3 Leadership Lessons From Our 1st 3 Years As A Church

3_Year_Leadership

This past Sunday, we celebrated our three year anniversary as a church.  In honor of that milestone, I want to share my top three leadership lessons from our first three years:

#1 Focus On Your People

I wish I could get back every minute I spent on something other than building up the people of Restoration City Church.  I don’t regret a single relationship I intentionally pursued with someone from Restoration City over the last three years but I do regret the relationships I didn’t pursue because I was busy with other things.

Other things like: the latest Christian twitter controversy, denominational angst, comparison with the celebrity pastor I’ve never met, comparison with my friends, gossip about the church down the road, frustration with people who have left the church, Presidential tweets, meandering coffees with other church planters that seem to be more about filling an afternoon than advancing the Kingdom, and a host of other distractions.

If you write a blog (ahem), write it for the good of your people, not some fictitious national audience.  When you prepare a sermon, speak to build up the people in your church, not to impress your pastor buddies who almost certainly won’t listen to your podcast.  Don’t envy another shepherd’s flock, staff, budget or success.  Don’t try to build a platform or make a name for yourself.

Love, lead and disciple the people God has called you to serve.  Pastoral ministry isn’t something done in the abstract; it involves a lot of intersection with real lives.  Get to know names, stories and struggles.  Build leaders.  Make disciples.  You’ll never regret doing the one thing Jesus told us to do.

#2 Have The Courage To Be Clear

The only thing more deadly than trying to please everyone is trying to make everyone think you’re pleasing them.  Trust me, I’ve tried.

Right around the time I moved back to DC to plant Restoration City, Eric Geiger, a pastor, author, and leadership thinker, tweeted this, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader.  Go sell ice cream.”  I’d been in the leadership game long enough to know his tweet was not only witty but also right on.  So, I knew I would have to make decisions that people didn’t agree with.  What I hadn’t yet confronted was the people pleaser in me that would try to spin things so that everyone thought they were getting their way.  I’m not talking about looking for common ground and being willing to come to a consensus.  Those are good things.  I’m talking about trying to make everyone believe they’re getting their way even when they’re not.  That’s a bad thing.  And a dishonest one.

If people are going to be disappointed with your decision, you make everything a thousand times worse by being so vague that it takes them three weeks and a lot of frustration to even figure out what your decision is.  All that does is make people twice as mad; at your decision and your lack of courage in owning it.

Three years in, my goal is to only make people mad once!

#3 Your Church Will Never Be Healthier Than Your Family

I used to think of my family’s health as the floor that undergirded the rest of the church.  You can’t build a healthy church on a bad floor so I had to make sure things at home weren’t falling into disrepair so that the church could continue to grow.  But now I see the health of my family as the ceiling the church will never grow beyond.  In other words, the church will never be healthier than my family.  So, the healthier my family is, the healthier the church can become.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean that our family is the best family in the church, the perfect family, or anything like that.  Trust me, I use my kids in enough sermon illustrations about depravity that no one would buy that even if that’s what I was trying to sell.

Healthy isn’t about being perfect.  It’s about being rooted in Jesus.  It’s about loving Him.  It’s about seeing the world through the lens of the gospel.  It’s about showing each other grace.  My first ministry is to Laura and our kids, who I love more than any other people on the planet.  If I can’t show them the love of Christ, resolve conflict biblically with them, carry their burdens and fight for their flourishing, I’m kidding myself to think I can do it better for the church.  Maybe I can fake it but nothing healthy ever grows in fake soil.

My focus has shifted from making sure our family is “doing ok” to praying my family is “flourishing.”  And the more God answers that prayer, the more I see the same happening in our church.

At the end of the day, I know that leading Restoration City will forever be one of the great joys of my life.  I’m so grateful for the people of this church, who tolerate an imperfect pastor who is still trying to figure things out, occasionally says awkward things in sermons, struggles with being a people pleaser, and isn’t always the best leader.  My prayer is that God will allows us to continue to grow together for years to come.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading ListWell, it’s unofficially summer.  Pools are open, cold brew coffee is a must and we’re all dreaming of vacation.  I hope you’re also building a summer reading list of books that will stir your affection for Jesus and make you more effective in the local church.  If you are, I wanted to share five relatively easy reads that have impacted me significantly over the last 12 months.  They’re the kind of books you’ll get a lot out of and enjoy reading:

Saving The Saved, Bryan Loritts.  Bryan shows how the performance free love of Jesus frees us from the meritocracy of religion and invites us into the freedom of the gospel.

Goliath Must Fall, Louie Giglio.  Using the story of David and Goliath, Louie paints a beautiful picture of Jesus as our Giant Slayer and shows us how the gospel topples some of the most common giants in our lives.

Befriend, Scott Sauls.  One of the best explorations of friendship, community and the gospel I’ve read in a long time.  Scott examines what real friendship looks like and all of the ways we form them in our lives.

You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith.  James explores how our hearts shape our lives and how our habits shape our hearts.  I may not agree with all the specific liturgical practices in this book but it’s well worth your time.

Designed To Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Geiger and Peck challenge us to see the church as a leadership development locus for the whole community.  This is easily the most influential leadership book I’ve read this year.

I’m praying you’re able to enjoy one or more of these books over the summer.  I’m also curious what suggestions you have for me.  Leave a comment with your must read recommendation for the summer.

Four Truths About Money I Wish I Had Known In My 20’s

Money1

I loved speaking on the need to create financial margin this past Sunday at Restoration City.  If the overall premise of this “margin” series is that mission requires margin, then the premise of this past Sunday’s message was that generosity requires financial margin.  That’s such an important thought for our entire church to latch onto as we pursue God’s mission for us as a church.  And, I believe, it’s an especially important thought for our 20-somethings to latch onto even though you’re young and poor.

The financial decisions you make in your 20’s will create a trajectory that will shape your 30’s, your 40’s and, in some cases, the rest of your life.  Here’s why this is such a big deal for me: I made the worst financial decisions of my life when I was in my 20’s.  And I don’t want you to go down that road.

So, let me give you four truths about money that I wish I had learned at 22:

 I’m Not Going To Have My Parent’s Lifestyle

At least not yet.  Yes, Mom and Dad may eat out regularly, drive nice cars, take great trips and live in a great house.  You know the main difference between them and you?  Roughly 30 years of working, saving and investing!  But when we’re in high school and college, we get to draft of their lifestyle – their house is our house, their vacation is our vacation and their income establishes our lifestyle.  But then we’re out on our own, just with less income.  Guess what?  That’s how it’s supposed to be!  The problem comes when we don’t adjust our lifestyle.  Debt comes when we think we’re entitled to eating out a few times a week, going to Europe once a year and living in a place with granite counter tops.  Your 20’s aren’t a time to keep up with your parents in their 50’s.  They’re a time to do in your 20’s what your parents did in theirs – live simply, eat inexpensively and save!

The More I Save Now, The More Options I’ll Have Later

I don’t know why I couldn’t quite figure out that 35 year old John would end up needing some of the money that 25 year old John was busy spending.  But, as it turns out, all of those things you dream of in life are rather expensive – weddings, honeymoons, houses, kids, they all add up.  No, I’m not suggesting you become a Scrooge-like hoarder.  But the less you spend now, the less you’ll stress later.

If I Need To Spend Money To Impress Them, They Aren’t Really My Friends

Don’t blow a lot of money trying to keep up with people you won’t even be in touch with in 10 years.  It’s okay to say no – to dinner at Chipotle, spring break in Cabo or happy hour.  If they have a problem with that, they don’t really like you; you’re an accessory to their insecurity and lifestyle.  Spend time with people you’ll be able to rely on when life gets hard.

Generosity Is About My Heart, Not My Income

You aren’t going to magically start giving money to your church, a charity or a missionary when you start making $75k a year.  In fact, how generous you are when you make $35k is a pretty good indicator of what’ll happen at $75k.  The issue isn’t your bank account – it’s your heart.  No, you may not be able to give much now but the amount is no where near as important as the intent.  So, find something you care about and start giving regularly to support it, even if it’s only $5 a month.

Don’t spend your 20’s killing financial margin.  Spend your 20’s cultivating it.  You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Think Before You Ask

Startup Stock Photos

One of my greatest desires for Restoration City is that we would be known as a church that’s serious about developing leaders.  I pray often that God would give us the privilege of planting a church one day that’s pastored by someone who came to faith through Restoration City.  That means we need to be really effective in reaching the lost, making disciples and giving gifted people the freedom to lead.  It also means we need to create a culture where we’re regularly learning about leadership.

To that end, our staff team is currently working through Liz Wiseman’s incredible book, Multipliers.  It’s easily one of the most impactful books I’ve read over the last few years and I recommend all the time to people wanting to grow in their leadership.  The basic premise of the book is simple:  It’s better to be a genius maker than a genius.  The best leaders are the ones that tap into the genius of the people around them instead of relying on their own genius.  One of the implications of this idea is that as leaders, we all need to decide if we want to be the person with all of the answers or the person who develops other leaders.  You simply can’t have both.  Many of us think leadership development is nothing more than drilling our genius into other people’s heads.  Nope.  It’s about releasing the genius God has placed in others.

As good as that all sounds, it’s incredibly hard to do.  I know many leaders who think the only reason they have their job is that they know better than everyone else in the organization.  In that view of leadership, the organization exists to execute the genius of the leader but the leader has nothing to learn from the organization.  Two words of caution if that’s how you see yourself.  One, no one likes working for you and your best people will leave.  Ultimately, you’ll be left leading a talent free team that can’t think for themselves and that’s a recipe for disaster.  Two, decision fatigue will exhaust you and deteriorate the quality of your answers.  So, you end up leading a team blindly executing bad ideas.  You can figure out how that’s going to go, genius.

The real question is how we prevent ourselves from leading this way or make changes if we’re already leading this way.  Frankly, that’s what the book’s about, so you should read it!  But our team has latched onto one little anecdote and is working to ingrain it into our culture.  In chapter 6 of Multipliers, Wiseman tells a simple story from a summer internship with a management training company.  Her boss had asked her to edit a marketing brochure and next to one section she wrote “AWK” to indicate it was awkwardly phrased.  Her boss agreed but came charging back into her office and said, “Don’t ever give me an A-W-K without an F-I-X”.  He didn’t just want her to point out problems, he wanted her to think through solutions. As simple as that is, it’s an incredible leadership development moment.

We’ve tried to internalize that as a staff team with the following leadership plumline: Ask me anything, as long as you have a recommendation.  Or, if you would like a shortened version, “Think before you ask.”  It’s a plumline that helps us simultaneously pursue two goals: One, keep leaders engaged.  “Ask me anything” forces a leader to stay involved and accessible.  No one wins when we throw people into the deep end to sink or swim on their own.  Two, it forces team members to think through an issue and decide what they think they should do before bringing it to their leader.  You only get to ask the question if you have a suggestion.  We’re deliberately fighting back against the “hey, what do you want me to do?”  followed by, “Do x,y,z” interactions that dominate most workplace conversations.

That means as a leader I find myself using the following phrases more and more regularly:  Good question, what do you think?  I don’t know, what do you want to do?  If you had my job, what would you decide?  You’ve thought more about this than I have, where have you landed?  What do you think would best serve our leaders/people/mission?

When I answer my team’s questions with one of those questions I’m setting us up for one of three possible outcomes:

Outcome #1: Affirm their recommendation.  This is the best case scenario.  I basically get to say, “See you already knew what to do!  Next time, just do it.”  It’s a home run for your team  member’s morale and it gets one more decision off your desk.

Outcome #2:  Correct their recommendation.  This is the most valuable scenario.  As the leader, you need to understand why they arrived at the answer they did.  Once you understand that, you get to explain how you arrived at the answer you did and show how that solution better serves the organization. This is one of the most valuable forms of leadership development there is.

Outcome #3:  Change your mind.  If this isn’t an option on the table, don’t kid yourself, you aren’t really interested in developing leaders.  You’re just interested in being right.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming your answer is correct – the person you’re developing may well be right.  This is the invaluable scenario.  Nothing builds credibility with your team like being willing to learn from them.

You’ll know you’re getting the idea when you come to the conclusion that being a developer of other leaders is harder in the short run but far more beneficial in the long run.  It’s easy to spend all day enthroned behind your desk spouting answers.  But no one grows, you get depleted and the mission suffers.  Trade the easy way for the meaningful way and see what it does to your team, your organization and the leaders who work with you.

 

Be A Grown Up And Put The Phone Down

guy phone.jpg

I read an article in Bloomberg last week that stunned, convicted and challenged me greatly.  Researchers have found that middle aged Americans spend more time on social media than millennials.  In fact, 35-49 year olds spend an average of 7 hours per week on social media – that’s a little over 15 days per year!  It’s horrifying to me that people in the prime of their life (I say that as someone who sits right in the middle of that demographic!) are wasting this much time.  It’s coming at the expense of marriages, kids, careers and significance for Jesus.  It’s all so sad.

And all so familiar.

I’m not sitting in judgement of those people.  If anything, I’m aware of how much of myself I see in that statistic.  As I’ve searched my own heart, I’ve realized my social media obsession is driven by two primary factors:

We’re dissatisfied with our lives.

Truth be told, I think a lot of us are disappointed in ourselves.  Life doesn’t seem to be working out according to our plan.  We aren’t as extraordinary as we had hoped and are, in fact, struggling to keep up with the ordinary demands of life.  Ten years ago, we dreamed of being a CEO and now we’re just trying to pay the mortgage.  We wanted an amazing marriage and are learning to make peace with a domestic partnership.  We dreamed of significance but now we just dream of retirement.

And social media provides an incredible opportunity to avoid all of that.  Why deal with our own lives when we can look at someone else’s?  Plus, if we stay on social media long enough, we’ll find someone who makes us feel better about ourselves.  So much of our social media obsession is driven by a toxic combination of escapism and comparison.  All of the irate political banter, selfies, latte photos and vacation envy helps us avoid our situation.  But it’s a lot like getting drunk – it may distract us in the moment, but our problems only grow and our ability to deal with them only shrinks.

So, stop judging or envying others and get busy living your own life.  Deal with your problems.  Find your own joys.  Embrace your reality.

We’re unsatisfied in our souls.

The prophet Jeremiah had never heard of Twitter but God gave him tremendous insight into the human soul.  “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12-13)  For many of us, social media is a broken cistern.  It isn’t holding water.  It’s leaking like crazy and our marriages, kids, careers and churches are suffering.  But we’re only trying to trap water because our souls are thirsty.

It’s not just that we’re looking for an excuse to avoid the laundry.  Our souls are crying out for relief – refusing to give up on the belief that we were made for more and demanding we find something to satisfy that thirst.  As a Christian, I know that thirst can only be satisfied in Jesus.  I know when I’m walking closely with Him, immersed in His Word and connected in prayer, I don’t care that much about Facebook.  But when I’m not abiding in Him, the thirst of my soul demands satisfaction and I’ll run to Instagram.  It’s so sad because living water is ours for the taking.  Our souls don’t have to thirst.  We just need to learn how to satisfy them.

So, what do we do about all of this?  Let me suggest one simple solution.  And, no, it’s not to get rid of all social media.  There’s plenty of good, inspiring content out there to be found.  It’s a small change born out of a realization I had in my own life – when my phone is in my hand, it’s like whiskey in the hand of an alcoholic, I’m almost powerless not to check it.  When it’s in my pocket, it’s not much better.  But when it’s in my bag or in a drawer in the kitchen, I don’t really care about it that much.

Just that little separation helps me resist the temptation to check out and actually stay present with Laura and the kids.  I can actually get work done.  I can actually go to the gym.  I can actually address the areas of my life I’m not satisfied with.  I can actually make progress, focus on God’s Word, find rest and end up much happier.  No doubt, God is doing a lot of work in my soul to deepen my satisfaction in Him.  But my contribution to that work is putting the stupid phone down and creating the space for him to work.

Leadership: Self or God Focused?

self-focused

It’s terrifyingly easy to be a leader with God focused words and a self focused heart.  We know the right things to say: we’re honored and humbled to play even a small part in God’s story; we’re just grateful for the chance to serve; He must increase, we must decrease; etc, etc…  But all too often those platitudes aren’t an expression of our heart.  If anything, they’re a false veneer carefully constructed to hide what we’re really feeling: when will I get the credit I deserve; why hasn’t God given me greater responsibility; why isn’t this easier; how come that joker’s church is growing faster than ours; why wasn’t I invited to speak at that event; etc, etc…  It’s an exhausting place to be.  I know because I’ve been there.

It’s a lonely place where burnout or moral collapse is lurking right around the corner.  But it’s also a place where God does some incredibly deep work in our souls.  It’s the place where we decide whether we’re going to be a God focused or a self-focused leader.  It’s the place where we learn the value of keeping our heart focused on God and shaped by the gospel.  It’s the place where we resolve not to spend the rest of our lives parroting someone else’s words but rather live out of the overflow of what God is doing in our own hearts.

Whenever I see myself sliding back into self-focused leadership, I think about Ezekiel.  He got a master class in God focused leadership early in his ministry.  Through him, we see what a God focused leader looks like:

 

 1. God Focused Leadership Starts With A Call From God

Ezekiel never had to wonder why he got into this whole leadership thing in the first place.  The answer was incredibly clear:

Ezekiel 1:3 – the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

Do you have that kind of clarity?  That’s not just a question for pastors and elders but for Community Group leaders and ministry team leaders as well.  What got you started?  Did God prompt you to do this or did someone else talk you into it?  Were you following Jesus or just trying to make a name for yourself?  Were you more captivated by the gospel or the thrill of being in charge?

2. God Focused Leadership Is Sustained By Awe 

God focused leaders know the key to staying in the game is awe of God and His Word. We see both in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 1:28(b) – Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Ezekiel 3:15 – And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.

Ezekiel wasn’t bored by God.  He was overwhelmed and on his face, sometimes literally.  God’s Word only intensified that awe:

Ezekiel 3:1-3 – And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Ezekiel 3:10 – Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.

Leadership that isn’t sustained by awe is usually sustained by duty or desperation.  Duty says I don’t dare quit.  Desperation says I can’t possibly quit.  Maybe it’s a fear of letting people down.  Maybe it’s the fear of no longer getting a paycheck.  Maybe it’s the fear that no one will pay any attention to you if you aren’t leading.  Maybe leadership has become pure muscle memory – you don’t even know what you would do if you weren’t leading. None of that leads to ministry vitality or personal flourishing.

Keeping our hearts focused on God and shaped by the gospel is our highest priority as leaders.  It’s more important than the work we do, the roles we play or the responsibilities we have.  A neglected soul will be the biggest threat to your leadership.

3.  God Focused Leadership Endures Difficulty

Ezekiel’s ministry was not an unbroken string of pain-free success:

Ezekiel 2:5-6 – And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 3:7 – But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.

If Ezekiel had been driven by man’s approval, he would have quit early on.  If all he wanted to do was make a name for himself, he would have been out.  If he was in it until it got hard, he wouldn’t have even gotten started.  But he keeps going – staying obedience to God’s call on his life and sustained by awe.

In a world of self focused leaders, I’m praying God will raise up a new generation of God focused leaders in His church.  Leaders who will shape culture, lift communities and transform lives for the glory of Christ and the good of their cities. It’s possible.  We just need to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on God.

Personal Leadership Dashboard

dashboard

How healthy you are as a leader has a direct impact on the people you lead.  The better you’re doing, the better they’ll be doing.  Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well.  If you’re struggling, they will too.  That’s why you have a responsibility as a leader to take care of yourself.  Self care isn’t a frivolous luxury; it’s an absolute necessity.

In my experience, one of the greatest obstacles to this kind of self care is a lack of self awareness.  It’s not so much that we know we’re in trouble and won’t do anything to address the problem.  It’s much more that we’re in trouble and don’t even know it.  For many of us, life is a lot like driving a car with no dashboard warning lights – we won’t know there’s a problem under the hood until we’re broken down on the side of the road.  That’s a real problem for a leader because when we’re broken down by the side of the road, we take others with us.  So, we’ve got to come up with ways to gauge how we’re doing as leaders.  We need to see trouble before it leaves us on the side of the road.  We need a personal leadership dashboard.

Think of your personal leadership dashboard as a series of gauges that gives you a quick snapshot of how you’re doing.  When I talk about how you’re doing in this context, I’m not talking about metrics that gauge the health of your organization.  I’m talking about your overall sense of well being.  Personally, I’ve defined six gauges that show how I’m doing: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and relationally.  It’s quite possible you will come up with a different number of gauges or give them different labels.  That’s great!  The key is to make sure your gauges accomplish five goals:

  1.  FOCUS on factors that legitimately impact how you’re doing as a leader.  In other words, you’re acknowledging the things that do and should impact your overall sense of well-being.  If I’m emotionally burnt out, I’m in no position to bear any of my team’s burdens, so that belongs on the list.
  2. IGNORE factors that might but should not impact how you’re doing as a leader.  This is jut as critical – it’s consciously refusing to assess how you’re doing based on factors that aren’t legitimate or helpful.  For example, last Sunday’s attendance at Restoration City is not measured by any of my gauges.  Like every other pastor, I’m tempted to reduce how I’m doing to butts in the seats and dollars in the offering.  Gauges help me fight back against that.
  3. DETERMINE key questions that define each gauge.  For example, my financial gauge is defined by four key questions:  Am I systematically, cheerfully and sacrificially giving to the Lord’s work in response to the gospel?  Am I saving money each month to be used for future family goals?  Am I spending within the resources God has entrusted to me, avoiding debt?  Am I comfortable with how much financial margin we have in our lives right now?
  4. ASSESS quickly and accurately how I’m doing as a leader.  I want a quick readout (I use a 1-10 scale) with 2-3 bullet points that explain why I gave myself the score I did.  Even if I take the time to write it down, it usually takes less than 5 minutes but is amazingly helpful in anchoring the ambiguous “how are you doing” question in some very concrete answers.
  5. SHAPE decisions, responses and actions designed to address problem areas.  This is where the gospel enters the process for me as a Christian.  Gauges reveal heart issues and heart issues always have gospel solutions.   Think of it this way – a personal leadership dashboard shows you where you most need to apply the gospel in your life.

Once you use this dashboard often enough, it almost becomes instinctive.  When I’m having a bad day, I often find myself scanning my gauges to get a quick sense of what’s going on inside of me.  It’s amazingly helpful – I realize the world isn’t falling apart (something I would have no control over) but that I am feeling disconnected from my wife (something I know how to fix).

If you’ve never set up a personal leadership dashboard, I want to encourage you to carve out the space to think through your own gauges in a way that achieves the five goals listed above.  I also want to recommend this to you as a really easy leadership development tool to use with others.  It’s a great way to focus conversations on how a person is truly doing and then be able to discuss how the gospel speaks into those issues.