird it all with purpose, and we gain a powerful and potent combination. When times get tough, we captain ourselves as best we can or we get a more experienced navigator to guide us. This is why so many people today turn to life coaches to help them accelerate their personal growth and professional development. Coaches are like river guides for life. They bring their perspectives and experience to the situation for our benefit.

This last year, I began my first Personal Vision Cohort–a group of 15-20 people spending 12 months working diligently on finding and aligning their call from God. If you want to follow along with tools and learnings from this cohort, just look for the the keyword “younique.” Check #younique out on twitter or type it in the search box. It’s going to be a fun year! Let me know if you would like to be a part of the next group!

October 10, 2014

10 Compelling Church Mission Statements (from the Last 10 that I Facilitated)

church mission as compassIt’s exciting to lead a growing team of navigators at Auxano these days. Thirteen years ago I dreamed about the idea that I could actually spend a 40-hour work week just helping church leaders work on things like mission, vision and values. Now we have 8 staff navigators, and a dozen part-time guys who have served over 150 churches in 2014.

As a player-coach, I still lead a few processes myself for training purposes or to work with churches specifically that I feel called to. Here are 10 that I have recently worked with in facilitating the mission articulation.

1.  Making much of Jesus, because Jesus changes everything (in process)

Austin Stone, Austin, TX (Kevin Peck, lead pastor)

2.  Connecting people with God, through authentic relationships to serve communities (in process)

- Newbreak Church, San Diego, CA (Mike Quinn, lead pastor)

3.  Passionately engaging believers on their journey of faith 

LifeWay Christian Stores, Nashville, TN (Tim Vineyard, president)

4.  Inviting the striving to something really real (in process)

- The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, CS (Jeff Gowling, senior pastor)

5.  Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day

- Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, TX. (Jeff Warren, senior pastor)

6. Promoting the discovery of Jesus through sports

Upward Sports, Spartanburg, SC (Caz McCaslin, president)

7. Helping one another trade a checklist faith for real life with Jesus

First Baptist Concord, Knoxville, TN (John Avant, lead pastor)

8. Equipping multiplying leaders with reproducible systems to plant more healthy churches

Launch Group, Atlanta, GA (Mac Lake, lead architect)

9. Imperfect people, risking it all to make Jesus real one life at a time

- Salem Lutheran, Tomball, TX (Tim Niekerk, senior pastor)

10. Inviting the distracted and disinterested to realize their role in God’s story

- Mountain Park Community Church, Phoenix, AZ (Allan Fuller, lead pastor)

August 27, 2014

7 Reasons that Proactive Churches Get Legal Advice (Even When It’s No Fun)

Legal matters for the churchI recently got to know David Middlebrook of the Church Law Group. My eyes were reopened to the scope of legal implications for the church. Because I like to focus my energies on vision, I frankly don’t think very much about the legal ramifications of church leadership. What struck me however is this: Legal negligence as a church leader leaves your vision susceptible.

Here are my seven take-aways:

#1  Don’t ignore governance. Sometime a gap grows between the way you practically get things done and the ways things are legally outlined to get done. You church has a by-laws and some kind of “birth certificate” as a legal entity. When is the last time you visited these documents and aligned them to current reality or made them more functional?

#2  Guard your church’s real “vault”—your children. Almost 80% of churches that get taken to trial do so around the safety of children. Many churches to background checks on your children’s workers? That’s a good first step but there is a lot more you can do. Things like designing interview protocols and ongoing regular training to name a few. In the end, your church’s reputation, financial resources and mission are all at risk if you leave your vault unprotected.

#3  Rethink sources of liability in everyday ministry.  I was shocked when David shared stories of how churches can be liable from policies on pastoral counseling  to physical injuries on your church’s campus. Do you know where your liabilities might be in these areas?

#4  Stay on top of employment law.  Most churches not only have employees but different kinds. And these are subject to the state and federal employment lays. The key reminder is simply this: If you have a problem down the road with how you have misapplied employment law, ignorance is not a defense.

#5  Structure well to serve the community. Its not uncommon for churches to start or be connected with business or non-profit entities from bookstores to food pantries. Two weeks ago I visited a church that built a water park for the community. When missional initiatives are born or spun off from the church, make sure you have done the due diligence on creating the right strategy, legally.

#6  Be creative with integrity. Every sermon, or original music composition or  homemade  children’s curriculum is content that is technically regulated by law. Many churches have not considered the full implications or this reality. How will these content sources will be distributed, regulated or protected? What is your vision for the content you create?

#7  Keep the peace with biblical authority. Churches have opportunities to adopt faith-based conflict resolutions that can significantly prevent or deter more difficult litigation situations. Have these mediation alternatives been totally explored and integrated into your church?

How can you best address these kinds of questions? Perhaps you should invite attorney’s in your church to refresh or reevaluate on one or more of the topics listed above. Or you can have lawyers in your church vet the value of working with a church-focused group like David Middlebrook’s team.

Don’t leave your vision susceptible! 

May 13, 2014

10 Factors that Determine the Size of Your Vision

I often see leaders with radically different size visions, despite having a lot in common. Pastors may have the the same gifting, the same budget and the same amount of people attending worship services and yet still be on entirely different vision wavelengths. Where does this come from? Why does this happen?

Here are my initial thoughts.

Keep in mind that I believe providence and local ministry context are the primary factors in determining the scope of a ministry’s vision. This list focuses on developmental aspects of leadership.

#1 The size of your God

This isn’t a spiritual throw-in to get the list rolling. This is a very discernible feature in a leader’s life. Some leaders have a more cultivated inner life and deeper awareness of God’s Word. Their ability to dream big comes from the big God that they walk with and serve each day.

#2  Exposure to others who “think big”

Did you ever notice why many prominent leaders have children who are prominent leaders? I think of Andy Stanley or Franklin Graham, for example. When you are around others with a larger perspective, it rubs off. I am surprised sometimes how leaders tend to stay in a very confined space—geographically and relationally—for their entire lives.

#3 An active imagination

Some people have a tenacious impulse to learn, ask questions and grow how they think. That kind of curious drive pays off. The imagination is your most powerful human ability. Do you exercise it much? Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge.

#4  Sequences of risk taking

I’m not talking about a bias for risk in general, but the ability to “stack risk-taking” and feel the momentum of one “leap of faith” after another. Many leaders take a risk or two and settle for the really good outcomes rather than continuing to find even more extraordinary results.

#5 Ability to focus gifting

Most leaders know themselves but don’t have a fine-tuned understanding of precisely why God put them on earth. When you do, and when you focus that gifting, big things will result. The scope of your vision grows as your focus narrows.  Are you trying to do five things with your life or one thing?  (If you want more info on my first personal vision  cohort—starting in August— let me know.)

#6 Team and network building ability

We all know wild dreamers who didn’t have a team. Your team building ability will dramatically enable of disable the size of your vision. In addition, I am amazed by the increase of wisdom, access, ideas, and opportunities that come through active network cultivation.  Wouldn’t you expect the vision of a pastor who networks to be bigger than one who doesn’t bother?

#7  A goal oriented outlook daily

Every person who achieves a big vision has a basic recipe for attacking the 24-hour unit of time we all possess. What is yours? I have a three kinds of days in my life (focused, buffer and free). On buffer days I determine the 2 most important things to accomplish by 11:00am.

#8  Margin to write down your dreams

At first I wanted to say “disciple to write down your dreams.” But discipline is over-rated in this way. The bigger challenge is margin. People enjoy dreaming and writing down their “wish list” when given the time. That doesn’t take discipline— its one of the most exciting things you can do! Over and over again, you will see the common thread of big visionaries: Put it on paper

#9  Recovery from big failures

Don’t underestimate the power of a good failure. Failures remind you that life is short. Failures expand your pain threshold. Failures purify and humble and bring powerful perspective. Sometimes a failure in one area or with one dream can increase the size of another.

#10 Graciousness and kindness to others

I suspect there are people who excel at the first nine factors but in the end, they just aren’t that nice.  They don’t care about others. They don’t stay connected to their teams and their friends. They are so driven, they loose the human element in everything they do. So you might not think something this simple would make the “big vision” list. But I can’t shake it.