Monday, March 26, 2012

7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions

I just subscribed to Michael Hyatt's Blog and have found it helpful as a leader and influencer.  This is form today or you can go directly to it here.

7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions

When I started out in my career, the key to success was having the right answers. If the boss had a question, he expected me to have the answer—or know where to get it. Those who advanced in their careers the quickest were seemingly the ones who had the most answers.
Questions Flow Chart Being Drawn by a Businessman - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #16588175
But as I began to ascend the corporate ladder, I discovered that the key to success began to shift. It became less and less about having the right answers and more and more about having the right questions.

In the age of Google, answers are the easy part. You can look up virtually anything and have the answer almost instantaneously. But this only happens if you know how to ask the right questions.
If you are going to be a successful leader, you are going to have to learn how to ask good questions. Here are seven tips for taking this skill to the next level.
  1. Ask open-ended questions.Questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” are closed-ended questions. They don’t generate discussion and they rarely yield any insight. By asking open-ended questions, you get far more interesting insights.For example, instead of asking, “Are you happy with your results?” you might ask, “Why do you think you got the results you did?” The first question can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The second question invites reflection and starts a discussion.
  2. Get behind the assumptions.Every business decision is based on assumptions. If you don’t understand these assumptions, you may, in fact, make a bad decision. It’s often helpful to ask yourself first—and then your colleagues—“What are we assuming in this scenario?”Then you need to keep peeling the layers off the onion until you get comfortable with the assumptions. This is where people often make mistakes. The logic may be impeccable, but if it’s built on faulty assumptions, you’ll end up with a faulty conclusion.
  3. Get both sides of the story. It is so easy to hear one side of the story, act on the information, and then be embarrassed when you find out that you only had halfthe facts.I have done this hundreds of times, I’m sure. I think I am getting better at getting both sides of the story, but I still consider myself “in recovery.” I have to constantly remind myself, There are at least two sides to every story.
  4. Ask follow-up questions.Avoid the temptation to comment on every question. Sometimes I like to see how many questions I can ask in a row without commenting. It’s amazing what you can learn when you do this.And it makes your comments or decisions much more informed. Often you don’t get to the real meat of an issue until you’ve gone several questions deep.
  5. Get comfortable with “dead air.”Most people get uncomfortable when things get quiet. They feel the obligation to fill the space with chatter. You can let this work to your advantage by just keeping your lips locked and your ears open.When you do, you will often find that people volunteer amazing amounts of information that you would have never obtained any other way.
  6. Help people discover their own insights. One of the best ways to mentor others is to ask rather than tell. Yes, you can pontificate to your subordinates, but your insights will not be as meaningful to them as they are to you. You can accomplish far more by leading them with good questions.One of my favorite, especially in the wake of a mistake or disappointment, is this: “What can we learn from this experience that might be useful to us in the future?”
  7. Understand the difference between facts and speculation. One of my former bosses once told me, “Make sure you tell me what you know and what you thinkyou know, and make sure I know the difference.”People make all kinds of statements that they think are based on the facts. These should immediately cause your radar to go off. Often you will have to ask, “Do you know that to be a fact?” If so, “How do you know?” or “Can you provide me with the source for that statistic or claim?”
Finally, when you are asking questions, take notes. It communicates tremendous respect for the the person you are interviewing. It is also very helpful when things get quiet. You can go back over your notes and discover new questions you haven’t yet thought about or asked.
Question: What are some questions you have found useful as a leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

7 Steps to Becoming a Happy Person Others Want to Be Around

From Michael Hyatts blog

Several months ago, my wife, Gail, and I attended an industry mixer at a conference we were attending. Almost immediately, I was cornered by an author who proceeded to complain about all the incompetent people in his life.
Two friends laughing in an outdoor cafĂ© - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #15345841
He grumbled about his literary agent, his booking agent, and his publisher. No one, it seems, measured up to his standards. I tried to change the subject, but he persisted.

The conversation made me feel very uncomfortable. I finally had enough and excused myself. I felt a little rude, but I didn’t want to steep in his brew of negativity.
As I thought about this, I realized how destructive complaining about others is. My author friend didn’t make me think less of the people he grumbled about; it made me think less of him.
Complaining about others has the potential to hurt you in four specific ways.
  1. It trains your brain. I remember when I bought my first Lexus. I never really noticed Lexus cars before. But suddenly, they seemed to be everywhere. This demonstrates the principle that you see more of what you notice. If you focus on people’s faults, you will find even more of them.
  2. It makes you miserable. My author friend was not happy. His humor was biting and sarcastic. He seemed entitled and discontent. His attitude was highly toxic—which was why I felt the need to get away from him. He was contagious!
  3. People pull away. One of the consequences of complaining is that healthy people don’t want to hang around you. They avoid you. As a result, you miss scores of great opportunities, both social and business ones.
  4. People don’t trust you. This is perhaps the saddest consequence of all. As my friend was complaining about others, I began to wonder, What does he say about me when I am not around. I then instinctively thought, I don’t trust him.
After I left the presence of my negative friend, I bumped into an agent friend, who is one of the most positive, encouraging people I know. He told me about all the great things happening in his life and business.
Whenever he mentioned someone’s name, he raved about them. He exuded gratitude. I didn’t want to leave his presence. It was like balm to my soul.
My second friend was such a contrast to the first, it made me realize these are two entirely different mindsets and approaches to life. The good news is that if you are a negative person, you don’t have to stay that way.
Here are seven steps to reversing this pattern and becoming a happy person others trust and want to be around.
  1. Become self-aware. Are you a negative person? Do you tend to see the glass half empty or half full? If you are in doubt, ask your spouse or a close friend for candid feedback. Negativity is costing you more than you know. Frankly, it’s like having bad breath or b.o.
  2. Assess your needs. What need are you attempting to meet by complaining? Perhaps the need for connection? Maybe a need for significance? Are there better, more healthy ways to meet these needs?
  3. Decide to change. Complaining is a habit. And like all bad habits, change begins when you own your behavior and make a decision to change. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. It will take conscious effort at first, but it will become automatic over time. You can start today.
  4. Shift your identity. The most powerful change happens when we modify our identity. When I declared myself an athlete, daily exercise suddenly became easier. What if you said to yourself, I am a positive, encouraging person? How would your behavior change?
  5. Greet others with a smile. According to health expert Ron Gutman, “smiling can help reduce the level of stress-enhancing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine, and increase the level of mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins.” While smiling has this impact on you, it also has a similar impact on others. This is one reason they unconsciously want to be around you.
  6. Catch them doing something right. The corollary to the principle “you see more of what you notice” is "you get more of what you notice. If you catch people doing what is right and complement them for it, guess what happens? They start doing more of it. This is not manipulation; it is influence. It too is contagious.
  7. Speak well of others. I’m not saying you shouldn’t deal with bad behavior by confronting it. I’m saying you should deal directly with the people involved rather than complaining about it to those who are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. Your mama’s advice was right: “If you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all.”
While complaining about others may hurt them, ultimately it hurts you the worst. By becoming more aware and more intentional, you can become a person others seek out and want to be around.
Question: What can you do today to become a person others want to be around? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Urgency of Evangelism and Mission

The fate of those who have never heard the gospel is occasionally brought up in conversations.  It is a difficult question, not because the bible is not clear on it but because we do not think it is just or fair to condemn someone to hell who has not heard the gospel or we just want somehow to have hope for those who have never hear the gospel.  Unfortunately,  the bible is not optimistic at all toward those who have never heard and that is why evangelism and mission, both local and global, is a pressing concern in the New Testament.  Look at what Paul writes in Ephesians,
"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:11-13 ESV)"

Paul does not think that Gentiles were innocent because they had not heard the gospel or because they did not possess the privileges of Israel.  Rather he describes them as 'without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.'  Next he goes on to say, that they 'were far from God separated from him' and lacking any objective hope for the future.  Righteous Gentiles apart from the gospel are not on Paul’s radar screen at all; he concludes that if they are not believers in Christ, then they are alienated from God and face a Christless eternity (Eph 4:18).
That is why mission is central to the church, it is not some peripheral task that is a good idea to do when it is convenient.  It must be central to who we are and how we live.  It must be central to how we use our finances, how we pray, who we spend time with, and what missionaries we support.  That is why I think focusing more on Unreached People Groups is essential for us as a body and that is why we have invested so much in the Gond Project.  The project is still short about $7500 form being fully funded.  Let me encourage you to prayerfully consider giving to fully fund this project.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

7 Steps to Walking the Spiritual Walk

From the Crossway Blog

Life in the Spirit is a journey, and while there are many great passages throughout Scripture that discuss the role and person of the Holy Spirit, Romans 8 is perhaps one of the most insightful. In his book, Walking in the Spirit, Ken Berding provides 7 suggestions that will fuel a passion for the things of the Spirit and further educate how to live a life directed by him.
7 Steps to Walking the Spiritual Walk
(Modified from Walking in the Spirit by Kenneth Berding)
  1. Walk in the Spirit – (Rom. 8:4)
  2. There is no shortcut to learning how to walk with the Spirit. It’s not just for ultra-spiritual people nor is it reserved for charismatic Christians. Life according to the Spirit is not simply trying to do the right thing, nor is it trying to live according to God’s Law. Walking in the Spirit is the central metaphor for describing what it means to live as a Christian. The person who walks according to the Spirit will in fact have the essence of the Law fulfilled in his life.
  3. Set your minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5)
  4. The question “how does one overcome the pull of the flesh?” sounds like an old riddle: How can someone extract all of the air out of a drinking glass? The most direct way to get all the air out of a glass is by filling it with something else. You cannot extract thoughts that displease God from your mind. Like [the solution to the riddle], you need to be filled up with thoughts—indeed with an entire mindset—that is oriented toward the things of the Spirit (e.g. Gal. 5:22-23).
  5. Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13)
  6. The person who has been regenerated by the Spirit is not stuck in sin. By the Spirit, the pull of the flesh can be resisted. To ‘put to death the deeds of the body’ is pretty much the same thing as ‘saying no to sin,’ but unlike the anti-drug campaign among youth many years ago, ‘Just Say No’ by itself will never be successful. Just saying no will never allow you to consistently overcome sin. Then what must you do? You must say no by the Spirit. Read more.
  7. Be led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14)
  8. The Holy Spirit leads us broadly (always) and more specifically (sometimes). He always leads us through his written Word, which was revealed to the prophets by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21). We are to prayerfully, carefully, and humbly apply broad biblical wisdom to the situations we face in our lives.
    Sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us directly.  The Holy Spirit can choose to act in any way and according to any timetable that he wishes; we do not dictate to him how or when he will move. Since the Bible gives many examples of him acting more specifically, we should anticipate that he will sometimes choose to lead us directly if we are open and available to his guidance.
  9. Know the Fatherhood of God by the Spirit (Rom. 8:15-17)
  10. Without the Holy Spirit, we would never know our freedom and identity as God’s adoptive children. Thankfully, God has freely given us his Holy Spirit, and these verses from Romans 8 display three amazing things the Spirit does:
    1. He acts as the go-between who takes us out of a place of slavery and fear and brings us into a place of adoption and acceptance.
    2. He helps us to cry out to God as Father.
    3. He testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.
  11. Hope in the Spirit (Rom 8:22-25)
  12. The biblical concept represented by the English word ‘hope’ is so strong that it is almost a synonym for ‘eager expectation.’ The focus of the expectation isn’t that life will get better here; it is absorbed with the glorious life to come.
    What is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this? Rom 8:23 says: ‘ We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.’ Paul claims that it is because we have the Spirit, not despite it that we groan. In this passage, it is precisely the presence of the Spirit within you that causes you to feel this particular kind of suffering—the longing for final redemption in the midst of a fallen world. In this way, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives reminds us of the stark contrast between the wonderful things God has prepared for us who believe and this fallen world that is so full of sin, suffering, and futility.
  13. Pray in the Spirit (Rom. 8:26-28)
  14. These two verses (Rom 8:26-27) are so rich and helpful in our lives in the Spirit.
    1. We learn that we are weak when we come to prayer. We often don’t know what to pray for in any given situation. The concern is not about the manner of prayer (the ‘how’), but rather the content of our prayers—what do we actually pray about?
    2. We learn that the Spirit joins to help us when we are struggling to know how to pray by interceding for us with wordless groaning. It is not, as some propose, that we should just pray whatever we want since we don’t have any idea how to pray, and that the Spirit fixes them up and prays on our behalf to the Father. Rather, the verb often translated as ‘helps’ has a preposition attached to the front of it, which suggests that it really means ‘joins to help.’

    3. The Spirit is searching our hearts and knows that we have a mind-set that is focused on him, even if we do not know exactly what we are supposed to pray.
    4. The result is that our prayers are prayed ‘according to the will of God’ because the Holy Spirit is moving us thus to pray and is presenting the prayers that he is guiding us to pray to the Father.

From Trevin Wax at Gospel Coalition . . .

11 Questions to Discern a Judgmental Heart

Our pastor, Mike Lee, is currently preaching through the Gospel of Matthew. This past Sunday, he preached on Matthew 7 and Jesus’ command to “judge not.” At the end of his sermon, Mike shared these 11 questions designed to help us discern a judgmental and critical spirit.
1. Am I more likely to see the sin in others than my sin?
2. When I pray, am I more likely to pray for God’s judgment on others rather than marvel at God’s amazing grace toward me?
3. Am I overly critical toward others while I give myself a pass or an excuse and justify my own sin?
4. Does my own sin ever lead me to deep remorse and repentance?
5. Do I have people whom I allow to hold me accountable for my sin and unforgiving heart?
6. Do I have a tendency to be unforgiving while expecting others to forgive me quickly?
7. Do I find joy in exposing sin in others?
8. Do I find more joy in the “gotcha” moments of exposing sin or in sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
9. When others see how I deal with people, will they think God is mighty to save or that God would never forgive them and there is no hope for forgiveness?
10. Do I receive correction humbly?
11. Before I correct others, do I spend time in God’s Word and prayer asking the Holy Spirit to expose my sin so that I might repent?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Should I Divorce If I’m Miserable?

From Russel Moore's blog, . . .

Dear Dr. Moore, My wife and I are at an impasse. There’s been no abandonment, no sexual immorality, and no abuse. We just don’t get along. We shouldn’t have married. We should have known we are incompatible. I know God hates divorce but I don’t have any other option. My pastor and some Christian counselors have told me that while God hates divorce, this is the lesser of two evils because God doesn’t want me to be miserable.  What do you think?
Married but Miserable
Dear Miserable,
Here’s what I think (and I’m paraphrasing a pastor friend of mine here). With “Christian” pastors and counselors like these, who needs demons?
Divorce isn’t about you, and it’s not just about your marriage. Divorce is the repudiation of a covenant. It doesn’t start anything over again. It instead defaces the icon God has embedded in the creation of the union between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-31) .
I do believe that there are exceptions to Jesus’ prohibition against divorce: namely unrepentant sexual immorality or abandonment by a gospel-repudiating spouse. Neither of these, according to you, are present here and so you do not have reason to leave.
I plead with you to reconsider this and to understand that when you give account before the Judgment Seat of Christ, these “counselors” you have around you will not be present, and their cowardly justifications for sin will ring quite hollow.
Does God want you to be miserable? Long-term, no. And that’s why God has designed marriage as a life-long covenant signaling the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the long-term, God wants you to be deliriously happy. But by long-term, I mean the next trillion years, and beyond. In the short-term, one often must bear difficulty and, yes, even misery. Remaining faithful to a wife you wish you hadn’t married might seem miserable to you, but taking up a cross and following Jesus is “miserable,” in the short-run. That’s why the Book of Hebrews presents the life of faith in terms of not receiving what was promised (Heb. 11:39), but seeing it and embracing it from afar.
If you take the nuclear option of divorce off the table, you might find that you and your wife have more reason to seek help with your problems and make this work. But even if your marriage never becomes what you thought it might be, it is worth it to stand by your words and maintain fidelity to the wife of your youth.
What God has joined together, let no man separate (Mk. 10:9). And that includes the “shepherds” whose craven counsel leads to simply more chewable  mutton for the wolves.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less

I just finished preaching through Galatians.  One commentary I did not purchase nor read from much was by Martin Luther.   The reviews swayed me away as being to centered on justification by faith.  I did read some sections toward the end that were very good; my bad.  Too bad; too late.  

So then, have we nothing to do to obtain righteousness? No, nothing at all! For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only–that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation!
Now God sees no sin in us. For in this heavenly righteousness, sin has no place. So now we may certainly think, “Although I still sin, I don’t despair, because Christ lives–who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.” In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life. For if the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths are lost…On this truth and only on this truth the Church is built and has its being.
Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Preface

On Constantly Taking Your Church’s Temperature

From Jared Wilson at Gospel Driven Church . . . 

That voice in your head that keeps rehearsing the disappointments and flaws of your church is not from the Lord. It is the accuser, helping you get to the “I have no need of you” forbidden in 1 Corinthians 12:21. We may have legitimate concerns about our church’s maturity, its repentance, its effectiveness, or its “personality,” and there is certainly a place for sharing concerns and criticisms, a biblical call to honest appraisal, and plenty of space for exhortation and rebuke, but many claiming to do these things have shifted to a legal measuring none of us really has the authority for. Here is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Life Together about looking at our churches through the lens of scrutiny:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ. This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should not complain about his congregations, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men. When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.
But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray to God for understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God . . .
What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.
What is this “wish-dream” Bonhoeffer’s talking about? It is the vision we have for the church we want. In one sense, a good thing. We should all want our church to be moving forward, growing, changing — more into conformity with the image of Christ. But we shouldn’t let that image get in the way of loving our church where it is.
In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter exhorts pastors to shepherd the flock that is among them. I think we could apply this fairly reasonably to non-pastors as well. Love the church that is actually “among you,” not the one you wish was there. God in his wisdom has not placed you there to be a busybody or malcontent. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I disappointed my church isn’t more like Jesus, or that it isn’t more like me?
In the diversity of the body is a diversity of callings and passions. It is not fair, nor gracious, to expect the other members of a body to carry the same individual callings or passions as others. If the problem is disobedience to a clear biblical command, that is one thing. If the problem is disinterest in your interest, that is another.
2. Is the problem a matter for church discipline? Is it an issue of gospel-denial?
Rebukes are for sin, not for disappointment. If your church affirms the gospel but denies emphasis on your area of concern, don’t make a federal case out of it.
3. Can you rehearse the blessings and benefits of your local body as easily as their flaws and failings?
If you are constantly unhappy there and cannot shake envy for the wish-dream, it is better for you to leave in peace than to stay and grumble.
4. Do you see others’ faults more readily than your own?
The answer to this question, for nearly all of us, is yes. So it is with great caution and great desire for grace that we ought to make the faults of others our business. Your church has a long, long way to go, no doubt. Every church does. But so do you.
Let’s not be our church’s accuser. Someone has already taken that position. And let’s not keep constantly taking our church’s temperature. Let’s love and serve and submit and, yes, exhort and rebuke, and then let’s love and serve and submit more and more, believing that the Spirit is at work many times in ways we are blind to. God will be faithful to finish the good work he’s begun in us, and he doesn’t need you walking around with your hall monitor sash, handing out demerits.
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:22

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Do We See the Church?

C.H. Spurgeon reminds us how to see the Church:
We ought to regard the Christian Church, not as a luxurious hostelry where Christian gentlemen may each one dwell at ease in his own inn, but as a barracks in which soldiers are gathered together to be drilled and trained for war. We should regard the Christian Church, not as an association for admiration and comfort, but as an army with banners, marching to the fray, to achieve victories for Christ, to storm the strongholds of the foe, and to add province after province to the Redeemer's kingdom. (The Soul Winner)

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Skill of the Follow Up

A short but helpful encouragement from Brad Lomenick's blog on following up for leaders or those looking to lead and/or influence others.
Leaders get things done. They are action oriented and always moving towards the finish line.
As all of us know, when dealing with other people, other organizations, and other teams, many times the project or initiative bogs down because “you haven’t heard back from him” or “she never emailed me to confirm” or “I’m still waiting on them to send over a fax” or “I called and left a message, but don’t want to bother them again.” When other people get involved besides us, things get more complicated.
If you want to truly get things done, you have to become skilled at the follow up. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:
1. It’s always your responsibility to initiate. Obviously if you are the one asking for something, then you have to initiate. But even if you’re just part of the project or one of the steps in the project, you need to always feel responsibility to initiate.
2. We’re all busy. Never take offense or get your feelings hurt because someone hasn’t responded to your initial invitation or request. Very rarely is a lack of response personal. It’s just because people are busy.
3. Figure out how best to get an answer. Many people don’t return phone calls anymore, but if you text them, they’ll get right back to you. Be smart. Customize your communication if you want a quick response.
4. Make it easy to get a response. Make sure it’s one step to confirm or respond or get you the information you need. Don’t make folks jump through multiple hoops in order to get you what you need. Remove all the barriers.
5. Create a deadline. Make sure you are very clear in your initial request and in your follow up what you are asking for, as well as when you need it. Sometimes we forget to create urgency and expectations alongside the request.
6. Aggressively pursue until you get a yes or no. If it takes 5 emails, then send 5 emails. If it takes 3 phone calls, make 3 phone calls. Get it to the finish line.
What are some of your secrets in regards to following up and getting things done?

Pastors: Need a Break From the Church?

From on pastors need a break from 'church'

I"ve been thinking a lot about this paragraph from Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community. It has a lot of implications for how pastors see their roles within the church.
Many of my "minister" friends speak of the church as something from which they must seek solace. They "protect" their day off and guard the privacy of their home. They feel the loneliness of ministry, looking outside the local church for people who will pastor them and events that will refresh them. For me the church is where I find solace. The Christian community pastors and refreshes me through the word of God. Someone put it to us like this: "If I were to say I needed a weekly day off from my wife and children, people would say I had a dysfunctional marriage. So why, if I say I need a day off from this church, do people not ask whether I have a dysfunctional church family?"
I heard the same thing in the Soma School recordings. Pastors should strive to take breaks from ministry responsibilities, but if we feel like we need breaks from the people of the church, there may be a deeper issue that needs attention.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pastors, Pathological Immaturity, and Courageous Un-self-consciousness

From Jared Wilson at Gospel Coalition, on pastors and people in general not being free to be ourselves as it relates to our justification.

The 41 year-old teacher who left his wife and children to be with a former student is “pathologically immature.” This, according to therapist Bethenny Marshall who has interviewed the awkward couple. Marshall elaborates: “This is what we see with teachers who have inappropriate relationships with their students. They imagine themselves to be age mates or peers with the students.”
“Pathologically immature.” There is a real application in this for ministry. We could go one way and discuss the immature compromises made by pastors who cheat on their wives — because what we often see in the details of such events is a disturbing amount of immature “ickiness” from grown men acting like hormonal teenage boys — or we could go another way and discuss the trend among aging pastors to keep up with the wardrobe, hairstyles, and speech of the younger generations, a phenomenon that gets more and more pathetic with time. But the reality is that while pathological immaturity plays into both of those scenarios, it plays into the temptations of all pastors.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” This is what we suppose we’re doing — contextualizing, some call it. It’s being a good missionary, we justify. But the line between what Paul is actually talking about in that passage and the sin of “fear of man” is really not so thin.
It takes guts for pastors to just be themselves. (For anyone, really, but let me start with pastors, since judgment begins with the house of God and that judgment begins with us leaders.) We crave validation, justification so much we will put on any persona we think will work, that we think will help us appear and feel successful, popular, dynamic, attractive, acceptable. We enter into “inappropriate relationships” with our congregations because we imagine we are ultimately beholden to them, dependent upon them. But the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ frees us from hypocrisy, free us to boldly own our inadequacies, our flaws, our failures, and especially our sins.
The pathologically immature pastor imagines himself really getting down to the level of the people he’s trying to reach; he thinks he’s really connecting with them. He’s being authentic, transparent, relevant. But that sort of self-consciousness is none of those things. What did C.S. Lewis say about humility? “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” And so in a curious irony, when we are trying so hard to “keep it real” we usually end up mired in pride, tempted to project an image or put on a persona that really isn’t us. (Because we fear the real us would not be as missionally effective.)
What we need is real humility. Real humility consists partly in the boldness to be yourself. Being reconciled to the Father through faith in Christ, having thus been united with Christ, becoming mystically indistinguishable from him, made as secure as he is through this mystical union, and having this justification from God himself frees us to be our real selves. Having put on Christ, I have nothing left to prove.
When I think of all the fig leaves I put on in attempts to conceal my sin, my weaknesses, my insecurities, my inabilities, my utter ineptitude, I realize that while the fig leaves of timidity and neuroses might make me look humble, they are really self-centered self-protections. And in that sense, I am just as self-conscious as the pastor projecting himself as the Type-A, get-your-answers-here pastorpreneurial guru. Putting on humility — which is putting on Christ — however, frees me from both self-pity and projection. Breathing a sigh of gospel relief, I can be myself, whatever that means for whoever’s watching. If God is for us, who can be against us, anyway? They can get glad in the same pants they got mad in.
Being all things to all people, if this is our ministerial goal, ought to begin with being all ourselves to God who approves us, qualifies us, commissions us, and loves us. We have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us, and the life we live in the flesh, we live by faith in the Son of God who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20, para.). As we mature in the faith, then, he increases and we decrease. And we can put the stupid fig leaves away. They aren’t helping. The gospel is fuel for courageous un-self-consciousness.
And this is what people really need from us! The freedom to drop the pretense, to be radically un-self-conscious — not un-self-reflective, by any means, but un-self-concerned — and so liberated by God’s approval of us in Christ Jesus that we’re okay with owning our non-okay-ness.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Prayer and Productivity

This is from the Good Book blog, sponsored by Biola University.  I am always looking to be more productive and thought this was helpful in involving God in my desire to be productive.  

By Rob Lister Mar. 7, 2012 12:00 p.m. Spiritual Formation, Theology
One of the things I've struggled with over the years is knowing how to best pursue my own productivity goals.  At various times, I’ve experienced everything from “productivity pride” to “productivity disappointment” to “productivity envy.”  Along the way, I have learned that I don’t have to battle my productivity struggles in my own strength.  And as a result of some of those lessons, I’ve collated a few items that I regularly pray for in relation to my productivity pursuits.
While there’s nothing earth-shatteringly profound about these prayer points, the effect of praying about my work in these ways has helped me understand my work more theocentrically.  So, I offer this list of productivity prayer requests here for your consideration, particularly if you’re susceptible to locating your identity in task accomplishment (or task failure) as I often do.
1. Pray, broadly, for diligence and direction in my work.  Like any other area, I can’t do my vocation apart from God.
2. Pray, specifically, for what God wants me to accomplish today, and thus to trust God for what I am working on AND for what I'm not working on today.  (My resources are finite, and what I'm able to accomplish in any given day is limited.)
3. Pray for openness and patience with divinely appointed “interruptions.”
4. Pray that I will not worship my productivity, and that I will not have an achievement-based identity, but will instead understand my identity in Christ as foundational.
5. Pray for freedom from the fear of man that would lead me mainly to attempt to please and impress others with my work.  Conversely, pray that I would simply seek a sense of God's approval and awareness that I have been faithful with my time and talents.
6. Pray that I will have an honest assessment of my gifts/abilities and what I am capable of accomplishing in any given set of circumstances. That way I will have realistic expectations about what I'm aiming at, and not set myself a standard that is based on what someone else can do.  We all have the same 24 hours, but not the same wiring, stage in life, experience/foundation, calling, responsibilities, and/or number of talents/gifts from God, nor in the same degree.
7. Along the same lines as the previous, pray for contentment with my vocation, gifts, talents, etc. as opposed to envying someone else’s.
8. Pray for a clear and confident sense of vocation so I will know when to say yes and when to say no to various opportunities that come my way.
9. Pray for freedom from the tug of leisure when it is time to work, and for freedom from guilt over the unaccomplished when it is time to rest, knowing that God is sovereign over all things, the accomplishment of my “To Do list” included.
10. Pray that I will see and understand that my family is part of my vocational calling and not just my M-F 9-5 job. Therefore, I need to plan and reserve energy for them too.

For a great resource on a theology of vocation more broadly speaking, see Gene Veith’s, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.
And for someone who’s been thinking carefully about the theology and practice of productivity and work-flow much longer than I have, you may want to check out Matt Perman’s website: What’s Best Next.  I am eagerly anticipating his new book on the subject: What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (due out October 2012).

Beware of Formula Christianity

Another blog form Jared Wilson at Gospel Driven Church . . .

Adequate Preparation for Brokenness

The portion of this feature on Lauren Winner that jumps out at me is this:

“In Christianity there’s this script of, you do the right things and you will not come to that place of despair, and something is wrong with you if you do,” she said. “I didn’t feel I had an abundance of preparation for hitting that experience.”
What she describes in the first sentence is not Christianity, of course, but what passes for it in many churches and faith communities today. Do x, y, and z and no harm will come to you. This is what most of the idiots on television preach. But it is also there, mostly between the lines but often not, in the way many evangelical churches teach the Scriptures. Call it moralistic therapeutic deism, call it self-help religion, call it legalism, call it whatever you want, but don’t call it Christianity.
What Winner says in that second sentence — “I didn’t feel I had an abundance of preparation for hitting that experience.” — speaks to the utter importance of gospel-centered preaching, teaching, discipleship, counseling, community fellowship, and on and on. I didn’t have preparation for hitting the experience of despair either. I had a lot of helpful hints and tips, a treasure trove of weekly seven steps to this or that, and an abundance of Christian resources. But nothing “works” like hearing and knowing and trusting that nothing could separate me from the love of God and nothing could invalidate the approval I have from him in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some Reflections from a "Successful Megachurch Pastor"

From the Resurgence blog.  Great thoughts and reflections on what is really important.

Reflections on Seven Years of Church Planting

Seven and a half years ago, ten of us gathered in my parents’ living room to plant Praxis Church.
Now, Praxis Church has become Redemption Church and exists as 5,000 people in four congregations spread across the Phoenix metro area. A few months ago, my wife and I, along with our elders, decided it was time for me to move into the heart of San Francisco, California to do it all over again.
This moment provided an opportunity to look back and reflect on lessons learned and mistakes made. The following are five observations on church and church planting.

1. Make a specific plan for discipleship—and call it discipleship.

In Matthew 28, Jesus’ final command was to “go and make disciples.” This was a direct statement of purpose for the church, but in many of our churches, there isn’t a clear definition of a disciple, let alone a plan for discipleship. Praxis was no different. We knew exactly how we wanted to run our worship services and live on mission but had no plan for discipleship.
Most of our churches are doing discipleship, if only accidentally, but few of us call it that. So, instead of spending all your time on promotional flyers, try to craft a simple plan to make disciples of Jesus. Also, stop wracking your brain trying to think of a unique Greek or Hebrew word for it—just call it discipleship.

2. Be honest with yourself about who you are.

Church planters often go through phases of mimicking their favorite preachers and pastors. Unfortunately, the guys that get all the attention are the fast-growing, super-talented guys who are the exception to the rule. Most of us, however, are the rule.
Develop a clear understanding of who you are and what your gifts are.
Furthermore, develop a realistic and honest plan for the growth engine of your church that is in line with your gifts. This will free you up to run hard in the right direction and have realistic expectations for the future of your church.

3. Talk to people personally before you say anything negative about them.

Thanks to the Internet, it has become commonplace for Christians to publicly criticize pastors and ministries that they have no connection to. Very little good can come of this, and we come off petty and self-righteous. This only further deepens the spirit of mistrust that pervades our culture.
Your church is not the one answer to all your city’s problems; God uses lots of ministries, and you can learn from their expertise. With enough patience and determination, you can get in touch with anyone. You will find that you have far too much in common with those other churches to risk tearing them down.

4. Act your size.

I’ve met two types of church leaders: pastors who want big churches and those who want small ones. Each is convinced that their size is the most God-glorifying and kingdom-building. The truth is that the kingdom needs all kinds of churches and that the pastors who want to be big have to start small and those who want to be small sometimes turn out to be big.
The key is to leverage the strengths of what you are and be honest about your weaknesses.
Small churches come with small budgets and lack of programs; they have difficulty pulling off quality worship gatherings and are full of those awkward small church moments. But small churches can often do community, pastoral care, and relationships better. They can change faster, communicate verbally, and tend to have a smaller backdoor.
So whether you are large or small, maximize the strengths of your size and mitigate your weaknesses, but don’t pretend to be something you are not.

5. I’ve seen the “promised land” —and it’s just OK.

For the last couple years, I have been living the dream. Our church has seen explosive growth, people be saved, baptized, and join groups all the time. We have four campuses, thousands of people, and a great staff. Finally, all the toil of church planting has paid off and the prospect of megachurch stardom was a reality.
Most of us want some version of this in ministry. I finally reached the promised land, and I can report that it’s just OK. Don’t get me wrong: there were parts that I loved, but at the end of the day there is always more to do, always another idea, hill to climb or battle to fight—it never ends.
After several months of reflection, I can honestly say that I will miss the people whom I have grown to love over the last seven years far more than I will miss big budgets, assistants, buildings, speaking gigs, or any of the perks that come with megachurch life.
I encourage you to make goals and strive for them but keep in mind that it’s your relationship with Jesus, your family, and the people you minister to who really matter.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Idol of Ministry Success

From Jared Wilson over at Gospel Driven church:

Until We’re Finally “There,” There is No “There” – There’s Only “Here”

One of the most helpful things I read last week was this word from Justin Anderson:

I’ve seen the “promised land” — and it’s just ok.
Refreshing is what that word is. Anderson elaborates:

For the last couple years, I have been living the dream. Our church has seen explosive growth, people be saved, baptized, and join groups all the time. We have four campuses, thousands of people, and a great staff. Finally, all the toil of church planting has paid off and the prospect of megachurch stardom was a reality. Most of us want some version of this in ministry. I finally reached the promised land, and I can report that it’s just OK. Don’t get me wrong: there were parts that I loved, but at the end of the day there is always more to do, always another idea, hill to climb or battle to fight—it never ends.
Much wisdom here for all of us, big church or little church, succeeding or struggling. Wisdom there for pastors and laity alike.
Too often we envision “successful ministry” — this vision may look different from person to person, church to church — and pour our energies and affections into seeing that vision become a reality, assuming that once we finally “arrive,” things will be better, easier, finally and ultimately fulfilling. This is, functionally, idolatry. It is a creation of a false heaven, not simply false in its falling short of the real Paradise but false in its inclusion of talent, acquired skills, and grit to reach.
Don’t settle for the false heaven of a “successful ministry.” Because real success is faithfulness. Big church or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church — all churches are epic successes full of the eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’ gospel and follow him. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom with the ability to bind and loose on both sides of the veil only to those who’d reached a certain attendance benchmark. So do well, pursue excellence, and stay faithful. God will give you what you ought to have according to his wisdom and riches.
The reality is, as Anderson is able to reveal from that fabled other side, there is no promised land until the promised land of the real heaven. We always think things will finally be . . . well, final when we get “there,” wherever “there” is for us. But there is no there. There’s only here. Because once you get there, there becomes here, and there’s a new there. On and on it will go until our discontentment with ourselves is shaped by the contentment found in Christ and our yearning for thisworldly “theres” is conquered by the vision of the everlasting “there.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Four Reasons Your Life Group Should Talk About Your Pastor's Sermon

Fellow blogger Rick Howerton, whom I respect greatly as a leader in the small group movement, recently posted a blog detailing three things that a small group should not discuss—among them was the Pastor’s Sunday sermon. His reason? Gossip. I agree, if that’s where things inevitably turn.

However, I’m going to subtly disagree with my fellow small group apologist. Allow me to explain. While I am not a huge fan of a small group digging into the pastor’s message week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year, I do believe it can be a valuable tool for discussion and growth for a season of time. And I believe it can serve to challenge group participants in four very important ways. Here they are:

1. Consistency – There is an expectation that small group members are in church each weekend. Group discussion about the sermon provides a measure of accountability for everyone. Subsequently, if an individual or couple can’t make it on a given weekend, there is the expectation that you’ll grab the CD or listen to the podcast of the sermon. This keeps you up-to-date with the sermon series, and keeps you engaged with the direction the pastor is leading your congregation.

2. Focus – Many times, people are in church, but they’re not fully engaged. When a small group agrees to spend time talking about the pastor’s message, it requires a deeper level of commitment. Group members will likely listen more attentively, they’ll likely take notes, and they might even dig more deeply into Bible passages presented in the sermon.

There’s just something about knowing that your friends and peers are expecting to hear how God spoke to you through a message that ratchets up everyone’s ability to focus.

3. Deeper Understanding – When a pastor teaches, he often communicates much more than most of us understand at first. Certainly, he teaches the Biblical text. Also, he often teaches Theological truths and the vision of the church in subtle ways that support his Biblical teaching. When a small group discusses the message—including its subtleties—it helps small group members get a deeper grasp of the church’s beliefs and philosophy of ministry. Great stuff for any small group to process and discuss in community!

4. Application – One size does not fit all when it comes to personal application of a sermon. The Holy Spirit will instruct, guide, and lead you differently than He does another. That’s why it’s helpful to talk about the Spirit’s leading in your faith journey from your pastor’s Bible-based message. You might be led to respond with your heart, another with their hands, and another with their head in deeper intellectual pursuit. Processing these things in the context of community can help to refine and clarify your personal application.

To read Rick's original blog post go to: