50-Percent Attendees

One of the things our church leadership is constantly chewing on is a relatively new trend with my generation and younger.

My parents and their generation would define "regular church attendance" as "Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, every week." My generation defines it as "Sunday morning, fifty percent of the time or more."

Busyness in life, accessibility of travel, dispersion of families to various geographical areas, joint-custody, a consumer mentality, and a host of other contributing factors make this a reality. But it is a reality.

We can all agree that it's not a positive trend. In the future, I might blog about some ideas I have for how to turn the tide. But for now I just want to raise the reality and its potential impact because if you don't think about the implications, you'll fall down a slippery slope.

It affects communications: If you make an announcement about anything on one Sunday, bank on the fact that less than 1/2 the people who consider your church "home" will hear it.

It affects planning: If you need leaders for something that happens every week, you had better be good at either team-building or handling disappointment.

If affects preaching: The vast majority of your congregation will hear less than half of your series. If your message builds completely on last week's, you probably just ought to preach last week's message.

It affects turnover: The tendency is to over-use the extremely faithful because they're around every week. The result: they start showing up every-other week.

What else? I know I'm missing some of the implications. Some of you live in this reality like I do. What are you noticing?

Tips for Your Ministry Resume - Part 2

A couple of years ago I posted some tips for writing a ministry resume. It's probably the most trafficked post I've written in the several years I've been blogging, with a few exceptions. I'm in the season of seeking to hire a couple of positions, so resumes are on my mind. Here are a couple of things to add to my previous list:

1. Slow Down. Smart employers probably aren't even going to begin looking at resumes until they have a pretty good pile to wade through. It is far better to wait a week after a job is posted and use that time to tweak your resume to the point that it fits the opening than it is to rush and send something that doesn't represent you as well as possible. Even more, on the day I post an opening I get 40 or 50 resumes. Over the next few days, that amount dramatically decreases. If you take your time, your resume may get a closer look.

2. Send it in PDF format. With new technology, a lot of potential employers will get their first look at your resume on their iPhone. If not, there's a strong chance they'll open it in a different version of Word than you used. Especially if you've done a lot of work formatting your resume, make sure you save it as a PDF rather than simply sending it as a resume. Even though it looked cool on your computer, if it looks like a jumbled mess on my phone or computer, you won't be getting a call.

3. If you list an "objective" on your resume, it really ought to have something to do with the job you're applying for. If your objective says you want "to serve Christ passionately as a pastor to students," but you're applying for an Executive Pastor role, you betray the fact that you're applying for every job that appears on churchstaffing.com rather than something that you feel might really be a fit for you. It's okay to do that; just do a better job of hiding it.

4. I said this on my previous post, but it's really important: your resume needs to include a professional-looking photograph so a relational prospective employer can picture your face when he's interviewing you. But please, please, please don't just snap a picture with your webcam. Spend the money to have someone take a professional picture of your family and include it. I got one resume from a guy who just scanned his passport and sent it along because I asked for a photo in the job posting. I would have called the guy, but his passport photo made him look like the Unabomber and I wouldn't have been able to stop laughing during the interview.

5. Read the instructions. We start interviewing candidates before we even receive their resume. Near the end of every job posting we give two or three specific instructions for how to submit resumes. Honestly, that weeds out 50 percent of the potential candidates right off the bat because 50 percent of applicants don't include what we have asked them to include. If you can't follow instructions when a job is literally on the line, when can you follow them?

6. Make sure an employer knows why you would be the best fit for the opening they are trying to hire on your front page. Your prospective employer will get scores of resumes. Try to think about what sets you apart from the other 184 applicants and make sure he/she sees that first. He'll see a bunch of seminary degrees and previous positions. Why should he/she hire you?

With a little bit of attention to detail, and a little homework, you can radically raise your chances of getting an interview, which is all your resume is really designed to do. Get in a hurry or forget to pay attention, and the job-search process will be extraordinarily difficult no matter how qualified you are.


If you weren't at McKinney Church on Sunday, you missed hearing a guy who might just be the best preacher you've never heard of. Steve Bateman is the pastor of First Bible Church in Decatur, Alabama. He was the Singles Pastor at McKinney back in the early 90s and was back in town to do our men's conference.

For the entire weekend, he talked about "credibility" from 2 Timothy. This morning he wrapped up by talking about credibility from 2 Corinthians. If you download sermons or podcasts from time to time, it would be a good one to download or watch online. Powerful stuff.

In short here was Steve's thesis for the weekend:

Character + Competency = Credibility.

If you want to have credibility with anyone about anything, you have to know what you're talking about and show what you're talking about.

If you want to be really credible, you get that over time:

Character + Competency + Time = Strong Credibility.

But if you want to be enormously credible; the kind of person everyone turns to, you need to allow God to add something else to the mix:

Character + Competency + Time + Trouble = Enormous Credibility

None of us likes it, none of us wants it, none of us understands it, but when we come out on the other side God will always use trouble in conjunction with Character, Competency, and Time to establish the credibility of people who point to Him.

Thanks to Steve Bateman for a really great challenge this Sunday. I can't wait to read his book.

Sticky Teams - Review

Larry Osborne is the pastor of North Coast Church in San Diego. Several years ago I read his book "Unity Factor" about board leadership at a pretty strategic time in my ministry. I picked up his book "Contrarians Guide to Knowing God" at a pretty strategic time in my life. His newest book "Sticky Teams" showed up in my mailbox last week, so I'm excited to see what's in store.

With typical clarity and an easy style, "Sticky Teams" is a lot like Osborne's other books. He is a natural strategist with a depth that surprises you with such simple books. This book is written primarily for lead pastors to help them develop teams around them that pull together and accomplish great things without falling prey to the things that can kill a team's effectiveness.

Osborne has a unique writing style. If you read "Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God," you know that he is not the typical Type-A pastor. Really, all his books reveal that, and "Sticky Teams" is no different.

"Sticky Teams will help you think through clarity of roles, transition to younger leaders, identification and elevation of leaders, and also several counterintuitive axioms that Osborne says "every leader should know." Then Osborne takes on team alignment - ensuring everyone is pulling together in the same direction, beginning with the leader. Finally, Osborne tackles communication issues that often get leaders off track.

The challenge with "Sticky Teams" is that it was written for team leaders who work with a board and a staff team. Osborne's point (though he doesn't say it) is that both those teams operate on the same principles. However, the leader's place looks very different in each of those groups. Therefore, accomplishing the "ends" Osborne suggests may look different depending on which team the leader is relating to. Sometimes Osborne describes those differences; sometimes he doesn't.

At times, this reality can make the book sound a bit like a book of sound-bytes rather than a flowing argument. Chalk that up to Osborne's style, read the book with that in mind, and you won't be disappointed.

If you lead a team or report to a board (or think you might someday), this book will be extremely helpful to you. Osborne is no fly-by-night whippersnapper with a book deal to speak about leadership. The principles he presents in "Sticky Teams" have been time tested in Larry Osborne's ministry for the past thirty years. That kind of wisdom is worth at least the $12 the book will set you back.

Exposure and Understanding

In the past, as a leader I've made the mistake of thinking that exposure equaled understanding - that once my team had heard goals, vision, direction, instruction, or some other kind of communication from me, they would understand where we're going.

I've resisted the urge to re-communicate things to my team for fear that they would think I was micromanaging them. But I'm learning that the failure to move the team toward understanding is an abdication of leadership.

It isn't enough to expose the team to where you're going. It isn't even enough to immerse them in the concepts. As a leader, you have to move the team to a place where they understand a concept well enough to speak about it for you; where they can instruct themselves and others. Until that point, they can't own it; they're simply exposed to a concept without really understanding it.

Obviously, no leader has the time to do this for every goal, vision, direction, instruction, or other kind of communication. So, he/she has to figure out the top two or three pieces that govern all the rest and make completely sure his team truly understands those. If he chooses the right pieces and the team understands them well enough to be able to speak accurately about them on his behalf, the rest will take care of itself.


At one point in my life, I was a part of a church with a pastor who was obsessive-compulsive about how many people showed up to church on Sunday morning. He would stand in the back of the auditorium until right before he preached for the sole purpose of counting heads.

The problem is, he was never a very good counter. I checked his math a couple of times, and he was almost always good for a 20-percent increase in whatever number I came up with.

A reaction against pastors like that is the reason a lot of people really shy away from tracking any kind of numbers in church.

I think that's a shame. I'm all about numbers - so long as they're the right numbers for measuring what you're trying to measure.

If you're trying to measure spiritual growth, nickels and noses may not be the best data-points to track. But if you're trying to gauge the overall level of generosity at your church, those numbers might be helpful.

The potential for abuse is not an appropriate reason for neglecting something altogether.

If you don't have some way of tracking progress toward your goals (whatever they are), the only thing you ensure is that you will never know when (or if) you reach them.

Furthermore, the fact that you don't measure something officially does not guarantee that it won't be measured unofficially. For example, the church where I currently serve does not officially count noses on Sunday morning. Up to this point, we haven't felt like that metric helps us measure what we want to measure, so no one on our leadership team has ever counted heads on Sundays. But all of them could tell you that we saw a downward attendance trend 5 years ago which has been trending back upwards with primarily young families for the past couple of years.

How do they know? Because everyone is keeping track; they're just not doing it officially.

Sometimes (like in the above case) that's okay; we've intentionally decided that attendance is not going to be a primary criteria for our decision-making. Sometimes, though, it can lead to faulty assumptions based on visceral data rather than the facts.

If you're going to use a criteria to make your decisions, numbers are important. You need to make sure you have an accurate picture of what the data for that criteria looks like. If you're not, it doesn't matter whether you have accurate numbers at all.

Expenses or Investments?

We're currently entering the season of budget preparation for our upcoming year. Being a compulsive goal-setter, I love this time of year even if it does force me to do a little math (I majored in music specifically to avoid math classes). Budgets help you set priorities and goals for the upcoming year.

Whether you're thinking in terms of a personal budget or a ministry budget, perspective is everything. And the most important perspective to have straight is your reason for having a budget to begin with.

Does your budget exist to track expenses or investments? Your answer to that question tells a lot about your perspective going into the budgeting process.

If you budget for expenses, you set the expectations awfully low. Expenses allow you to tread water, but never move forward. Investments expect a return.

In our ministry budget (and my personal budget), I am always on the lookout for expenses - the things that simply cost us money. I'm on the lookout for them because I want to cut them or eliminate them altogether. My stewardship over resources is far too important to set the bar low.

Our staff, programs, resources, and building are investments. We're expecting a return and want to position our financial portfolio in such a way that we're set up for long-term dividends, never short-term expenses.

Complexity and Depth

Every once in a while I hear people griping about other churches they're aware of, saying "they're just not very deep."

Sometimes they're right. More often what they really mean is "I don't like the music."

Fairly often, I think Christians have a tendency to confuse complexity with depth. If a church (particularly a pastor) has a tendency toward complexity, we talk about them being "deep." If a church (particularly a pastor) has a tendency toward simplicity, we talk about them "not being deep enough."

Make no mistake, many churches out there are not deep enough. But unfortunately, we often use the wrong criteria to discern between the two.

I've had friends brag about their pastor's "depth." When I go to their church, what they really have is a pastor who loves to preach messages so complex even a person with a masters degree in theology couldn't begin to follow him. The irony is, those churches are no less shallow than some of the Christianity-Lite churches I could mention. If nobody can understand or apply the message, the message might as well not be present to begin with.

Similarly, several times a pastor's reputation for "shallow" sermons have preceded him in my mind. But when I finally get around to hearing a sermon, I find depth I didn't expect to find.

If it's just complex, it isn't deep. If it's just simple, it isn't necessarily shallow. We have to be careful not to judge depth on the wrong criteria. Otherwise, we'll lean toward spiritual arrogance and shallowness, all the while thinking we're deep.

Answers and Questions

Some leaders are great because they know how to provide answers. A lot of the entrepreneurial millionaires I know of figured out a way to answer a problem that nobody else had been able to answer. One guy got frustrated waiting on a flight while the ground crew shuffled luggage around on the plane to get the weight and balance correct. By the time his flight landed, he had used the broken calculator in his bag to come up with a completely new solution that every airline uses today. Some leaders are great at providing answers like that.

There's a huge value to being a leader with answers, but I think there's an equally huge value to being a leader who simply knows how to ask the right questions. I hope there's value in that, because that's the way I am wired as a leader.

I can't usually come up with creative answers on my own, but I usually know the guy who can. I can't usually come up with a solution to a problem by myself, but I tend to be pretty good at looking at the solutions others have come up with to similar problems and synthesizing something that is workable.

Some leaders are great at coming up with answers. I want those guys on my team. But some of the best point-leaders I know don't have the answers at all - they just know how (and who) to ask the right questions.


Sunday, I got to preach out of John 21. I mentioned it in the sermon, but for those of you who don't attend McKinney (or slept through the sermon), I'll spare you having to go back and watch it online.

If you remember the story, it takes place about a week after Jesus rose from the dead. Several of the disciples head back to Galilee and decide to go fishing (they were fishermen before Jesus called them). They had fished all night and hadn't caught anything. Jesus shows up on the shore about 100 yards away and asks them if they had caught anything. "No," they reply. So, He tells them to cast their net on the other side and they haul in so many fish they can't get the nets back in the boat.

The whole chapter is absolutely rich - we didn't even scratch the surface Sunday - but my favorite part happens in verses 9 and 10.

Jesus calls the guys to shore and invites them to breakfast. He already has fish grilling over a charcoal fire for breakfast (v. 9) but invites them to bring the fish they've caught (v. 10).

Jesus didn't need their fish. He already had fish on the grill, and had shown in Mark 6 that he didn't need many fish to feed a whole lot of people.

He didn't need their fish, but chose to use them anyway.

I think a lot of times Christians treat our obedience/service to Christ as if God needs what we have to offer. But if we don't show up, it isn't as if God will be wringing His hands wondering what to do. He doesn't need what we bring to the table - but often He chooses to use it. Even when He provided it in the first place.

Lone Ranger Leaders

About a year ago I posted about the leader as trailblazer. It is often the job of the leader to take people to a place they never thought of going on their own. As a result, leadership can be a lonely place. That leadership, however, should never be self-imposed. I love this quote by Ron Heifetz in "Leadership Without Easy Answers."

"The myth of leadership is the myth of lone warrior: the solitary individual whose heroism and brilliance enable him to lead the way... Even if the weight of carrying people's hopes and pains falls mainly, for a time, on one person's shoulders, leadership cannot be exercised alone. The lone warrior model of leadership is heroic suicide."

You can't go it alone. You have to have people alongside you both inside and outside your organization who can help you shoulder the weight of your responsibility. Leadership can be lonely; don't do it by yourself.

Books in my Queue

It's Thursday after a long week and I'm fried without much to say. So, here is a look at some of the books in my stack to read in the near future. I'm reading a lot for classes these days; that's the reason for the trends. In no particular order:

The Future of Leadership - Bennis, Spreitzer, and Cummings
The Leader of the Future - Hesselbein and Goldsmith
The Leader of the Future 2 - Hesselbein and Goldsmith
Joy at Work - Bakke
Shift - Haynes
reSymbol - Dees
What We Can't Not Know - Budziszewski
Any of those I should put at the front of the line?

Walk Slowly

Last year I got some helpful feedback from a friend I trust who told me I was in too big a hurry at important times.

Now... It's no secret that I'm the embodiment of a "Purpose-Driven" pastor. I tend to study with purpose, preach with purpose, rest with purpose, and walk with purpose. I haven't ever been confused about that.

But the dark underbelly of whatever your personality is, is that people can't ever see the heart behind that personality. And we have a bad habit of assigning motives to others based on our own perceptions and biases without ever stopping to think if the stories we're telling ourselves about others are accurate.

I can't take responsibility for every false motive someone might assign to me, but I can take responsibility for making it hard for people to believe anything but the best about me.

My purpose-driven walking through the foyer on Sunday made it easy for people to think I was cocky, arrogant, or uninterested in them. Nothing could be further from the truth - I think I probably just had to go to the bathroom. But, I can do better.

I've been working hard on physically slowing myself down during the most important times. I walk slowly through the foyer on Sunday. I make it a discipline to look as many people in the eye as possible. It's really hard for me - not natural at all. But, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to make it hard for others to believe anything bad about me.

As a leader, I don't want my manner to distract from my message, because if your manner distracts from your message, guess which one people are going to believe.

Fresh Eyes

On my way to the office every day I pass a small church that has been in existence for several decades. I don't know anyone who goes to the church or their pastor. I would love for that to change someday, but for now I only know the church from my commute.

The paint on the exterior of the church is peeling. The parking lot has almost as many weeds as the front lawn and one of the "emergency exit" front doors hasn't ever been painted to match the other.

My guess is, there are several people who love that church. My guess is, there's a pastor who loves the people in that church. My guess is, that church has been used by God to touch many lives in its history. But you wouldn't know it to look at the building.

How does that happen? It certainly didn't happen overnight. It happened gradually; day after day and year after year. And gradual decline is hard to spot.

As a leader, I pray almost every day that God will give me fresh eyes. Not just for the exterior facade of the church where I serve, but for the people I lead. I don't want to miss my chance to take action early. I don't want to miss a chance to stop a mess before it is so overwhelming we don't know where to start. I want to see things with fresh eyes. Do you?


Several months ago a pastor friend of mine turned me onto a set of three books about pastoral leadership by a man named Peter Steinke. They're exceptional books that have really changed the way I think about leadership in some critical ways.

Steinke writes a lot about leading through anxiety. I love his basic operating premise: one of the most fundamental roles of the leader is dealing with anxiety because anxiety always exists.

When the organization changes too quickly, the people become anxious. When the organization isn't changing, the people become anxious. Anxiety always exists.

Wise leaders don't avoid anxiety - they lean into it, find the cause, consider the implications of anxiety, set healthy boundaries, and move forward with a blend of steady caution and conviction.