Cynics and Skeptics

One of the leadership lessons I continue to learn is the difference between cynics and skeptics, and how to deal with both. 

Cynics are people who have a "no" posture. They begin trying to figure out why they're against what you're proposing before a conversation has begun. They know they're against whatever it is you're doing - they just haven't figured out why yet. Cynics often feels as though they're the most important person in the organization. It's their self-given role to keep the leader "humble," or "in line." They're not interested in moving forward; they're interested in being right at someone else's expense. 

It's in the organization's best interest to run cynics off (or marginalize them) as quickly as possible. They don't add value, only division; chipping away at the foundation of the organization one objection at a time. 

Skeptics are late adopters. They take a long time to warm-up to ideas and are often difficult to convince. They often give a lot of push-back, but for very different reasons. Skeptics work from a "caution first" posture. They want to be convinced, they're just not yet. But if they ever are convinced, they'll become the biggest champion for your idea.

It's in the leader's best interest to have at least one or two trusted advisors who are skeptics. Unlike the cynic, the skeptic is for the leader and the organization. They can keep a leader from running too fast, too far, or in the wrong direction. They often (not always) will shine light on the leader's blind-spot and help him consider perspectives he might not see on his own. If nothing else, they will help the leader shape communication to take various perspectives into account.  

The challenge for leaders is this: it's far too easy to mistake skeptics for cynics. 

When a leader is passionate about something, opposition or criticism of any kind is hard to take. Too often, when we receive push-back - especially strong push-back - we immediately assume the source of the criticism is a cynic and seek ways to marginalize him. This kind of response only betrays our arrogance and often prevents us from hearing feedback that could help us lead better. 

Be on the lookout for cynics and root them out. They'll kill your organization. But beware of giving someone the "Cynic Tag" too soon. You might marginalize someone who could have helped you  go further, faster, while accumulating a lot fewer scars in the process. 


I've always been fascinated by the Creation account of the fact that God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3).

Was God tired? Did creation wear God out? Did He need a nap after a long, hard week at work?

Of course not. Never mind the fact that God doesn't get tired (Isaiah 40:8), Genesis says that God simply spoke things into existence. He didn't exactly tax  Himself creating the universe.

So why did He rest?

Not because He was tired; because He was satisfied. God was able to rest because He was satisfied with the work He had done. It was very good (Genesis 1:31). He was done.

Which makes it all the more interesting that humanity is later called to follow God's model of resting (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11).

I don't think God was calling the Israelites to rest because their bodies needed the break. He wasn't establishing (much to my dismay) an unusually high value on naps. The motivation for God's rest wasn't fatigue, it was satisfaction. I think He calls people to do the same thing.

That's the point the Pharisees missed (Matthew 12:1-8). They thought the point was simply rest from something. Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath principle was more about resting in something... or rather in Someone.

See, our work is never done like God's was. Whatever work we do, there is no way to completely rest because we have everything like we want it.

To use myself as an example: I am never satisfied that a sermon is ready to preach. Preaching always feels premature. But every week I pick one day (usually Saturday) that I do everything within my power to not think about a sermon. It's a discipline of worship for me where every week I knowingly, willingly, consciously remind myself that I can be satisfied in the God of creation. If He doesn't go before me on Sunday, the message will fail whether or not I work on it Saturday or not.

I'm never satisfied with my "creation," but choose to rest from my work on Saturday because (thanks to Jesus) God is satisfied in His. My rest is a reflection of the fact that I'm satisfied in Him.

What about you? What do you need to rest from so you can rest in the Creator God?
One of the things Dave Browning mentions in the book "Deliberate Simplicity" is the difference between the "outreach church" and the "seeker church." I think it's a helpful distinction and Browning goes on to clarify what he means:

Both the seeker church and the outreach church believe that a bridge needs to be built between God and the lost. They just start building that bridge at different sides of the chasm.

I think it's an extraordinarily helpful, and important, distinction.


One of the things we're working hard on at McKinney is doing a better job celebrating the incredible things God is doing.

When you create a culture of celebration, you tend to do more of those things and you establish constant reminders that God is at work even though we don't always see Him working. Celebrations are like the little tick marks on a growth chart that remind you you're making progress even when you don't feel any different.

So, we're trying to do a better job celebrating everything; from stories of how God is working in individual lives to corporate "wins" that represent God's provision for our entire church.

I've learned that people (all of us) have to be coached and reminded of both how and what to celebrate. So, we're working on that.

One of our big goals was articulated pretty well by our Executive Pastor the other day: We want to be better at celebrating conversions than touchdowns.

For a church in Texas, that would be a monumental achievement.

Complexity and Focus

We're talking a lot about complexity and focus as a church staff. The more focused things are, in general, the more power they have. Light, for example, is useful when it's diffused but when it is focused a person can use light to cut diamonds. Water, to use another example, is useful in your swimming pool but if that same water is highly focused, it can cut steel.

As churches, we often fall into the trap of believing power is in acquisition. The more ministries and opportunities we acquire, the more power we will see.

But that's not the way it works. In my observation, power (obviously, from a human standpoint here) is not in acquisition; it's in concentration.

The deception of acquisition is that the busier we are, the better we feel like things are going. Unfortunately, my experience is that the busier things are... the busier things are. Busyness is not an accurate metric for success.

If you're a part of a busy church, you might ask yourself some questions before you acquire anything else:

  • Will it actually serve more people, or will it simply serve the same people another time?
  • Could an existing ministry do this effectively with just a little bit of repositioning?
  • Will this opportunity duplicate the purpose of another ministry and take resources (finances, leaders, physical space) away from both?
  • What used to accomplish this purpose? Do we need to gracefully close something down before something new can be successful?
  • Is this something someone else is already doing effectively? Why not simply let them do it and support them?
  • Does this help move people toward who they ought to be in Christ or does it simply provide an environment for them to stay the same longer.

The last question is a much harder question than it looks like on the front-end.

Power is in focus and concentration, not in acquisition. If you acquire new ministries and opportunities without a great deal of care, you'll end up top-heavy and spend so much time chasing your institutional tail that you'll have a hard time realizing what you're hoping to see.

Honest Feedback

A lesson I'm learning: The higher you go on an organizational chart, the harder it is to get honest feedback.

Depending on the person he or she is talking to, leaders at higher levels in organizations are most likely to get feedback from the extreme ends of the spectrum.

One group of people looks at high-level leaders with unbridled skepticism. They don't normally give face-to-face feedback, but take every opportunity they can to snipe at the leader and the things he or she does. The other group of people give nothing but praise. Although they are more likely to give feedback directly to the leader, they're often no less biased. They are much more fun to hear from as a leader, but not any more helpful.

Often people within an organization are shy about giving honest feedback to a leader higher on the organizational chart than them, especially when the feedback is less than positive. They fear, often legitimately (unfortunately), that they'll be viewed as insubordinate or as if they are not being "team players."

Leaders have to work incredibly hard to get honest feedback.

I read a story the other day about George Washington, who maximized the chance he would get honest feedback during the Revolutionary War by asking several sources, from his own soldiers to ordinary citizens, to give him feedback prior to moving forward in critical battles. When it sought feedback, he would almost always attribute the particular strategy he favored to someone else because he wanted to know what people really thought. Washington knew he needed to remove himself and his role from the discussion as much as possible if he was going to receive the kind of feedback he needed.

It's a great strategy. I'm interested in hearing from some of you who lead (or have led) in situations where you were higher-up in organizations. What strategies do you have for receiving honest feedback when it's hard to come by?

Be a Guest

I had the week off from responsibilities at McKinney yesterday so Kari and I decided to visit Pantego Bible Church yesterday. Pantego is in Arlington, about 30 minutes from our house. Several years ago I was a Student and Worship Pastor at a church in Arlington and had several friends who attended Pantego. Some of our friends have recently started attending there so it was a good excuse to see them as well.

David Daniels and his team are doing a great job at Pantego. It was great to be a part of their ministry for the day - God is doing some neat things through that ministry. But, the point of the post isn't to debrief my visit to Pantego. It's to tell you about two strongly-held opinions I have: 

1. Everyone needs to be a guest at an unfamiliar church at least once a year. 
2. Everyone needs to bring a guest to the church where you attend at least once a year. 

Especially if you're a pastor or ministry "professional," you owe this to your church. But even if you're not, you owe this to your church. 

On the first point, it's really important to experience the anxiety of walking into a new church - even a church with a good reputation - wondering what it's going to be like. Especially if you have kids for whom you'd love to not pay a professional counselor hundreds of dollars to debrief an awful church experience someday. It changes the way you show hospitality to people who are experiencing that anxiety in your church on any given Sunday. 

On the second point, it's important to see your own church through the eyes of a guest. When you view ministries, processes, systems, and communication as you, everything seems normal. You're used to them the same way people who work in restaurants don't know their clothes smell like the restaurant, but someone else can smell them from a mile away. When you bring a guest to your church and find yourself explaining and justifying everything that happens, or begging people to participate in things that aren't natural connection points for them, it might be time to re-think things and you are poised to be a part of the solution rather than continuing the problem. 

Prayer is Like Garbage

I love this quote from Dale Davis' commentary on Judges:

"Maybe prayer is like garbage. I regard taking out the garbage as part of the daily tedium of life, and it is something I leave, whenever possible, for other household members to do. Of course, I am wrong. Taking out the garbage should be viewed as a daily sacrament, for garbage in itself is a sign of provision. Potato peelings, apple cores, and squash seeds are silent witnesses that our Father is still feeding us. So garbage is not a tedious detail but a divine blessing. We can miss that because it is so routine. I guess our problem is that we don't think theologically about garbage."

Where am I?!

No, I haven't quit blogging.

We moved to a new home last week in a neighborhood that does not yet have internet (!) so my tendency to front-load blogs from home on the weekend has been severely impacted.

I was supposed to be in Kazakhstan last week and this week but the trip fell through at the last minute. So, I'm capitalizing on the fact that our Young Adult Pastor already had a two-week sermon series planned for these weeks and am taking a "study break" to prepare for some sermons I'm really excited about over the summer. More on that as we go, I'm sure... if I ever get internet at home again.