Category Archives: Leadership

Mourning the loss of another pastor

igNobleMy stomach sank on Friday night when I first read that Perry Noble might be fired by NewSpring Church. I hoped this was the worst PR stunt of all time, that Perry would scold all of us on Sunday morning to not believe rumors propagated through social media, and we’d all be slightly chagrined and a little angry at being sucked into such an awful practical joke. But it wasn’t a stunt or a joke. Sunday morning Shane Duffey, an Executive Pastor at NewSpring, announced that Perry had been fired. He then read a letter from Perry explaining that an unhealthy reliance on alcohol had let to this day, and that he will now focus on healing and health for he and his family.

After pouring his heart and soul into ministry, Perry has been disqualified to lead a church he started in his living room. Perry’s influence with leaders around the world has been permanently diminished. NewSpring staff face an uncertain future, and attenders are angry, confused and disillusioned with their pastor and their church. There is no bright side.

This isn’t a post about the lessons we can learn about Perry’s fall from grace. I don’t have warnings for the future, I don’t have advice for church leaders. I don’t know why Perry failed. I don’t know why NewSpring fired him. I don’t know how we can prevent things like this in the future, and I don’t know what is wrong with the American church that things like this keep happening.

All I feel is sadness. So many people in South Carolina found hope and freedom under Perry’s preaching. So many church leaders were encouraged and challenged by Perry’s teaching. At a conference in Atlanta this past April I was convicted again as I listened to Perry teach practical ministry lessons from the 23rd Psalm. I didn’t always agree with Perry’s method or tone, as I’m sure he wouldn’t always agree with mine, but Perry was an amazing voice for the Kingdom. Now, at least for a time and maybe forever, that voice has been silenced. Perry’s family is humiliated and Perry’s church is wounded. This is a time to mourn.

When a soldier is mortally wounded his comrades don’t analyze his mistakes or castigate his commander. They reach out to his family and mourn his loss. Perry has lost his ministry and NewSpring has lost their pastor. Rather than assigning blame and drawing conclusions what if we simply spend some time grieving with and for our brothers and sisters.

What am I supposed to do?

Teach-Girls-End-World-PovertyI recently had a fascinating conversation with a sharp young leader. They had just returned from an amazing vacation in the Caribbean. The food, the scenery, the weather, the company; everything was perfect. They were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this vacation of a lifetime, but one they were overwhelmed by the economic gulf between them and the people who served at the resort. The shacks, the broken down roads, and the abject poverty were heart breaking. They could not shake the disconnect of experiencing opulent luxury surrounded by crippling need. They stopped in the middle of sharing their experience, looked at me with deep sincerity and asked, “What am I supposed to do?”

Their perspective is refreshing. They aren’t mired in the guilt of having more. They aren’t caught in the misguided trap of feeling better than or worse than the people they met. They see a need and know they must act. Rather than ignoring the pain or reacting to the cause they are simply asking, “What am I supposed to do?”

I saw this look on my wife’s face when she returned from her first visit to a school for AIDS orphans in a tiny village in Kenya. Everyone on her team was moved by what they saw, but my wife knew she had to act. She could not simply send money, or make return visits, she had to make a difference. She had to answer the question, “What am I supposed to do?” She formed a board for the school, revamped their sponsorship program, revitalized the fund raising and changed the future trajectory of the school.

Every day we are inundated with need. Children in Africa, refugees in Europe, immigrants in America. It is easy to become deaf to the cry of human desperation all around us; we can’t help everyone. But we can help some. Jesus didn’t heal all blindness, but he gave sight to the blind man on the road to Jericho. He didn’t restore every crippled limb, but he healed the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. He didn’t raise everyone from the dead, but he brought the widow’s son back to life. Rather than being callous or overwhelmed Jesus always cared for the one in front of him.

Imagine the impact, as we see needs both overwhelming and insignificant, if we asked that simple question, “What am I suppose to do?” You may decide to sponsor a child, or start a ministry, or volunteer at food bank. You may decide to raise money, or start a prayer chain, or tutor a middle schooler. The reality is that we can all do something in Jesus’ name, and together our force for good is overwhelming.

What AM I supposed to do?

Saying Goodbye to a Dream

960x0I had a dream for many years. It doesn’t matter what the dream was, its mine not yours. I always thought this dream would happen, it was just a matter of time. Several times it felt like I was at the edge of the dream being fulfilled only to see it fall away like dust. Soon I was 40, then 45, then 50 and the dream never materialized. The hardest part was this wasn’t something I just passively hoped for, I did everything I knew to do to work toward the dream. And it wasn’t a pipe dream, many trusted friends and mentors confirmed that they believed the dream was in my wheelhouse, something I was wired up to do. I finally realized, however, the time for this particular dream was over. I don’t know why it never happened, but it was time to move on.
 “Sorry for the tears, never thought it would happen.”
And then on Sunday afternoon I caught the final few holes of the Shell Houston Open (SHO). The SHO is a relatively minor tournament, Its basically a tune-up for The Masters, the Super Bowl of golf tournaments, which is played the week after the SHO. When I tuned in Jim Herman, an unknown journeyman, trailed seasoned pro Henrick Stenson by one stroke with three holes to play. Herman had no chance against a player like Stenson. But then he did the unthinkable, he chipped in from the rough on the 16th hole, a birdie that put him ahead by one stroke. Keeping his nerves in check he parred the final two holes to win his first PGA Tour tournament at the age of 38. No one wins their first tournament at 38, the top golfers seldom win at 38. When an interviewer asked him afterwards how it felt to win and qualify to play in The Masters next week he teared up. “Sorry for the tears,” he said, “[I] never thought it would happen.”
 “Give me my mountain.”
Herman reminded of Caleb who dreamed of a home with a mountain view. He walked faithfully by Joshua’s side for more than 40 years, but his dream never came to fruition. Finally, at the age of 80, Caleb went to Joshua and said, “I’m as fit as I was when we spied out the land all those years ago. I’ve done what I’ve been asked, I’ve fought by your side, now give me my mountain.” Well past the age when men make new starts Caleb marched to his mountain and saw the fulfillment of his dream.
So if 38 isn’t too old to win your first golf tournament and 80 isn’t too old to build your dream home, maybe 54 is too young to abandon a dream? Maybe I gave up too soon.
 What dream have you given up on?
What about you? What dream have you given up on? What did you think God would do in your life by now? Maybe its too soon to give up. Maybe God is still at work and isn’t concerned about your timetable. Maybe you should continue preparing for the dream instead of hanging it up and moving on. It may be delusional to think that it could still happen, but Jim Herman never thought he’d be teeing off Thursday at Augusta National either.

Why people doubt your leadership

Matthew 28:16, 17 (NIV) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
doubtThese eleven men spent three years, 24/7, with Jesus. They saw him feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. They were there when he gave sight to blind men, cleansed lepers and set demon possessed people free. All eleven stood at Lazarus’ tomb as the stone was rolled back and a dead man walked out. A few days before they saw Jesus’ body hanging lifeless on a Roman cross, but before the weekend was over Jesus walked out of a sealed tomb and joined them for lunch. And in spite of all they had experienced some of them doubted. How is that possible?
 Doubt is baked deep in the heart of all of us
It is possible because doubt is baked deep in the heart of all of us. Adam and Eve hung out with God in the garden, but they doubted his warning about the tree. Moses met God face to face, but doubted God’s instructions on getting water. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, but he doubted Jesus was the Messiah. Doubt is a part of the human condition.
It is reassuring to know that doubt is something we all struggle with. Sometimes I find myself preaching on faith and struggling with doubt at the same time. I feel like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I used to hope having enough faith obliterated doubt. Now I understand that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. I can be honest about my doubt without destroying others’ faith. I can stand on the mountain worshipping while I struggle with doubt.
 Evidence doesn’t always overcome doubt
I have also come to understand that evidence doesn’t always overcome doubt. The men standing on the mountain with Jesus had more evidence of his divinity than anyone who’s ever lived, and yet they doubted. That is why arguing with 21st century skeptics is often fruitless. Atheists like Richard Dawkins Christopher Hitchens challenge us to prove there is a God, and laugh when we join the debate. Faith isn’t something based on irrefutable evidence; faith is confidence in what we hope for, evidence of things we cannot see or prove. I love to study apologetics, but skeptics are seldom converted through argument, they are more likely to be overwhelmed by love.
 There is a leadership element to doubt
There is a leadership element to doubt as well. It is a challenge to be a confident leader when the people you lead doubt your ability, your vision, or your heart. So we read countless leadership books and blogs that convince us the reason people doubt us is we suck as leaders. While that may be true, it is more likely people doubt our leadership because people doubt leaders. If the disciples of Jesus, the Son of the Almighty God of the universe, doubted his leadership there’s a pretty good chance the people we lead will doubt us as well. If we want to lead a team without doubt we should probably buy a dogsled.
The amazing thing about this story is that these eleven men, doubters and all, left that Galilean mountain and started the most transformational movement the world has ever seen. God seems to always do incredible things through people who doubt. Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Saul all doubted God and doubted themselves, and God used them anyway. I doubt you and I are up to something great, but what if we gave it a try anyway? To quote the famous doubter Jonathan,
“Perhaps God will act on our behalf.”

Three keys to a healthy volunteer culture

iStock_000017831326Large-1024x768As I shared yesterday, the number one question my wife and I hear from  church leaders all over the world is, “How can we find enough volunteers?” The primary reason most church struggle attracting enough volunteers is they recruit to need. A good appeal to need will impact 20% of the people, a great appeal will impact 25%. The key to having an abundance of volunteers isn’t better appeals, the key is creating a healthy volunteer culture.

Today we’ll look at the three elements present in any healthy volunteer culture.

Vision

My wife tells a story Sue Miller shared several years ago that continues to impact her view of working with volunteers. Sue told of attending a mandatory meeting for parents of players on a youth baseball team. When the coach began talking about this year’s fund raising drive you could feel the air go out of the room. The coach, however, surprised the parents. He didn’t talk about the amount of money they needed to raise, nor did he show them samples of wrapping paper or candy catalogues and explain the fundraiser. He talked instead about baseball changing the trajectory of his life as a young man, and what an impact he believed this team would have on their son’s lives. By the time he finished painting a picture of the potential future Sue said she, along with most of the families in the room, we’re eager to participate in the fundraiser. The coach began with vision rather than need.

Its interesting when Jesus looked for volunteers at the beginning of his ministry he issued a challenge rather than an appeal. One day while he was on a walk beside the Sea of Galilee Jesus came across Peter and Andrew casting a fishing net. After watching them work for a few minutes he walked over and said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” He didn’t mention the needs of the ministry, describe the tasks that had to be accomplished or assure them the volunteer position wouldn’t take up too much time. Jesus invited them into something that would change their lives.

What would happen if, rather than focusing on how many volunteers you need, you focused instead on the potential life change that will happen through the ministry you lead? Ministry leaders who lead healthy volunteer cultures effectively connect the dots between the task at hand and a transformed future. 

Tribe

As part of a small group campaign at our church in South Carolina every group was challenged to take an outreach project in our community. After much discussion our group decided to adopt a nursing home in the poorest part of the city. We began visiting the nursing home regular doing things like yard maintenance, giving Christmas presents and repeatedly cleaning urine off an outside wall (Don’t ask). This was not my idea of a good time. I prefer spending my Saturday mornings, well, doing anything but visiting a nursing home in the ‘hood. I went, however, because my tribe was going. Relationship, much more than need, was the driving factor.

We consistently miss the power of tribe in church. We focus on the ministry that needs to be accomplished rather than the relationships on the team. Volunteers who feel like a part of a tribe that is changing the world rather than an unpaid employee accomplishing a task will do almost anything the team needs done. Rather than recruiting to need we need to recruit to relationship, and then follow through on that promise.

Purpose

If people never find a place of selfless service they will never find their true purpose in life. Every reputable mental health expert understands this fundamental law of the universe; the only path to wholeness is through serving. As long as we focus on ourselves and our needs we will never truly be happy; materialism, greed and selfishness rot the soul. We were created with a deep seated need to serve each other.

As ministry leaders we  have to remind people often that Jesus’ example of service is the path to peace and wholeness we are all looking for. We demonstrate it in our own lives and share stories of others who find purpose through serving.

What about your church?

A ministry that connects the dots to a preferred future, connects team members in deep relationships and helps people find their true purpose through serving will discover an abundance of volunteers. As you evaluate the ministry you lead how are you doing at casting vision? Are you creating an environment for healthy team relationships? Are you demonstrating a life of purpose through service?

The reason you can’t find volunteers

appeal_deniedRecently on a beautiful drive Sherry and I were comparing notes on what makes a healthy ministry volunteer culture. (Some couples talk about vacations, some about retirement, we brainstorm ministry ideas; that’s just how we roll.) Working with ministries around the world the one question we hear more than any other is, “How do you find good volunteers?” Almost every church is desperate to find more children’s workers, parking lot attendants, ushers, small group leaders and dozens of other volunteer positions. As we drove through the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in early spring we agreed on two basics:

Most churches can’t find enough volunteers because they recruit to the wrong thing

Having an abundance of volunteers is driven by a healthy volunteer culture.

Let’s look first at recruiting. Whether they intend to or not almost every church appeals to need. The church NEEDS volunteers. We need people to watch children, to hand out bulletins, to count the offering, to lead small groups, to play in the band. We can’t do what we do without volunteers. Imagine what church would be if we didn’t have volunteers; we’d have to shut down programs and change how we do church. We appeal to people’s sense of duty, or to their guilt. We parade the needs of others in front of members hoping they will feel the need to step up to the plate. We remind the congregation that only 20% of the people do 80% of the work of the church.

As it turns out recruiting to need is effective with about 20% of the people who attend your church. If you are really effective, you may get to 25%. The challenge is we are inundated with needs every day. We drive past people with cardboard signs describing their needs. We are challenged at the grocery checkout line to donate to needy children. On TV Sarah McLachlan shows us pictures of sad animals, pleads with us to meet their needs as she sings “In the Arms of the Angels” (I’m not sure who’s in the angels’ arms, but it seems very sad). There are only so many needs we can care about, much less meet, so we draw the line somewhere. For most people the needs at church are low on the list of things they care about enough to help fill, so the appeal to need falls on deaf ears.

If your church or ministry is struggling to find enough volunteers are you trying to recruit by appealing to need? In the word of the great theologian Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” The alternative to recruit to need is to build a healthy volunteer culture. Its is slower and harder, but is really the only path to accomplishing God’s mission through your ministry. Tomorrow we’ll look at the three crucial building blocks of a healthy volunteer culture.

 

Another fallen pastor

faceI hate to admit that when I see a headline like the one above I always want to click through to find out who failed. Is it someone I know? Is it someone I dislike? Is it someone I feel in competition with? Every time I click on a headline about a fallen pastor I’m the one that falls. Why do we secretly rejoice when someone else fails?

The other day our oldest granddaughter slipped and fell, busting her lip on our kitchen floor. Thankfully, though there was a little blood and a lot of tears, she wasn’t seriously hurt. By the time I got home she was snuggled up with her mom holding a bag of ice against her swollen lip. Her younger sister, three year old Mollie, was sitting on the kitchen floor blowing soap bubbles with my wife, Sherry. As Sherry told me about Maggie’s accident Mollie’s smile disappeared, she looked up, tears brimming in her eyes, and said, “Me too”. She felt so much empathy for what her sister experienced it was as though she had fallen as well.

I want to have that kind of empathy for other pastors. I hope my heart to break when I hear of a pastor failing morally. I hope I can be excited when a new church succeeds and crushed when a church plant fails. I want to pray every day for other pastor’s kids, and I want to be more interested in the health of their marriage than the size of their budget.

The next time I see a story outlining the details of a pastor who’s fallen I pray my response isn’t self-righteous smugness, I pray my response will simply be, “Me too, I’m another fallen pastor”.