Desire and Power

Matthew 7:9-11 have been a huge source of encouragement for me this week. Progress is slow on a couple of big projects I'm working on, and one of them took a discouraging step back early in the week. While I was fighting through the blahs, I spent some time thinking about Jesus' words encouraging us to ask.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Obviously, I'm still fairly new to fatherhood. My two-year-old can't ask for much, but I already know I will want to give him everything I can that is in his best interest for the rest of his life.  The problem with my desire is my limitations. There will be many times where my sons will ask for something I desire to give them but can't. There may be other times when my sons want something I am able to give them but don't want to.

With a loving, heavenly Father that will never be an issue. He has both the power to do whatever we ask and the desire to do what is in our best interest. That's good news.

Shrink the Auditorium

When the church where I'm a pastor built our current facility 7 years ago, they built it with a vision toward what God could do in the future. Our auditorium is big enough to sustain a significant amount of growth in the future while our education space was built to sustain about half as many people. There were lots of strategic reasons for that decision but the byproduct is that although our education space is maxed out, our auditorium is half-full.

For the past three or four years we've had conversations as leaders about the energy level in our worship services. We've tried several things to try to ramp-up participation with varying degrees of effectiveness, but recently stumbled on something that has made a huge difference.

We had a small group of leaders in our auditorium for a time of encouragement and vision-casting. We pushed the whole group toward the middle of the auditorium so the space wouldn't swallow us. The result was phenomenal. We had a time of singing that was one of the most powerful times I've experienced in a long time. That evening, several people said, "We've got to figure out how to do this every Sunday."

So, we roped off a significant portion of our auditorium, pushing people toward the middle.

Several people have had to give up "their seats." I've received a few nasty emails about the change, and we've had a few anti-establishment rope-jumpers who are testing us to see if the ushers will pass the offering plate to the forbidden area, but nobody who sits toward the front is complaining about the change.

As I told the congregation on Sunday, we've never been a church that was much for trying to make an auditorium look full. We've always been a church who wants to worship together. And it's hard to worship together if we're not together. We've tried to make the change in such a way that doesn't sacrifice comfort but in a way that makes it clear: we value corporate worship much more highly than we value the comfort of having 8 seats between you and the nearest person.

If you want to kick-start some energy as the people in your church worship together, consider shrinking your auditorium so they can worship, together.

Approval is a Bad Metric

I'm always on the lookout for ways to know if I'm successful as a leader as well as for ways to track whether or not our organization is successful. Though I don't know any magic metrics for either, I do know one thing: approval is not it.

I don't know a person alive who doesn't love approval. I certainly do. But the desire for approval is an evil task-master who will never be completely satisfied.

If approval is your primary metric, you'll never reach your potential as a leader or an organization.

- You'll become an insecure leader leading an insecure organization. You will thrive when people compliment you, but that only lasts as long as your most recent performance. The next time you'll wonder why the same people didn't say the same things.

- You'll never make difficult decisions. Difficult decisions often alienate people. You won't have their approval. Sometimes, the disapproval of people will be the very best outcome.

- You'll never be a true leader. Leaders who seek approval first always follow public opinion; they don't lead the public.

- Your influence will shrink. Nobody wants to follow a leader who has no courage and no spine. Using approval as a metric will ensure you never make the decision that needs courage.

- Your organization will only go as far as people are comfortable going, which is not very far beyond where they are.

This isn't to say you should ignore the opinions of others. Those opinions will test your theories, enlighten your blind-spots, sharpen your thinking, and check your pride. They will also help you think through pacing, communication, and the cost of moving forward. Approval is an important thing to measure, but it isn't a good metric for measuring success.

Why Pastors Don't Last

As a follow up to my post last Thursday: I'm far too young and inexperienced to be considered an expert on pastoral longevity. However, I think one of the largest reasons the longevity of pastors is so staggeringly short at most churches has everything to do with the principle of hiring to your weaknesses.

Particularly at smaller churches, the expectations on pastors is staggering. The pastor is expected to be a great preacher, great at pastoral care, great at general leadership, and great at managing people. The only problem with those expectations is, the church didn't hire Jesus as their senior pastor. No mortal person is equally good at all those things.

What happens is this: pastors are hired because of their strengths (which are almost always directly related to the previous pastor's weaknesses). If he's a great preacher, the chances are good that he's not going to be a great administrator. During the first year or so, the pastor will ride the momentum of his preaching but at some point his administrative inabilities will rear their ugly head. So, he'll either get frustrated and quit, or the church will get frustrated and fire him. Then they'll go hire an administratively gifted pastor and ride that momentum until they realize they can't stay awake during his sermons and the cycle will repeat itself.

Even (maybe "especially) at smaller churches, you will dramatically increase your pastor's longevity if you allow him to assemble a team that compliments his gifts. Otherwise, you might as well keep your pastor search committee in the on-deck circle; you're going to need them in a couple of years.

Hire To Your Weaknesses

One of the greatest lessons anyone has taught me about leadership is that it's counter-productive to spin your wheels trying to be something you aren't.

On a scale of 1-10, I am by nature probably a 4 or a 5 when it comes to administrating and managing people. I might be able to do the work of a 5 or a 6, but it will take me an inordinate amount of time and energy. I'll never ever be an 8 or 9 or 10.

On the other hand, I feel like I'm probably a 7 or 8 when it comes to communicating and applying Truth in large groups and one-on-one settings. When I spend my time trying to improve in that area, sometimes I can do it at a really high level.

So, as I have the luxury of hiring people, I'm always looking to hire people who can round me out. I need people who can administrate at a really high level so I can delegate that to them. That way, the organization benefits from a unified leadership that is well-rounded so long as the leadership stays aligned.

Admittedly, that luxury is simplified in a larger church with the resources to hire several staff positions. However, I'm convinced if I was a pastor at a small church I would follow the same philosophy. For most senior pastors at small churches, the first full or part-time hire is a worship leader. For most pastors, that may be a mistake. There are people within congregations of almost any size who could lead music at a level appropriate for the size of the church. If you're like me: primarily a preacher and less of an administrator, why not hire someone first who can help you lead and manage the volunteers you'll need? Otherwise, you're likely to run-off your newly hired worship leader anyway...

No matter the size of your church, your most important and pressing hires are directly related to your most glaring weaknesses as a leader. Resist the urge to make the "traditional" hire just because it's traditional. That's a great way to find yourself out of a job.

Leading From The Second Chair - Review

We're in the process of searching for a couple of critical staff positions at the church where I serve. Both are significant roles with seats at the table where decisions are made. They're "second chair" positions. So, in preparation to make those hires I read the book "Leading from the Second Chair" by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson.

This  book sets out to help leaders be better followers. Almost every leader follows someone, so almost every leader can benefit from this book. How can a strong leader lead while he follows? Bonem and Patterson provide some help.

Bonem and Patterson address three primary paradoxes that the second chair leader has to face: the subordinate/leader paradox, the deep/wide paradox, and the contentment/dreaming paradox. How can a leader lead when he has to be subordinate to someone else? How can a leader balance the tension between a deep understanding of an organization along with a broad scope of responsibility? How can leaders be content with the direction the first-chair takes when they have dreams of their own? Those are the questions this book answers extremely well.

Bonem and Patterson's book is replete with real-life examples, mostly from the church world, of second chair leaders who have had significant ministry from a chair other than the first chair. This makes the book easy to read and apply. It also contains a section at the end of each section written specifically to first chair leaders helping them understand how they can more effectively lead second chair leaders.

The one major weakness of the book is that throughout the book the authors pepper in stories about the biblical story of Joseph in order to make their points. It's a really distracting feature of the book because the connections feel contrived rather than natural connections to the biblical story. Joseph wasn't a second chair leader for much of his life that the book draws on; he was a slave or a prisoner. I certainly hope my future Executive Pastor doesn't relate too strongly to those parts of Joseph's story!

"Leading from the Second Chair" is a great book for anyone who serves in a role as a leader who reports to someone else. Though the primary focus of this particular book is for church leaders, the second chair leader in any organization will find it encouraging, stimulating, and thought-provoking as they seek to lead their organization even when someone else is in charge.

If I Were In Charge...

If you're familiar with our situation at McKinney, I'm currently in a second-chair role in our church transitioning to the first-chair role at some point in the next several months. I haven't completely transitioned into the first-chair role, but am enough into the "straddle," that I'm starting to get some perspective on the second-chair role.

One thing that has become increasingly clear to me during the transition is this: sentences that begin with "If I were in charge..." are most likely to be the most foolish words you'll say all day.

It's impossible to grasp the full-scope of decision-making without the responsibility for making the decision. If you're not the one whose head will role with a bad decision, you can't speak with any accuracy about what it is you would do if you were in charge. I've learned that the hard way.

I have a word file on my computer titled "WIAP." The letters stand for "When I'm A Pastor." I started the file more than a decade ago when it became clear to me that I wanted to be a pastor. That file has been a place where I've collected leadership ideas from books I've read, as far as all the things I said "When I am a senior pastor, I'll..." I wanted a place to capture some of those ideas so I wouldn't forget them when I grew up.

You might think over the decade the folder would get significantly bigger; it hasn't. Instead, the more and more responsibility I've received over time, the more things I deleted from the file. Many of them were not realistic. Others were based on arrogant assumptions I had about how organizations "should" be run.

I've retained some good ideas over the years, but I like to think I've matured to the point that I keep my mouth shut in the few instances that a first chair leader has made a decision I wouldn't have made. I don't want to be a fool talking about things I don't understand.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor - Review

I picked up "When Helping Hurts" at the recommendation of a guy who reads the blog from time to time. He was excited about it and thought it might be the kind of book I would be interested in. He was right. Thanks James!

When Helping Hurts is written by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. The title and subtitle are fairly self-explanatory. Essentially, this book is written on the premise that many of our benevolence strategies may be counter-productive. Early in the book they use this illustration: "When a sick person goes to the doctor, the doctor could make two crucial mistakes: (1) Treating symptoms instead of the underlying illness; (2) Misdiagnosing the underlying illness and prescribing the wrong medicine. Either one of these mistakes will result in the patient not getting better and possibly getting worse." "When Helping Hurts" demonstrates that when wealthy, Western Christianity seeks to help the disadvantaged, we can easily make the same two mistakes. 

The authors point out the dangers of a messiah complex combined with a hidden health/wealth gospel that says explicitly or implicitly, "You are poor because you don't know better or aren't honoring God. We can fix you." 

Instead of the messiah complex, Fikkert and Corbett argue Christians who really want to help the poor should concentrate on making an accurate diagnosis: does the situation call for relief, rehabilitation, or development? They point out that relief is the most common diagnosis, though it is rarely the accurate diagnosis. Providing relief from the outside that systems and people on the inside are able to provide is almost always counter-productive. Outside help in non-emergency situations will devalue the people being helped, break systems that were intended to provide relief, and prevent long-term relationships from developing.

This obviously has implications on Short-Term mission trips. Fikkert and Corbett point to a stewardship question that mission committees and churches must answer: When is it appropriate to send a team as opposed to simply funding a team already on the ground. They point out that many short-term trips cost more per person than it would cost to fund an entire indigenous team for a year. That isn't to say Short Term Missions are not important and valuable, only that they must be closely evaluated to ensure good stewardship. 

A mission philosophy of partnership seems to be far more strategic than purposeless Christian tourism because it comes alongside someone with the capacity and skills to truly engage a culture in its own rehabilitation and development for the long-haul. 

"When Helping Hurts" is a really important read for anyone involved interested in alleviating poverty in the world for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. It is a quick, well-written, easy read that packs a paradigm-shifting punch for much of the Western Christian world. 

The "Almost" Fit

We're in the process of searching for a couple of really critical staff positions. I've found that a healthy organization is almost always looking for good people - unhealthy organizations usually find unhealthy people and hang on to them.

The challenge in hiring for open positions is that you only hire people when you have a need. And, when you have a need but nobody to fill the position, someone else ends up doing extra work. That can lead to overworked people, broken down systems, and under-led initiatives. It's easy to panic or settle on an "almost" fit without being patient for the right fit, especially the longer a search drags on.

I've found an "almost" fit is worse than a poor fit. With a poor fit, everyone knows it's a poor fit. With an "almost fit," only a few people will notice and those people may have a hard time putting their finger on exactly what's wrong. It is always better to wait for the right fit than to talk yourself into someone you don't believe in from the start.

There are no perfect candidates and no perfect hires. But, if your gut tells you someone's not the right fit before you hire them you probably ought to listen to it, even if it means an awkward phone call to part ways with a candidate when you can't really explain why.  Otherwise, you'll spend the first several weeks of their employment trying to figure out what your gut was telling you and it will inevitably be a bigger deal than you initially thought. Inevitably.

Have a specific profile in mind of the person you want, and don't hire someone until you find that person. And even if you can't put your finger on specifically why you aren't jazzed about a candidate, do yourself a favor and stop the train before it runs you over.

Treat Him Like an Unbeliever

We don't talk a lot about church discipline as a church, but it happens all the time. Most "discipline" never goes nuclear - it ends at the first step in Matthew 18 where a person confronts his brother about a sin the brother has committed against him one-on-one, and nobody else ever has to know about it.

Occasionally, two or three people have to go to a person about a sin issue and on a few occasions, ministry leaders have to get involved in trying to restore a person. Often by that point a person has either chosen to repent or chosen to remove him or herself from the church altogether.

On very rare occasions, the process Jesus talks about in Matthew 18:15-20 reaches the point at which a person has to be treated as a "pagan or tax collector," whatever that means!

So what does it mean? How did Jesus intend that we would treat pagans and tax collectors?

When you look through the Scriptures, it doesn't seem as if Jesus had in mind that we would ignore them altogether (Luke 19:1-10). Where else will they be restored if they don't have Christian influence to speak Truth into their lives?

However, it also doesn't seem as if Jesus was passive about their sin (Mark 2:13-17). He associated with them but never passively. He loved them, but never allowed his love for them to be mistaken as implicit agreement with their paganism.

One of the hardest conversations you can ever have with a fellow believer who has chosen to live an unrepentant lifestyle goes something like this: "I love you, and I'm going to continue to pursue you because of that love. But we need to be clear on something: you are living in willful, sinful rebellion against God which is completely unacceptable to me as a follower of Christ and as a person who loves you and wants better for you. So you need to know that in choosing to live this way, our relationship must necessarily change. I still want to love you, and want to be there to celebrate when you choose to honor God with your life. But until that point our relationship needs to change. I'm not going to disappear from your life and hope that you won't either; but until you get to the point that you are willing to live differently, our conversations will revolve around this topic; it's too important to ignore.

In order to truly love a person through a period of self-imposed brokenness it is important to be clear about sin, clear about the issue, and clear about the relationship. All with the purpose of seeing a person restored in his or her faith, and restored in community the way God designed it.

To Change the World - Review

I began reading buzz about James Davidson Hunter's book "To Change the World" several months ago and decided I wanted to read ahead of the mass curve so I picked it up.

I'm not going to pretend as if I understood every nuance of Hunter's argument. This book is academic, tends toward technical, and is written by someone who could obviously loan me enough IQ points to make me a genius while himself remaining the smartest guy in most of the rooms he'll enter. Even still, I think this book was a worthwhile pursuit.

In short, Hunter takes on the traditional approach to world-changing - attempting to change the world by gaining power (mostly political power) and utilizing that power to affect positive change on culture and society - and shows that culture change throughout history has rarely occurred that way. The religious right, religious left and pacifism as political factions have been miserable failures, not only in our lifetime but in the 2000 years of the church's existence.

Hunter argues that cultural change rarely happens as a matter of legislation. Instead, it happens more organically outside the central power locations by ordinary people who innovate and institutionalize new ideas which change the culture.

Hunter proposes that the church, rather than trying to leverage a fallen political system, should embrace a theology of "faithful presence." Rather than politicizing every issue, which allows the political system to be the final arbiter, the Church should faithfully embrace Christ-centered principles which goes the way of the cross. The Church should acknowledge the rule of God in every aspect of their lives as harbingers of the rule of God while contributing to the good of the Christian community and to the flourishing of all people.

"To Change the World" takes the form of three essays. The first two are almost exclusively theory; the third puts the first two together along with the beginning of practical application.

Hunter's book is not an easy read. In fact, it can be a slog in places. My guess is that it is a great start for conversations that will spin out of the book and will be a source book for many more practical books in the future. If you want to know where books on culture change of the future began, look no further.


Collin Hansen wrote an outstanding blog entry on the Gospel Coalition blog last week called "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession." 

Being right in the middle of this kind of transition, I'm admittedly biased, but I agree wholeheartedly with the heart of what Hansen says.

Very few churches do intentional transitions. Sometimes they resist because the outgoing senior pastor's ego will not allow it. Sometimes they resist because many young leaders prefer to start from scratch through church planting as opposed to inheriting bureaucracy and sacred cows from another generation. Sometimes they resist because it's just plain hard.

Our transition hasn't been easy; it hasn't been clean, cut, and dry. And whether or not we're successful won't be known for a few years after the baton is formally passed. Even still, though intentional transition is not for the faint of heart, I remain absolutely committed to the model as the wisest, most responsible way for a local church to transition to the next generation. And, I've already begun praying for the person who will take the baton from me, hopefully 30 years from now.

What Kind of Swing?

I have lunch with our Elder Chairman every Wednesday. Most of my pastor friends would call that kind of arrangement "Purgatory," but it's been a large part of what has made our transition so smooth. He's a great guy with great leadership instincts, which makes our lunches one of the weekly appointments I look forward to. I've also heard he's a pretty fine golfer. 

This past week he used an analogy in talking about trying to fill various staff roles that I think makes a lot of sense. 

He says there are some golfers who have a "manufactured swing," and some golfers who just "swing." The golfer with a "manufactured swing" had to learn the mechanics of the swing and practice them until they become a part of his muscle memory. Golfers who just "swing" are born with instincts that allow them to swing a golf club naturally. If you're watching very carefully, you can spot the difference when you watch golf. 

Here's the thing: both swings can win a bunch of golf tournaments. In fact, two of golf's best are different: Arnold Palmer has a "manufactured swing," Jack Nicklaus just swings. 

What does it matter? It makes all the difference if you're a coach. If a "manufactured swing" begins to falter, it's usually because the golfer has taken out a mechanic that he needs to add back in. If a "just swing" begins to struggle, it's usually because the golfer has started doing something that isn't natural for him. 

When it comes to coaching individuals in an organization, similar principles apply. You will hire some people who have learned how to do a skill really well. When they start to struggle, it's usually because they've left out a step that they used to include. They may not see it as critical to the mechanics of their job, but it is. Other people will have natural talent for what they do. If we're not careful, we can pile so many other things on their plate that they start to "swing" differently. That's a great way for them to miss the ball altogether.


I had breakfast yesterday with my buddy Drew who is beginning a new chapter in his life next week, transitioning into the Senior Pastor role at a church in San Antonio. Our conversations over the past few years have been a constant source of blog topics for me. Usually he poses a great question, I give a lousy answer, he is gracious, and I post a blog entry later that says what I should have said before. Today is one of those days.

One of the topics yesterday was whether or not it's okay to use ("steal") the ideas of other ministries or pastors and use them in the ministries we lead. Here are some of my random thoughts:

1. Everything I know, I learned from someone else. Even ideas that are "original" with me were stimulated, informed, or inspired by things I learned from others. In a big way, Solomon was right... there isn't anything new under the sun.

2. Blatant Plagiarism is a sin. If you knowingly take credit for ideas that were not yours, you are a liar. Cite your sources or do your own work.

3.It's a waste of time to re-invent the wheel. If someone is doing something well, you need a really good reason to re-invent it. Otherwise, it's poor stewardship of your time.

4. It's lazy to steal something without making it better. Because ministry involves people and people are different, very, very, very few ideas are plug-and-play. You serve a unique organization in a unique context. Look for ways to adapt good ideas and make them better in your context.

5. Sin begins in the heart. If you're using someone else's idea because it gets you out of the hard work, nobody else may ever know. But you will know, and God will know.

6. God has called you to lead your congregation, not Andy Stanley, or Bill Hybels, or Mark Driscoll. It is absolutely unconscionable to preach another guy's sermon. If God wanted Matt Chandler to be your church's pastor, Matt Chandler would be your church's pastor. Man up and do the work.