Understanding and identifying trends, however, is NOT the most important thing for pastors to be doing right now as we launch into 2021. Here’s why trying to track church trends should not be your[...]
As a church leader, you set the tone for your team and for your church. When the future is unclear and the present feels uncomfortable, the tone you project can be the difference between taking new ground or sliding backward as a church. Positivity that flows from God’s promises and results in a plan of action is an essential quality for church leaders, especially in 2021. In light of the events of this past week at the Capitol and all that will follow that, the chaos and uncertainty in our culture could easily produce a sense of negativity or cynicism about the future. Gospel-centered positivity, not unfounded optimism, is the second leadership trait we are going to focus on as being absolutely essential. Be positive, but not Pollyanna!
This is the third post in the Traits Over Trends series. As tempting as it may be, I believe church leaders who focus solely on chasing trends are going to struggle. It’s simply not the time to act on what the near future promises to look like; it’s the time to become the leader that can navigate whatever that future might look like. Wise leaders cultivate the essential leadership traits that will enable you to lead well and serve with sustainability.
In the first post, I talked about why traits are more important than trends, especially right now. In the second post, I shared about the first essential leadership quality: security. (Be secure but not safe!) In this post, we’ll focus on positivity and learn some ways you can develop this trait in yourself and in your team.
“Being” Traits and “Doing” Traits
As I think about the 4 essential church leadership traits, they fall into the categories of “being” and “doing.” All of them, of course, have elements of both being and doing, but 2 of them exist more in the “being” category and 2 exist more in the “doing” category.
I’ve started by talking about the “being” traits because I believe the “doing” qualities flow out of them. They all feed each other, but perhaps it would be helpful to visualize them this way.
Worry and negativity are a misuse of your imagination.
Where Does Our Positivity Come From?
Positivity flows from the security we have in God—in who He is and who He has made us to be. The word the New Testament writers used that’s closest to what I mean by positivity is “hope.”
Here’s Paul’s prayer near the end of Romans.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NIV
Notice a few things. Hope is such a part of who God is and what He offers to those who follow Him that Paul refers to Him as the “God of hope.” Hope is a part of God’s character.
Next, Paul’s prayer is that they would be filled to the point that they overflow with hope. Hope’s ultimate source is God, but each of us can be so filled that hope spills out to influence those around us. This is a perfect description of how your positivity as a leader should function. When your hope is truly and fully in God, it fills you and then automatically spills over in your words, body language, decisions, and actions.
The prior context of this section of Romans includes the paradigm shift that Jesus brings as the program of God shifts from working through the people of Israel to advancing faith through the church. This change is one of the most dramatic shifts in redemptive history. It not only signals change, but brings huge questions and uncertainty for Jews and Gentiles alike. Of course the work of Jesus magnifies the good news that God’s plan was always “to reach the ends of the earth.” Nevertheless Paul doubles down on hope as a focus in these times of challenge and change. In some ways, 2021 will keep us in the paradigm-shifting waters. While God’s plan of redemptive history hasn’t shifted, the context of how we do ministry has been turned on its head.
When your hope is truly in God, it fills you and then overflows into your words, body language, decisions, and actions.
Another thing that stands out to me is that Paul prays that they would be filled, not with hope, but with joy and peace. It’s when they are filled with joy and peace that they will overflow with hope. And joy and peace come as a result of trusting in God. When we fully trust God—His love for us, His presence with us, His strength sustaining us, His wisdom guiding us—we can have both joy and peace in the present … which leads to being filled to overflowing with hope for the future.
Of course all of this is by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s God’s Spirit with us and within us that’s the engine for our joy and peace in the present … and for our hope in the future.
Positivity Based on God’s Promises that Results in a Plan
The essential leadership trait of positivity flows from God’s promises, AND it must be grounded in reality. If you try to project a positive tone that ignores reality or minimizes obstacles, you can actually have a negative effect on your team and your church.
Positivity that ignores reality makes you seem like a Pollyanna … and no one will want to follow you. The positivity and hope that’s the most inspiring doesn’t pretend that obstacles don’t exist, it acknowledges the obstacles and still believes in a better future.
One of the most potent ways to inspire hope and generate positivity is to develop a plan. When people see that your positivity as a leader results in a plan that acknowledges the current reality and charts a course toward a better future, they’ll be energized and motivated.
When Jesus sent His followers out (Luke 10), He gave them a specific plan that included what to say and do. The plan included instructions on how to respond to adversity—He didn’t pretend that everything would go perfectly. The plan gave the disciples hope for success.
A dream without a plan is just a wish.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Here are three practical ways to cultivate the quality of positivity as you lead.
Be aware of the overall charge of your thoughts.
Do your thoughts, overall, have more of a negative charge or a positive charge? It’s very easy to allow negative emails, conversations, or social media posts to consume your thoughts, resulting in a negative energy that’s difficult to shake. God has given us the ability to think about our thoughts. Many verses speak to this reality but Paul clarifies it Philippians 4:8.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
So be aware of your thought patterns and intentionally shift them in a positive direction with memorized scripture and other positive thoughts about your future. As a Jedi master once said: “Your focus determines your reality.”
Don’t worry about being right, focus on being clear.
The tendency to dial into the trends at this time of the year is that we want to be right. What leader doesn’t? We want some fact or knowable thing to be an objective rung on the ladder as we take a next step. But the key to facing uncertainty is not certainty. It’s not having to be accurate or correct in our predictions. The key to fighting uncertainty is clarity. The next rung on your ladder comes not from being right but by being clear. You have God’s Word. You have the presence of Jesus. You have the authority of the gospel. What is a clear next step that you can discern and take with confidence?
Keep in mind that this principle is always true. It’s just that we tend to forget when we experience year over year over year of success in a stable environment. In the current environment, it’s refreshing to be reminded that you don’t have to carry the burden of always “being right” with your decision-making.
Invest time with your team to create your plan.
Hope needs handles. Your team needs to know the next rung on the ladder. Being clear is not the same as being right, but it does take a meaningful investment of time and dialogue with your team to create it. The plan gives your team and your church handles to grab onto—rungs on the ladder—that enable them to pull with positivity. This is a discipline we practice at Future Church Co. In just a couple weeks, our leadership team will gather to evaluate where we are and adjust our goals for the next 90 days as needed. I recently posted a tool developed specifically for this COVID-disrupted era to provide a framework for you and your team to set clear goals. A clear plan increases positive morale, generates energy, and focuses attention. You need a simple game plan now more than ever.
In the first week of 2021, I helped three different church teams to develop a plan through full-day facilitation. In every situation the senior pastor was surprised by how much time and dialogue it took to create crystal clarity. Yet, in every situation, they were even more surprised by how much energy and ownership the process produced. When the lead pastor makes room for others to weigh-in, they gain tremendous buy-in. People support what they create. These teams are now an unstoppable force for 2021 with plenty to be positive about!
Remember, positivity that flows from God’s promises and results in a plan of action is an essential quality for church leaders, especially in 2021.
In the next post, we’ll shift to the “doing” traits and explore simplicity.