Pastor’s Perspective

Counterfeit Gods

April 18, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective

Counterfeit-Gods-smlKeller’s book Counterfeit Gods takes a deeper look at idolatry than I have ever done. I found it insightful and challenging. I would have said that I had a good understanding of the topic, but Keller goes to a whole different level. I found it hard to choose only one or two things to comment on. But I will anyway.
One thing that really stood out was one of the results of having an idol in your life: “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life.” When anything less than God is at the center, we intuitively know that it can be lost or taken, that it is fundamentally insecure. That causes fear. If you aren’t sure if you have an idol in your life, look for the fruit—fear being a big deal. That’s a great tip-off.
I never thought of looking at the fears in my life as ways to identify idols, but it didn’t take long to see how that could be true. Maybe my fear of failure is connected to some kind of idolizing of success or of performance being the basis for my identity. That begins to strike close to home.
I was also struck by another diagnostic tool. “The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.” I thought that was brilliant. What do I think about without trying; where do my thoughts naturally go when there are no demands on my brain and no to-do list in front of me?
Do I think about how I would spend the money if I won the Lottery? Or what it would be like if I was the greatest basketball player ever? Of if I had a ministry that was changing the world? Where do we go in our unscripted, unguarded moments? I wish I could say I always thought about seeing Jesus face to face, but that wouldn’t be true.
Finally, looking at what is underneath our most volatile and painful emotions. What gets us stirred up at the deepest levels? And how does that affect the choices we make?
Keller says we all have idols and potential idols lurking in our lives. Reading Counterfeit Gods actually exposed some of mine to me. What about you? Were there things that stood out to you?

Next: Pastoral Succession That Works

April 7, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective

next-smlSuccession is a topic I am hearing more and more about the last couple of years. Interestingly, I seldom heard anything about it for the preceding twenty-plus years. I think it’s good that we are finally looking at this as the important process it is.

Frankly, I don’t have much experience in this area, so I don’t have much to add. But one thing I did make note of was the reasons why pastors tend to stay too long.

First was a lack of finances. Pastors feel forced to remain in their positions because they have no other way to support themselves. Unfortunately, this is a long-range issue. Planning for retirement needs to happen many years ahead of time; that isn’t something that can be addressed in a few years. Smart pastors—and smart churches—will take that into account when they plan compensation packages.

Second was not having anything else to do. Too many pastors don’t have a vision or plan for what they will do after retiring. Their whole life is focused on their church, and all they see when they try to look beyond that is a void. Personally, I don’t think it is true that our ministries end when we retire from being pastors; our ministries will simply look different. But that, too, is worth thinking about and preparing for.

Taken together, that means a wise pastor should be preparing for succession on a personal level well in advance. I think it’s easy to say, “I’m years from retiring; I don’t need to think about that now.” And while that may be true on the church side, it is not true on the personal side. It may take one to three years to prepare the church; it could take ten to twenty years to prepare yourself.

The Longview

March 29, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective

The_Longview-smlI really liked the viewpoint of The Longview—to approach whatever ministry you are in with the attitude that you will be there “for the rest of your professional life.” Of course, God can change your assignment at any time, but I think the approach of assuming you are wherever you are for the long term is spot on.

As I went through the book, I realized that I take that viewpoint for granted. Everywhere I have ministered I have assumed I would be there for the long haul and have not looked for other opportunities. However, I haven’t usually thought of that in an intentional way.

In other words, I haven’t prayed, planned, and worked with the mind-set that I was investing for the next 10 to 20 years or more. It’s been an assumption, but when I found myself being intentional about it—bringing it to the forefront of my mind—it affected me in surprising ways. I found adopting a longview perspective quite energizing, and, in some ways, thinking through this assumption decreased stress. I didn’t feel like I had to get everything sorted and moving right away. I can build intentionally over time, which allows for more depth, quality, and patience with the process.

I also found the author’s insights on the ego-driven leader vs. the statesman to be spot on. I have seen both types of ministers over the years I have been in ministry, and I think it is one of the most important distinctions we can make. Ego-driven leaders think they are smarter or better than others. They would seldom say that out loud, but it is apparent in the way they relate and how they make decisions. Statesmen, however, are different. They are secure in themselves and don’t feel a need to prove anything to others; they try to minimize the distance between themselves and their followers without giving up their authority and responsibility; they seek to broaden access to themselves rather than create false barriers to keep people at a distance.

I have known some leaders like that, and without exception, they have had the greatest effect on me and on a large number of people. They have a proven character that allows people to trust them and to follow them without fear. I aspire to be that kind of person and that kind of leader.

So, do you take a longview perspective and approach to your ministry? What difference has that made for you and those around you?

The Irresistible Church

March 14, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective

Irresistable-church-smallI think Wayne Cordeiro is one of the most significant Christian leaders I know of, so I pay attention to whatever he writes. His insights come from a lifetime of effective ministry; he has been a practitioner, someone in the trenches, and he has the scars and the wisdom to show for it.

The Irresistible Church gives a great overview of what a biblical church should look like. Any church that manifests the 12 characteristics he outlines here will be a healthy church that changes lives.

The two traits that stuck out to me as I was reading were that “an irresistible church promotes self-feeding” and “an irresistible church has a plan.” I find that both of these are challenging, and few churches I know of actually do both.

Teaching Christians to be “self-feeding” is a key ingredient of building mature disciples. But it’s hard. It’s easier to not do it, or just to think that people get “fed” every Sunday at church. But it’s not possible to be healthy if you’re only eating once a week. As I reflect on this, I think the issue is the difference between telling people what to do and teaching them how
to do it. I was told, as a new believer, that I should have a “quiet time” to meet with God. But I was never actually told how to have one, what I should do during it, or how to connect with God in a real way. I was kind of on my own to figure it out, and I don’t think I’m unique in that respect.

I wonder if we don’t teach others because we aren’t doing it ourselves, or what other things seem more important that are taking up our time. I’ve begun taking more seriously the idea of teaching people how to feed themselves, and am already seeing the fruit of it. I also know of few churches that have a plan from which they are actually operating. Some have goals or a general sense
of direction, but few take the next step of developing plans to accomplish those goals. Planning is not something in which pastors are usually trained. It can be learned, but it’s easier to give our time to all the other things that have a claim on it. Easier isn’t always better! I don’t believe that any of us can become the kind of church God calls us to be without planning.

I’m writing this as I am about to begin planning the next season of life for our church. It’s a helpful and challenging reminder about the importance of engaging in the process. What did you take away? How is your planning going?

If You Want It Done Right, You Don’t Have to Do It Yourself!

February 29, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective

If_You_WANT_It_Done_right_smlFor anyone in leadership, delegating effectively is one of the most important skills to learn. I think it’s also one of the least well-developed skills, especially in the church.

Few pastors have had any training in how to delegate effectively. From what I’ve seen, pastors tend to make one of two mistakes. The first is to not delegate at all. Pastors who make this mistake usually fall into the “no one can do it as well as I can” kind of thinking. Ironically, that’s often true, at least, at the beginning. However, the problem is that no one ever will be as good as you if you don’t train them by delegating. It’s very short-sighted thinking.
The other mistake is to assign tasks and call it delegation. In this case you are giving people specific, isolated tasks to do, and when they are done, they need to come back to you for the next thing. There is no autonomy or responsibility for them to exercise. They are just following instructions. This is deceptive because it looks like you are delegating when you actually aren’t. Implicit in delegation is the idea that people are free to do things in the way they want, as long as they get the job done properly. There are several problems that come when you confuse delegation with assigning tasks. In this case you can really only give low-level tasks away. That won’t change your workload, it won’t develop your people, and it certainly won’t ensure successful results.
Underneath it all, delegation is a skill that can be learned. It does not come automatically to most people, which means one has to work on it intentionally. I think any pastor can learn to do it; he or she just needs to take the time. That can be a challenge because at first it doesn’t feel like productive work. Eventually, however, it becomes the key to greater productivity than ever.

What has worked for you? What has been frustrating, or unsuccessful?

Leadership When the Heat’s On

February 15, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective
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Leadership-When-The-Heats-On_smlDanny Cox covers a lot of ground in Leadership When the Heat’s On. I found that a lot of his paragraphs could easily have been expanded into full chapters. I suspect there is something for just about everyone here. There were three particular insights of which I made note that I thought were worth particular attention.

First was this: “Many people are much more familiar with mediocrity than they are with success, and therefore lack the drive to pursue goals. Fear of success is natural if you have little experience with it.” I’ve become increasingly aware of how common it is for people to fear success. Mediocrity is comfortable and safe—to pursue success forces us to stretch and grow, something many of us don’t like to do. We have often never been challenged to do it, and our fear of failure can kick in at a whole new level.

I’ve also seen that some are afraid of success because of the increased expectations that follow. Once you are successful at a particular task, people expect that excellence, which creates a new level of pressure. Some people will sabotage themselves so as not to succeed—and then fail at a higher level. As leaders, we need to be able to walk people through those fears and help them step into a higher level of success.
The second thing that struck me was: “To mentally prepare for problem solving, you must first commit yourself fully to solving the problem. This means making a strong commitment to yourself and your organization that the problem you’re presently facing will not come back for lack of a sound solution.” Reading that made me wonder how often it happens that we really commit to fully solving a problem. Often we settle for putting band-aids on the problem—making it look better, or not be as bad, but not really solving it at a fundamental level. Of course, when we do that, the problem always comes back because it was never really dealt with in the first place. Being an effective leader means really addressing problems until they are resolved. That means we will likely keep pressing long after those around us are ready to move on, and they can even get annoyed with us for not letting it go.

The third thing was a good reminder: “The people in your organization need to feel they will receive sufficient notice before any significant change is made. In other words, your organization should discuss and think through new ideas before implementing them. People don’t develop a sense of confidence when they get blindsided with something they weren’t expecting. Even if the new idea is a good one, springing it on unsuspecting people will produce uncertainty, an atmosphere in which they tend to proceed cautiously and tentatively.”

As leaders, we have often spent many hours thinking about an issue or planning a new initiative. By the time we start talking about it, or are ready to move on it, it’s old news, but it isn’t old news for the people around us. We need to be careful to walk them through the idea and the implementation so they don’t feel blindsided. If they do, we will never have their full commitment or their best efforts at making it happen. Their confidence will be undercut, and they will act tentatively. On the other hand, people who know what is happening, and why, will give their best efforts and greatly increase the odds of success.

So what were your take-aways? And what have you learned about leading when the heat is on?


January 29, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective
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friendfluenceSmlFriendfluence has some significant implications for understanding relationships and the development of communities within the church. Flora brings new insights, as well as providing more depth for truths I have known. Although there were an abundance of things I took note of in the book, I will just mention three. The first is the number of people we relate to. “We have five intimate friends. Fifteen close friends, 50 good friends, 150 friends.” Those numbers are well-documented and have stood the test of time. The implications for church size, and small group size, are noteworthy. But I do not know of any churches that intentionally structure themselves around those numbers. I wonder what would happen if we did? I suspect we would see the level of community deepen, even apart from scheduling activities and doing other things to build community. For large churches, it would be worth taking the time to figure out how to maintain those kinds of numbers within the larger body.

The second thing that struck me was the difference in how genders naturally relate. Girls tend to talk about their problems, which brings them closer together but can make them vulnerable to depression; boys don’t think of that as a good strategy. It is not news that men and women are different, and that they relate differently. It is certainly worth taking those differences into account when thinking about small groups and same-gender ministries and activities.

Finally, the impact of having friends on our life spans was something I took note of. It was a surprise to read that having friends had a different effect than having a spouse, and that having friends is more significant for our longevity. I do not fully understand that—I would have put all relationships in the same category. But it does highlight the power and importance of being in a community. For a church, it emphasizes that we should not take the development of community for granted. We need to plan for it: plan for how to help new people plug into it, and plan ways to help people make connections.

As leaders, we cannot guarantee anyone that they will develop intimate relationships or even deep friendships, but we can create opportunities for those relationships to happen. We should do everything we can to make it possible, even while realizing our limitations. The benefits derived from developing friends are worth the effort. And frankly, I suspect it will lower the pastoral load of many pastors if the bonds within the community are strong. Many issues will be dealt with before they ever come to our attention.

The power of friendship is huge; it’s worth cultivating within our church communities. How have you seen this at work?

Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret

January 11, 2016 in Pastor's Perspective

Innovations_Dirty_Little_Secret_smlIn my experience, there are few writers on anything related to leadership who demonstrate the wisdom and insight of Larry Osborne. I read anything he writes, and I almost always benefit. Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret is no exception. While his focus is on innovation, in many ways it’s a book about leadership from a fresh angle.

His description of the difference between mission and vision was especially helpful. Those words are constants in almost any tome on leadership, but in my experience, I have found them to often be misused, confused, or plain unhelpful because of a lack of understanding about each of them.

Simply put, mission is why your organization exists—why are you here? What are you supposed to accomplish? Vision is what that looks like in practice. Lots of churches have “make disciples” as their mission, but it can look markedly different in different places (think Pentecostal vs. Baptist). Why does it matter if you get them right or not? Let me quote Osborne:

“If you have a clear mission statement but no corresponding detailed vision of what success looks like or how you plan to get there, the result will almost always be a confused and splintered team. Each member will seek to fulfill the mission in their own way, taking the path that seems best to them. If you have a detailed vision without a clear mission statement, the result will almost always be lots of activity without any means of determining whether it’s accomplishing anything. At the end of the day, there will be no way to measure success.”

In the same vein, his insights into how vision develops were helpful. Much of the literature out there seems to imply that “vision” comes out of the womb fully formed. My observation is that it is more often discovered over time than decided in a day. Over time we discover the things God has put in the depths of our hearts; we also learn what is truly ours and what sounds good but is really something we adopted from someone else. Osborne puts it like this:

“Unlike mission, vision often starts out fuzzy. It’s a lot like an old-fashioned Polaroid picture; it becomes sharper and more focused over time. It can’t be rushed. But if allowed to fully develop, it provides a clear and detailed description of what success looks like.”  

The second thing I’ll mention is the wisdom and humility implicit in recognizing that innovation often comes from people or organizations outside our own tribe. It is so easy to fall into thinking that if it doesn’t originate with “us,” it isn’t legitimate. I’ve certainly fallen into that at times. But what is old news for others may be revolutionary for us; we need to have enough humility to learn from others—especially those groups we secretly feel condescending toward. As Osborne puts it:

“The fact is, most of the new paradigms, programs, and innovations that will be crucial to our success in the future are already being tried somewhere.”

One of the difficult things about this book was how many great nuggets there were. Often I would find myself stopping and chewing on something that was almost a side comment but that really struck me.

I’m eager to hear what you thought of the book and what struck you. I’m also interested in hearing what you’ve learned about innovation that might not have been mentioned in the book.

-Dave Frederick