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.

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.