Watch Your Mouth

I had a great conversation with a guy last week who trusted Christ through the ministry of a televangelist. The guy happened to be talking about the gospel and the guy trusted Christ right there in his living room.

This particular televangelist is a goofball, honestly. His theology is out of control. But in this particular instance, God used the guy to reach my friend who is now growing spiritually like a weed.

Another of my friends, a pastor, made a snide comment about the "Oprahfication" of society during a sermon at one point only to find out that one of Oprah's best friends was a member of his church. (She's now a former member).

I'm all for confronting error. It's vital to ministry (Matthew 7:14; Acts 20:29). But a pastor has to be very careful choosing his words in talking ill of a person from the pulpit. And from time to time the pastor needs to call out specific people for specific errors in a public way.

With that said, it almost never serves a pastor well to talk poorly about a person from the pulpit. Those words are almost always misunderstood or misapplied and should be spoken judiciously even when they're necessary. Always.

Watch your mouth, and your tone. My friend needed to know that the televangelist who led him to Christ was a turkey - but the four or five pastors who reamed the televangelist from the pulpit nearly drove this guy away from the church altogether.


I love this quote by Colin Powell in "Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell" by Oren Harari:

"I want you to know you can count on me; I want to know that I can count on you. We may argue about which action to take, but I'll stick by you as we're arguing as long as you stick by me once a decision is made. No cover-your-butt moves are necessary from you; no knife-in-the-back will come from me."

That's great leadership.

Slow Hires

We're currently looking to fill a couple of big positions at the church where I serve. Particularly because of the season of ministry we're in, both positions are a "felt need" for us, and we would love to hire them quickly. But moving too quickly would be fatal.

Interviewing candidates is a lot like dating. I've never met a married couple who said, "You know, we probably knew each other too well before we got married." I've met a lot of divorced people who say "He wasn't the person I thought I was marrying."

You hope the person you hire will be with you for a long time. You'll see them and communicate with them almost every day. And you'll be careful to communicate those expectations to them before you hire them.

If you hurry to hire someone you'll eat your words, because you'll spend the next two years trying to figure out how to get rid of them. And you'll end up doing their job for them anyway. I'd rather do two jobs for an extra month than two jobs for an extra two years; I don't know about you.

Slow down on your hires. Take your time. You'll still make some hires you regret, but not nearly as many.

Good News of the Kingdom

Several weeks ago I did a series of posts about social justice and the Christian. It's a hot topic in Christianity these days, and of particular interest to me. There are some great things happening all over the world as Christians work to put their hands and feet where there mouths have been. That's a great thing.

However, it's really easy to mistake the fruit of the Message for the Message itself. We can answer the right questions the wrong way and end up worse off than we started.

One of the things that makes me absolutely crazy is when people talk about the "Gospel of the Kingdom" in connection with their social agenda without ever having any intention to talk about the specific message about Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.
The "Good News of the Kingdom" is not that the Kingdom is coming. It is not just that Jesus Christ is King. It is not that God is the Creator and will restore the earth to its original intent.

In fact, if you are not in a right relationship with God through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those things are the worst news possible.

The Gospel of the Kingdom is that the King of the Universe is good and perfect and died for you so that you could experience life in a Kingdom (and eternity) that you don't deserve.

If the "Good News of the Kingdom" doesn't include the Person and work of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom is no Gospel at all.

Tangible Proof

Several years ago I had a conversation with a man who was having a hard time in his marriage. Like I do in any pastoral counseling conversation, I went straight to the Gospel. He said he had trusted Christ at one point in his life, but had a hard time with doubt. "I'm a scientist; I'm trained to look for tangible proof. So it's hard to trust my whole life to someone I can't see."

Ephesians 5:22-33 provides the answer to both his problems.

What if wives lived with their husbands in a voluntarily selfless way, even when the turkey didn't deserve it?

What if husbands sacrificed everything that was most important to him so he could meet the needs of his wife, even when she was a nagging, self-centered, money-spending, dripping faucet?

Their marriages would be better, and the world would have the tangible proof of the Gospel that they need.

The Right Mistakes

One of the things that will crater leadership more quickly than anything else is the fear of making mistakes.

Mistakes are a normal part of leadership development. If you play defense forever, you'll never win the game. As a leader - especially a young leader, I expect to make mistakes. I just want to make sure the mistakes I'm making are the right mistakes.

The right mistakes are:

1. Mistakes Related to Process, not Character - Picking the wrong direction when the factors are unknown will not disqualify you as a leader. Failing to be a leader people can trust, will.

2. Mistakes Made For the Very First Time - After some time, if you've made the wrong decision over and over and paid the price, it fails to be a "mistake." Blind spot? Maybe. Leadership flaw? Perhaps. Mistake? No.

3. Mistakes You Make With Someone Else - Wise leaders seek counsel. There's no excuse for making a decision - specifically a major decision - without consulting trusted advisers. If collective wisdom leads to a mistake, so be it. Don't let foolishness or arrogance take you down that path.

4. Mistakes That Fail in the Right Direction - There is a way to fail that allows you to continue making progress even if you don't make the kind of progress you had hoped. Think about where you want to end up and make sure failure lands in that direction. It's one thing to overthrow first base; it's another thing to overthrow first base while you're aiming at Left Field.

5. Mistakes that Don't Leverage the Farm - It's one thing to take risks. It's another thing to risk too much. As a leader, the ultimate end of your organization (whatever that organization might be) is usually too important to risk. If you're betting the farm, you had better be going to lose the farm if you don't win the bet anyway.

What am I missing? I only listed five characteristics of the right mistakes. What would you add to my list?

Marriage and Compatability

This is the season of weddings. Weddings are some of my favorite things to do as a pastor, so every year I over-extend myself with premarital counseling and weddings.

Weddings are big business, if you hadn't noticed. There are thousands of new books, conferences, and online resources that promise to help you figure out whether or not you're compatible as a couple and to build a healthy marriage on that. Eharmony touts its success based on 29 "dimensions" of compatibility.

Although I know some great couples who have benefited from some of those resources, I really think the idea of compatibility in marriage is bunk.

I've never met a married or engaged couple who was compatible.

He's a guy, she's a girl = instant incompatibility. Compound that with different backgrounds, different gifts and talents, and a sinful selfish tendency inside every one of us, and you just don't ever have compatible couples. They don't exist.

The good news is, I believe that incompatibility, not compatibility, is what makes a good marriage. Living-out the selfless sacrificial love that's commanded in Ephesians 5 demands (by definition) people who aren't compatible. You can't sacrificially love someone who is "perfect for you." You can't be voluntarily selfless (submit) to someone who "completes you."

The point of the Gospel is that we were incompatible with God because of our sin and His holiness. Because of His love for us He chose to meet our need(s) anyway despite the cost to Himself. Scripture sets that up as the model for a successful marriage, and it demands two people who are not compatible.

Big News

If you're a part of the McKinney Family, this post is old news.

If you're not a part of McKinney, follow the link to see the answer to the question, "What's going on with you guys these days?"

The Lord has done great thinks for Kari and I... and we are filled with joy.

Five Commitments Toward Trust

One of our elders passed these along to me the other day from a Catalyst Message Andy Stanley did several years ago. I can't wait to share them with our staff team.

Five Commitments Toward Trust for Teams:

1. When there's a gap between what I expected and what I experienced, I will choose believe the best about you.

2. When other people assume the worst about you, I'm going to come to your defense.

3. If what I experience begins to erode my trust in you, I will come to you directly about it. You never have to fear the consequences of a conversation I have with someone else about you until I have first talked to you.

4. When I become convinced I will be unable to deliver on a promise, I will inform you ahead of time.

5. When you confront me about the gaps I have created I will tell you the truth.

Legislating Character

A couple of months ago I was visiting with a friend who is on staff of a large church in the Midwest. We were talking about personnel policies since we were in the middle of re-thinking ours. He sent me a copy of his church's personnel manual, which was roughly the size of the unabridged Encyclopedia Britannica.

Policies are important for every organization. They define the boundaries of the playing field and help ensure a relative amount of consistency across the organization to ensure everyone is playing the game with the same expectations. More than anything, they exist for the sake of clarity.

But policy manuals go wrong when we forget that it is impossible to legislate character.

If the sole purpose of your policy manual is to allow you to trust your employees, you've got the cart before the horse.

When an employee does something outside the pale of what is normally acceptable, the first instinct is often to create a new policy. This almost never solves the problem. Instead, it inevitably creates new problems: Malicious employees who need policies to stay in line will always find ways around policies no matter how many you write. Trustworthy employees will be frustrated by the lack of flexibility because of policies you created for someone else.

My experience says that policies ought to address patterns you experience with multiple trustworthy employees. Patterns with individual trustworthy employees need to be addressed in frank conversations. Employees who are not trustworthy, pattern or not, should be dismissed from your team as quickly as possible. Why? You can't legislate character.

What's the Problem? Leadership or Followership?

There are times in the life of every leader in which he turns around to realize the wrong people are following; or worse, that nobody is following at all. It's true on every level of leadership, from leading a small organization to leading a large country.

In those times, the leader has to ask himself (or herself) a pretty important question: Is this a problem with leadership or a problem with followership?

This is a really hard question to ask, because if we're any kind of leader at all we feel like we're leading in the right direction as clearly as we know how. As a result, the easiest reaction is to see the problem as a problem with followership - the people didn't listen, they don't value the direction we're going, they don't know what's good for them, they're stiff-necked and rebellious, etc...

Sometimes, this is a realistic reaction. Jesus faced a problem of followership (Matthew 12:39; Luke 19:28-40). Sometimes people don't follow good leadership for reasons that are entirely their fault.

My experience as a leader, however, is that the explanation most of the time for people not following my lead is not a problem of followership; it's a problem of leadership.

If you plan an event and the people you expected to show up don't show up, it could be a followership problem. More likely it is a leadership problem. They didn't think your event was worth the investment of their time. Either you failed to communicate the benefit of the event or you assumed people would value a "benefit" they didn't value.

If you are going in a certain direction and the people don't follow, it could be that they don't know what's good for them. It could be that they're stupid and didn't understand your directions. More likely, the problem is with you as a leader. You're either leading in the wrong direction and the people know it, or you're focusing on the wrong things.

Discerning whether failure-to-follow is a followership or leadership problem is the first step in moving ahead. If you accurately diagnose the problem, you'll never get back on track.

Three Pieces of Advice

Tom Peters is a prolific writer on organizational leadership and excellence. In one of his writings, he tells the story of his 74-year-old mother-in-law who received some advice from a 90-year-old friend on the secret of a vigorous life. The friend gave this advice:

"She said she had three 'secrets,'" Joan recalled. "First, surround yourself with good books on any and every topic. Second, spend time with people of all ages. And third, push yourself to say 'Yes.'"

Obviously, there are more components to the abundant life (John 10:10), but I really like this lady's list; especially the last piece of advice.

It's easy to say "no." It's easy to be too tired, too distracted, too busy, too lazy, too careful... It's hard to say yes.

We have to say no to certain things, particularly in the moral realm. That isn't the kind of opportunity we're talking about. We're talking about responding to invitations and opportunities with non-moral implications. Opportunities to take risks, engage life, or try something new.

It's easy to be the kind of person whose normal, automatic reflex is to say "no." But what a boring life!

This week, try it out just for the week. When given the opportunity, try everything in your power (outside of sin) to say "yes." See if the week doesn't turn into a pretty exciting adventure, no matter how old you are.


Kari and I spent the first half of this week at a pastor/wives retreat with some of the other couples from our staff.

Our elders have always valued opportunities for our pastors and their wives to get away for a time of refreshment and prayer. We used to go to a really nice retreat center in Dallas but chose to go in a different direction a few years ago when the economy started going downhill. A generous family in our church has a ranch south of Fort Worth that allows us to have all the fun at a fraction of the cost.

We don't work on retreats. We have perfectly good conference rooms and offices in Fort Worth for working. Our primary goal on retreats is to connect with each other and pray.

It's time well spent. Every year since the economy tanked, we've asked the elders to cancel the retreat and save the money. Every year they've refused. And every year on the way home I make a few phone calls to tell them "thanks" for making the investment.

It's critical for our staff team to care about each other as people, not just colleagues. The only way to accomplish that is to know each other as people rather than just colleagues. If all we do together is work, our relationships would be awfully shallow. Our elders want better than that, so they make it a priority to invest in that direction. We're not a perfect staff, but I think we're closer than we were at this time last week.


Last week I mentioned that the attendance metric hasn't been one of the metrics we have chosen to measure in the history of the church where I serve. Someday we will probably start measuring our numbers, but not for the purpose of gauging success.

Honestly, we haven't been great at measuring anything in the 50-year history of the church. And that's not always a good thing. People are always measuring something, even if not accurately.

Our church doesn't "officially" measure attendance, but it hasn't ever been rare to hear someone say "gosh, attendance was down this week," or "wow, it was a big Sunday." What's funny about that, is that it wasn't at all uncommon to hear both comments on the same Sunday in the same service. That hasn't ever been a huge deal because it isn't a benchmark for our success.

What is a benchmark for our success is movement toward spiritual development and external focus. So, on Sunday we did a church-wide survey during our service. Our hope is to set a benchmark this year and then measure our progress from year to year.

Whatever "success" is for your organization, it's important to measure and track. Otherwise, you'll never know how your organization is doing. You'll be relegated to gauging success at the whim of whomever skews the data to support their agenda.

Micromanaging and Playwriting

Last week I read an essay by Philip Slater, who was a sociology professor and leadership expert (cowriting a book with Warren Bennis) until leaving the corporate world to write plays and be involved in the theater. In his essay, he makes a great point about management:

"Inexperienced playwrights often want to direct their own plays so they can make sure everything conforms to their vision. The result is usually sterile and often disastrous... I tell playwriting students never to write stage directions that tell an actor how to do or say something, since it limits the actor's options and encourages phony gestures. A good actor, I tell them, will have a dozen ways of creating the effect you want - ways you haven't thought of - and will choose the one most natural and the one that most powerfully express that vision.

The head of an organization is in the same position as the playwright. If the leader's vision is clearly articulated it will be most effectively realized by others who share it, and bring their own creativity to it. Any attempt to control and direct their input will reduce its quality."

I think this is brilliant insight.

The most important roles of the manager are (1) finding the right people for the role, and (2) clearly communicating ends.

When those two roles are done well, the manager doesn't have to concern himself much with means at all.

Does God Have a Specific Plan for Your Life?

I wouldn't say I'm a Donald Miller fan. I've read most of his books, and didn't not like any of them. He takes the scenic route everywhere he goes as an author, and that drives me crazy. But, I never had a real beef with anything I read by Miller. I do, however, have a beef with his blog post last week titled "Does God Have a Specific Plan for Your Life? Probably Not."

I think he's trying to ask a question about knowing God's specific plan for your life, but that isn't the question Miller asks. Instead, he says "I don’t believe God has mapped out a plan for your every day, or even for your every year."

Here's the problem with Miller's logic: In order for God to be sovereign over anything, God must be sovereign over everything. You can't completely control one variable without having control over all the variables. If God has a plan, but it doesn't include your life, we can't have any confidence that God will be able to achieve His plan.

Miller argues that "God isn't a control freak." I agree with that because the word "freak" implies that God is malevolent or abusive with what He controls; or that He has to grab for control like a human control freak. He isn't, and doesn't.

In one of Martin Luther's writings to Erasmus, he charged "Your thoughts of God are too human." I'm afraid the same is true of Donald Miller, at least with regard to this topic.

You may not be able to know God's plan for your life. You shouldn't sit back and wait for God to reveal His specific plan outside His moral plan for your life; He rarely reveals those details. Run hard after God, make the wisest choices you can, and rest in a sovereign God who cares for you.