Why I love Halloween!

porchAs a pastor of a local church my heart breaks for those in my community who have yet to come to know Jesus and be part of His Bride (the church). I love my community and The Church and have given my life to Him and to leading His church.

Throughout the year, I pray and strategize on how to best make an impact and create lasting influence. I read leadership books so my influence and capacity may increase and grow.  I prayerfully study and dig into God’s Word so I may be able to teach, lead and disciple those God has allowed me to shepherd. I challenge and encourage the people of my church to invite friends and neighbors to church and to introduce other to Jesus. I am involved in civic clubs and active in my community so I can know my community and get to know others in my community. I look for those God given opportunities to meet someone new, talk with someone, introduce someone to Jesus, pray with someone, invite someone to church…

And personally, I have found no better opportunity than Halloween! I have not found another time that I can meet just about every person in my neighborhood and their kids within a couple hours. I have not seen another moment that just about every person in my neighborhood (and from surrounding neighborhoods) will come up and knock on MY door! Think about it, this is the only time knocking on every door in the neighborhood is acceptable and even encouraged! Could Halloween be an answer to prayer?!

We’ve all noticed it: it is not as easy to interact regularly with neighbors. We come home late from work, pull in the garage and shut the garage door only to be seen again to get the mail or head back out to work. In a culture that is becoming more and more “close-doored”, Halloween is a golden opportunity.

Lights On: Jesus says we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-15)! This Halloween, let your light shine bright and turn on your porch lights! I pray that every family that visits your home this Halloween sees something in you that lights up the night!

This Halloween, try silently praying for every family that visits your home. Compliment every child on his/her costume. Thank the parents for coming. Wave and smile. Make small talk and get to know your neighbors. Look for neighbors with kids the same age as yours to be able to connect again. Be the friendliest home on the block! Maybe instead of just having candy, you have s’mores available on your driveway with hot chocolate for the kids and coffee for the parents.

The point is answering this question: As a Christian, do I live in a way that is full of light: attractive and appealing, leading people closer to Jesus or do I come across as unavailable, turning people off to the gospel? 

Due to the roots and history of Halloween, Christians can be uncertain on what to do with this “holiday”. As Christians, we can either use Halloween as an opportunity to show our neighborhood what we are against OR use Halloween as an opportunity to be LIGHT.

So yes…I love Halloween!

May this Halloween be a great opportunity for you and your family that ultimately brings LIGHT to your neighborhood!

Best Practices when Portable

The phrase “Home is where the heart is” was put to the test for my family and I. We made a big move from California to Georgia, following God’s call in our life. Upon arriving in Georgia we found a place to live in an apartment complex as we waited for our old house to sell. I will be the first to admit that it was a very difficult four months! We lived on the third floor of a large apartment complex with a 2-year old and a very pregnant wife…which meant everything we normally did became three-times as hard. Trying to get a house full of stuff into an apartment; carrying groceries up three stories; keeping a toddler entertained on the third floor without a backyard; the list goes on and on as you could imagine. Even though it was where we ate, slept and lived I had a difficult time calling it “home”, mainly because it wasn’t where I wanted to live. It wasn’t what I had grown accustom to. It wasn’t my ideal location to live and raise my family. But God has a way of teaching us great lessons in miserable situations…

God called my family and I to Georgia to plant and launch a church in Northern Georgia. I moved from a church and ministry with large, beautiful facilities with a large staff to a church I would be leading and pastoring that had no building, no facility and no staff…how would this ever feel like home? How could a portable church ever feel like a family? How could a portable church become a home for the lost (or as we say, “a place for people to belong, become and bless)?

God used those four months in that apartment complex to remind me that home really is where the heart is. God has given each of us (the church) a universal mission and a mission specific to us (as individuals). Regardless of the specifics of that mission, it is up to us to be good stewards of that mission and lead others in that mission. Portable church is not a hiccup or hindrance in moving God’s mission forward. Portable church is not just a placeholder or a stepping stone to a permanent facility. Portable church is another opportunity to lead and love others well! Church is not where the building is…church is where the heart is!

With all that being said, allow me to state the obvious…portable church does have unique challenges! In my context, we set up and tear down a movie theatre every Sunday morning for two worship services that includes four additional environments for kids and students plus two lobby areas and a cafe. And that’s just what happens inside. On the outside, parking team sets up cones, guest services puts out all the signage and so on…if you are in a portable setting you know the drill.

But even with these unique challenges God has figured out a way to get me to stop wishing for a building and remember that home is where the heart is! So, Pastor…my question would be “where is your heart?”. Is your heart set on a building…or is your heart set on the mission of God?

If your heart is set on the mission of God then let’s make the most of what we have, let’s dive into some best practices when portable!

1. BE A BENEFIT MORE THAN A PROBLEM

If you are portable, that probably means you are renting a space or using someone else’s space. Which means, you are an inconvenience. That doesn’t mean you’re a problem, it’s a fact! The fact is you occupying that space requires extra work on their end. Even if you pay for that space, someone has more on their plate because of you. And the person who is STUCK (and I do emphasize “stuck”) dealing with you is probably not seeing much more in their pocket as the person sitting a few levels up at the office.

With that in mind, it is a crucial practice to be seen as an asset, as valuable, as a benefit more than a problem and inconvenience. This doesn’t mean there are no problems but it means the benefits of you being there outweigh the problems and headaches. So how do you become beneficial for the people on the ground dealing with you?

Flexibility – Just because you pay for the space doesn’t give you the right to never budge. We set up and tear down every Sunday in a theatre. One Sunday, they had multiple 12:00pm showings which meant they had no choice but to put a showing in one of our children’s ministry auditoriums. Yes, we pay for our space and from a contract standpoint would have every right to not budge. But the relationship we have with the manager and employees is a priority. So we flexed! After our 9:30am service we moved to another auditorium and made it work for our 11am service. Yes it was more work on our part…but relationships are a give-and-take and take work! Don’t be seen just as a taker.

WOW Them – I can buy enough donuts for my set up team volunteers and the theatre staff for under $50. Can I afford it every week…no. Can I afford it sometimes…YES! I have also handed out thank you cards to every person at church and asked them to write a thank you note to the theatre staff. It was a wow moment when I handed the manager a stack of 200 Thank You notes! We have dropped off Starbucks to the employees on a Friday night. When you WOW them…they will actually miss you if/when you leave. That is one of our goals…to actually be missed!

Help Out – I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will. Leave your areas nicer than when you found them. Help them out even if that means doing their job for them. Clean the bathrooms, sweep the floors, pick up trash. We probably throw away more trash from movie guests than church guests…that’s ok with us and we don’t complain about it! As Chick-Fil-A would say, “it’s our pleasure”!

NO Surprises – Don’t surprise them. If you have a special event or extra things going on, let your contact know ahead of time. The phrase “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” does not apply in this context. For all you former youth pastors…(which I am also a recovering youth pastor), remove this phrase from your vocabulary! It was cost you the relationship.

Ask Questions – After each service ask questions to the right person:
“Did anything not go well?”
“Did we get in the way with your business or employees?”
“Was something not put back or cleaned up?”
“Do you need us to do anything differently next week?”
“How could we make things easier on you?”
Don’t wait for them to come complaining. Give them an opportunity to let you know right then and there before it festers and potentially becomes exaggerated.

Go Above Their Heads – Regularly go to the boss’ boss and brag on them! There is a young man who is one of the shift managers at the theatre we rent. He is usually the one to open for us and is there until we leave. I find ways to tell his manager how great he is, how professional he is with us and how well he does his job. Then I take it up a notch, I go to the regional manager and brag on the theatre manager and her entire staff! Become their biggest fan and biggest advocate without asking for anything in return.

2. VALUE VOLUNTEERS MORE THAN…well, just about everything else

Whether you are in a portable environment or not, a healthy church does not function without volunteers! This becomes exponentially true in a portable setting. I have chosen to value my volunteers above just about everything else that goes on with our church on a Sunday morning. It’s not about keeping your volunteers “happy”. It’s making sure your volunteers are healthy and valued. If the task becomes more important than the person, the person won’t stick around very long.

Be Available: This means I am VERY available to them. So no, I don’t have a green room to hide in before and after services. Be on the ground, walking around with your volunteers showing them how you appreciate and value them. You will be amazed at how much value you will add to your by being around and available, by rubbing shoulders with them while they do what you have asked them to do.

Go Out Of Your Way: Leaders know the need to value volunteers. Allow me to push you to another level. Add value to your volunteers by going out of your way for them. I’m sure we would all agree that our volunteers consistently go out of their way for us and the church, let’s return the favor. I would suggest going out of your way for them OUTSIDE of a Sunday morning. Ways we practice this:
– Regular volunteer parties just to say thank you and to celebrate.
– Have an environment for volunteers AND their families to hang out, eat food and play. We do regular “game nights” for our volunteer coordinators and their families.
– Make and deliver “thank you bags” for volunteers and their family. Usually consist of a bag of popcorn and a redbox gift card (cost is about $4 each)
– Write Thank You Notes…WRITE THANK YOU NOTES!!!!!! Was I clear enough on that one??
– Show up to a volunteer’s work place just to say thank you.

3. EMBRACE WHERE YOU ARE

As leaders, we all have grand visions for where we believe God is wanting to take our church. However, those visions are not accomplished overnight. Stewardship is a theme throughout the Bible, and not just financial stewardship. Stewardship is being faithful with what you have been given, whatever you have been given. If you don’t have a building of your own…then be faithful with what you have NOW instead of wishing and waiting for it to land in your lap.

Commit to stop viewing your portable situation as just a season to endure through. Stop saying, “If we can just make it through this season, then once we get a building we can really do God’s work”. I have to constantly remind myself of this. Being portable, I see what hinders us and what potential we have if we weren’t portable. Would a building help us…of course! But I cannot allow that to drive me. Buildings can be given and taken away.

“The grass is always greener on the other side”, but maybe that’s because we aren’t watering and caring for the grass on our side. Be faithful with what you have and move the mission God has given you forward with what He has given you. If you can’t be faithful without a building…how could we ever be faithful with a building?

Mission over Building – God has given our church a mission…not a building. And if we ever do get a building of our own, the building is nothing but a tool to move the mission forward. We do not talk about if or when we get a building. We do not even have a goal of having a building in the next x-years. As a leader, I desire to lead people to Jesus and into the mission he has given us…NOT to build or buy a building. I would plead with you, don’t allow resources and tools you don’t have to become the hindge-point of your church, your mission or even in your conversation.

Choose your Battles Every portable space has it’s own unique challenges. With unlimited resources I’m sure we all have a dream list of what we would do in our portable space (other than buy a building). But the reality is, for every idea you have it requires additional: time, hands and storage. In other words, you can’t do everything you want (even if you have the money for it). For example, lighting is always an issue for us…Go figure, theaters are made to be dark! So we have chosen to NOT do other things so we can focus on improving the lighting. And as our systems improve and volunteer recruitment grows, we will continue to add and improve what we can. Look to make improvements but don’t be so quick to execute every great idea you have. Choose your battles and start with the ones you need to win now. And anytime you want to add or implement a new idea ask the question: “Who will this impact?”

Less is More – One of the greatest challenges with a portable environment is always Set Up & Tear Down. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave. It’s the hard work of unloading and loading the same equipment to the same spot at the same time every Sunday, week after week…53 weeks a year (including an additional Christmas Eve service). With that in mind, we have decided that we cannot truly turn a theatre environment into an ideal church environment every week. We do not have the bells & whistles of a permanent facility not because we couldn’t do it…but we know that less is more. We prioritize clarity and functionality over “cool”. Our lobby set up is not the coolest you would ever see…but it provides a good first impression for people and does what it is meant to do (even without a bunch of cool flat screen tvs…ok, we do have one tv we use). Be ok with less! Somehow Jesus saved a bunch of people without LED lights and Flat Screen Tvs!

4. POSITIVE…POSITIVE…POSITIVE

Nothing can be more draining as portable church. However, nothing can be more fulfilling as portable church! I remember our first baptism Sunday after we launched. Seeing people go public with their faith through baptism inside a movie theatre…one of the top moments in ministry for me!! Create and keep a culture of positive! Constantly celebrate! Continue to remind people why we do what we do.

A culture of positivity can easily build momentum and moral. The opposite is true, a culture of disappointment, discouragement and exhaustion can quickly decimate an entire team. Be proactive!

We practice this in simple ways:
Smile a lot! Our set up and tear down teams smile a lot! Everyone is talking, catching up, joking around while doing some intense labor before and after church. Model this well and teach your top leaders to follow your lead. Smiling says, “I love what I do, this is great…” Lack of smiles say, “I’m tired…why are we doing this…something is wrong”

Use your platform to celebrate all that God is doing as much as possible. When you feel like you have done this enough, keep going! Work celebrations into your message, into your emails, into your conversations…anywhere and everywhere!

5. EQUIP: even more than you think you already do

Volunteers will get most frustrated when they are asked to do something and they don’t have what they need to do it. In a portable environment LISTEN to your volunteers and short of the ridiculous, give them whatever they want! That sounds a little much…ok, as long as it’s inline with the mission, isn’t sinful and stays within budget…GIVE THEM WHATEVER THEY WANT! As the leader we have to be good stewards but we also have to equip our volunteers.

If your volunteers are asking for something you cannot give them…work with them to find an alternative solution.

We use A LOT of carts for our set-up and tear-down. In our trailer, almost everything goes in or on a cart. But it wasn’t always that way. As we got going, our set-up team leader started making these expensive requests for lumber and wheels for carts. I quickly answered YES! It gave ownership to the volunteers and made what I was asking them to do…doable and easier!

Because we are all volunteer except for a part-time worship leader and myself, everyone leading major ministry areas are volunteer. So we can’t have staff meetings in the middle of the day like other churches. So I talked with my volunteer coordinators and asked when we could regularly meet together. We came up with day, time and frequency that worked across the board and we meet regularly together. This meeting always includes lunch or dinner and we do leadership development, we do planning, we assess and evaluate, we ask questions and we pray. All that takes place in under 2 hours to honor and value their time.

Side Note: If you have volunteers leading large ministry areas (children’s, students, production, set up, etc…) Give them a budget to work with! This will empower them to lead, provide more ownership on their part and create freedom with accountability.

6. FLY HIGH & WALK LOW

As the leader of a church, business or organization we have to be able to fly high. We must be able to see the 30,000ft. view and see the big picture. In a portable setting, that is very important. It’s easy to get caught up in all that must get done and miss the larger picture.

But just as important as flying high is we must be sure to walk low. This isn’t gospel, this is just my opinion. I continue to find value in playing some part on the set-up and tear-down teams. Yes, as the pastor and leader of the church I have other responsibilities that only I can do that do take priority. But I believe and have seen that if you bleed and sweat with someone, they will bleed and sweat for you! As you lead at a high level, don’t have your head in the clouds for so long that you never come down and walk and help those on the ground.

7. Say “THANK YOU”! Often, Loudly and in a variety of ways!

This is the last best practice, but perhaps the most important (and the easiest)…say thank you! I had a volunteer come up and tell me, “Brian, you know you don’t have to say thank you for everything I do”. When I heard that, I knew I was finally starting to get this culture moved forward! I want my volunteers and teams to notice how much I say thank you. I don’t want it to be a surprise that I say thank you. I also never want to get out of the habit of saying thank you. I would rather be accused of saying it too much than not enough.

Situational Thank You-  But saying the same thing over and over can get old. So be creative and say the same thing in different ways and at different times. I have paused in my message to just say thank you to volunteers. When it rains, I begin my sermon by thanking our parking team and encouraging people to say thank you on their way out, maybe even go get them a Starbucks! When school starts we really highlight our student and kid ministry volunteers. When it starts getting colder out we highlight and thank our set up and tear down teams.

Work hard and party hard! I mentioned this earlier but we have regular volunteer parties where the agenda is only THANKING THEM. (Yes we do have planning and strategy meetings…but those are only valuable if volunteers show up and are engaged, which won’t happen if you never party).

Tie it to the mission – When you thank your volunteers, always tie it to the mission! In my context: It’s not “Thanks for doing what I asked” it IS “Thank you for giving people a place to belong!” Thank your volunteers for living out the mission of the church!

Thank You Notes – Look at your calendar right now and carve out 30 minutes a week for nothing but thank you notes. Not thank you emails or texts (still do those) but prioritize handwritten, put in an envelope and mailed thank you notes. The benefit outweighs any excuse you could possibly come up with! See if you can send at least 7 thank you notes a week. I promise, your volunteers will remember your 4 sentence thank you note more than your 40 minute sermon this week.

Additional Resources & Books

Here are some great reads that have helped and benefited me especially in a portable environment.

Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann

Winning with People by John C. Maxwell

How to win friends and & influence people by Dale Carnegie

Replenishment Cycle: Fuel Up and Rest Up

aaf92620a8119445_heel_strike_at_sunset.preview“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

As Christians we paraphrase this into “Love God. Love Others.” but forget or rather neglect the “as yourself” part. Which poses the question, is it possible to love others and God without loving yourself (in a Biblical and Godly way)? No. Jesus teaches and gives the ultimate example of self-sacrifice and a lifestyle of serving but does not teach or promote self-hurt or self-harm. When we neglect ourselves we mask it by calling it “sacrifice” or “serving” but in reality it is harmful to ourselves, our relationships and our ability to work for The Kingdom!

Prepare to Persevere:

When we love our self in a Godly way we are not only obedient to God’s Word but we are preparing ourselves to persevere; which we would all agree we need to be able to persevere. Jesus never indicates that this life will be easier by following him, in fact it may be the opposite (see John 16). But just because life will have troubles and difficulties doesn’t mean the only option is to quit. The last part of Hebrews 12:1 says, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. Perseverance is only possible if we are and continue to remain healthy in all areas of our lives (which is a Godly definition of self-love). Jesus models the way of a Godly and healthy self-love by showing us how to FUEL UP and REST UP (check out Luke 5:15-16; Mark 2:27; Mark 1:35-39)

So what does it look like to love yourself in a Godly way, to prepare for perseverance by FUELING UP and RESTING UP? It will look different for everyone but there are many tools to help identify what it is for you! One of these tools is called “The Replenishment Cycle” (developed by Tom Paterson http://www.patersoncenter.com/lifeplan/paterson-lifeplan.html)

The Replenishment Cycle:

We all have aspects of our lives that either drain us or recharge us. If we do not identify what refuels us and make intentional time and effort to implement those into our lives we will not be able to effectively love ourselves, others and ultimately God. Below is the Replenishment Cycle (which has been adjusted by Gil Stieglitz: http://www.ptlb.com)

replentishment cycle

Loving yourself is to have a life that is full enough that you can pour into others and into persevering. If you are drained and empty you have nothing to give or offer (the obvious image of trying to pour water out of an empty glass). But when we stay filled we can effectively and more continually pour into others and into the demands at hand. As you begin to identify what you need to stay replenished and healthy, it would be good to look at this from different time perspectives: what do you need in each of these boxes daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually? Everyone is different, so what replenishes you will be different from your spouse, friends, kids, coworkers, boss, etc…

Rest/Sleep: How much time do you need for sleep to stay replenished? Do you need to go to bed early and get up early or stay up late and sleep in? Do you need one or two power naps? How often do you need a day off? How often does your family need a vacation and for how long? When do you and your spouse need a date night?

Right People: There are three types of people in our lives…those that drain us, those that recharge us and those that destroy us (Toxic Relationships). The draining people in our lives are not bad people…they are the people who we need to be pouring into! But if we are only spending time with those who need us/drain us then we are going to be running on empty in no time. Who are the people who recharge you? How often do you need to spend time with them and it what capacity? 

Creation/Recreation: What is fun for you? Do you like making art, refinishing furniture, making music…? Does creating replenish you? Or is it recreation: sports, games, sewing, etc…? Identify what creation and/or recreation activities replenish you and how often you need to be engaged with them.

Right Work: My dad always told me if you enjoy 75% of your job then you have the perfect job! Ideally you want to be in a career that isn’t a constant stress or drain; however the reality is we do what we need to do to provide for ourselves and our family. But ideally, what is the right work for you, what is the right career for you right now? If you don’t have the option to have a career that is replenishing then can you supplement by volunteering or doing something on the side that keeps you replenished by doing what you love.

New Information: Learning will replenish you! This may or may not be in a classroom or school setting. For some this is taking additional classes or continuing through the educational system. For others it is reading, watching documentaries, going to conferences or learning to fix your car by watching YouTube videos. What do you like learning about? What would you like to know and learn? How do you get replenished by learning?

Eliminate: Bob Goff (http://bobgoff.com) is known for saying he quits something every Thursday! The most replenishing thing you could today may be saying no to something. A healthy leader knows when to say no. What is on your plate that needs to be taken off? This is difficult because most of the items on our plates are important but we cannot do everything. What do you need to eliminate? (If you want to hear more on this specific subject, click here for my podcast on “the good that hinders” or visit: https://vimeo.com/127467280)

Nature: There is something rejuvenating about being in God’s creation! Whether you consider yourself an outdoors person or not, nature is reviving. You need to determine what form of nature you need and how often you need it? Maybe you need to be outside hiking weekly or once a year need to be someplace where you can admire nature from the comfort of an air conditioned room.

Add/New Actions/Habits: What are you currently NOT doing that would replenish you if you started doing them? This could be starting a new hobby, exercise routine, healthy eating regiment, family dinners, date nights, etc…  Just as it’s important know when to say no, it is just as important to identify what you need to begin.

Jesus: In John 15:1,4 Jesus says, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, as I remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Our souls are replenished by being with Jesus! How will you remain in Jesus and remain filled?

6 questions to ask before the day starts

wake-up-early

Growing in our relationship with God is an ongoing, daily endeavor. Someone once told me it is stumbling in the right direction. Often we look at the big picture, the long-term plans and goals and invite God into those yet dismiss or gloss over the every day. Psalm 37 gives us a great guide for approaching God in our every day to prepare for our day…especially in small things. I have found it helpful and productive to ask 6 simple questions every day before I begin my day:

How am I trusting God?

Psalm 37 say tells us to “trust in the Lord”. Of course, our default answer is “yes, I trust God”. But the question to ask yourself is HOW am I trusting God. Right now, currently, today…HOW am I trusting God? What do I need to trust God in my day today? Take a look at your calendar…what meetings and appointments do you have scheduled? Who are you meeting with? What obligations and opportunities will you have today? How do you need to trust God today? What seems too big for you to handle on your own? What seems beyond your capabilities or capacity? Where do you feel like you can’t…and that is where you can trust God today.

What good can I do?

After trusting in God, Psalm 37 tells us “and do good”. It almost sounds like something your mom would say to you as you walk out the door to school, “make good choices…be good!” Often we neglect the simple and profound impact of doing good every day. The Christian life, if misinterpreted can feel like a list of what NOT to do. So ask the question, what good can I do? Think through the people you will interact with today: coworkers, family, friends, waiters, baristas, clients, etc…what good can you do for them today. You may not be able to do something good for everyone who encounter today but do for one what you wish you could do for all.

Do I take delight in the Lord?

This is kind of an odd question. Taking delight is not a phrase we commonly use. The meaning here is to desire what God desires, enjoy what God enjoys, focus on what God focuses on. It is to allow my desires to line up and run parallel with God’s. Today, what objectives and plans do you have? What are you trying to accomplish today? In your daily tasks today, how can you take delight in the Lord? How can you accomplish what God wants to accomplish in the midst of your daily grind today?

Where am I not fully committed to God?

Psalm 37:5 tells us to “commit your way to the Lord”…and if you keep reading you see the benefit of doing so. It’s easy to commit to God in the “big” things, “God I commit to not murdering someone today”…well, that may depend on the intensity of your commute to and from work. But for the most part, we commit SOME OF our ways to God. But notice Scripture tells us to commit our WAY (not WAYS) to God. In other words, will you commit to allowing God to direct you today? Will you invite God to interrupt you in your day? And if God does interrupt you will you commit to your way or His way? Prayerfully prepare yourself to commit to God’s way today, doing things His way, following His way…even if it feels like an inconvenience or an interruption.

How am I trying to move before God moves?

Being still may be the most difficult thing to ask someone to do. In fact, that’s almost something we never ask, except of our kids. Instead, our day is full of “go go go”! So before you DO, before you GO, before you MOVE…see if that is what God wants. Be still before the Lord means to stop for a moment: to stop and pause long enough to approach God and see what He says. If we are constantly doing and going we may be running full speed ahead in the wrong direction because we never stopped to see where God was going. In your ambition and dedication today, stop and pause long enough to approach God in stillness before moving forward. Seek HIS wisdom, HIS council and HIS advice before making the decision on your own.

Where am I frustrated?

Take a look at your day and look for hurdles, obstacles, barriers…anything that may frustrate your plans or agenda. Where are you already frustrated or what has potential to be a frustration today? The opposite of frustrated is patience. When we are frustrated we have a great opportunity to grow in our patience. Psalm 37:7 tells us to “wait patiently on Him”. So ask the question and identify your frustrations to allow God to grow your patience. When you bring your frustrations to God first thing in the morning you will discover your ability to be patient increases throughout your day which in turn will lower your stress, anxiety and disappointment. Let your frustrations turn into patience opportunities. 

Psalm 37:3-7 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord and do good;

    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Books for 2015

book-and-coffee

Leaders are readers because leaders must constantly be learning. If you haven’t read them yet…here are my 12 book recommendations to read in 2015 (one per month):

The Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards – A must read for every leader (especially pastors)! Discover how to lead even when you are not the main leader and how to lead through pain, brokenness loss, heartache and frustration.

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson – A great read talking about change

Winning by Jack Welch – Great lessons not just on being successful but developing healthy culture within an organization from a true expert!

Humilitas by John Dickson – A history, study and practical application of humility

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson – A very practical and helpful book for spouses, employees, managers and leaders to be able to say what needs to be said and get the results you need and want.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – Answers the question, “what makes high-achievers different?”. Discover the “what’s” to discover what you can do to be a high-achiever.

Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene – An interesting look into a town that changed lives through love, compassion and hospitality. Great lessons for anyone, especially churches!

Church Planting Landmines by Tom Nebel & Gary Rohrmayer – Not just for church planters but anyone in ministry.

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr – We can’t add time to our day but we can work to increase our energy capacity and focus. A very practical book in increasing energy in all aspects of life.

Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley – A must read for every husband and/or father. A reminder that our family must come first.

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg – The secret keys to real success!

Leadership Axioms by Bill Hybels – Practical, inspirational and quick easy reads.

Effective Encouragement: creating a SPARC in those you lead

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Encouragement gives life! Whether you are trying to lead volunteers, your family, employees or friends…encouragement breeds life, productivity and effectiveness.

The tongue can bring death or life (Proverbs 18:21)

Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (Proverbs 16:24)

So how do we take full advantage of the power of encouragement? Effective encouragement creates a “SPARC” in those we lead and those who are around us. To create and deliver effective encouragement our encouragements must be specific, give perspective, add value, be regular and calculated.

Specific

Make your encouragements very specific. There is a big different between, “You do a great job” vs “I was so proud of you and thankful for you yesterday when you went out of your way for that upset customer. That was above and beyond”. Both are examples of encouragement but the more specific you are in your encouragement the more weight it carries and the more impactful it is.

Part of being specific in your encouragements is making it personal. Personal for you and them. A thank you note written and signed personally by you is much more personal and is more effective…yes, it does take longer and no, you won’t be able to do this for everyone all the time. But a good way to think is, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all”. 

Perspective

When giving specific encouragement be sure to give them perspective; why what they did was so important and valuable. Many times the people we encourage don’t always see the extent of their actions. Giving perspective when you encourage helps people see the bigger picture and how they are helping accomplish the greater goal, mission or vision!

For an organization, tie your encouragements back to your goals or the mission and vision of your organization. Within a family, show how their actions modeled the family values. Knowing that our actions accomplished something greater is a rewarding feeling…

…and what we are rewarded for we repeat

Add Value

Effective encouragement must add value to the person. Encouragement where the other person doesn’t feel encouraged is “empty encouragement” and hinders the effectiveness of our encouragement.  If we are not careful with our words, our good-intended encouragements could be received as criticism or just shallow.

“You finally did what you were supposed to do! Thank you for listening to me and getting the job done.” VS. “Thank you for being so humble and teachable! You have improved greatly and I am impressed! Keep it up!”

The first “encouragement” sounds more like a reprimand whereas the second example added value to the person by specifically pointing out desired traits (humility and teachability) while admiring their obvious success and making it personal by stating the fact that you are impressed.

Not every “Thank You” and “Good Job” will be received as encouragement. Know the person you are wanting to encourage; know what makes them feel the most encouraged. Choose your words, gestures and timing carefully to ensure your encouragement adds value.

Regular

Encouragement is typically underestimated and even forgot about which means we usually only give encouragement when we think about it. The more regular and consistent we are in giving encouragement we will cultivate a healthy and thriving culture! Culture is created by norms…is encouragement a norm at your organization or in your family? Or is encouragement something that is random and once in a blue moon? Healthy culture, healthy relationships require regular effective encouragement. Your encouragements will become more and more effective when it is regular and becomes a norm and part of your organization’s DNA.

Regular encouragement also allows room for candor and honesty. When people feel valued regularly then people become more open to periodic criticism, pushback and feedback because there has been so much positive feedback and encouragement given already. If there is not a culture of regular and effective encouragement there cannot be a culture of candor.

Calculated

Delivering effective encouragement requires intentionality, thought and planning. What doesn’t get planned for doesn’t get done. Schedule time in your calendar that does not get interrupted or changed. Use this time to write thank you notes, call just to encourage, etc…whatever strategy you come up with you need time to develop and execute that plan.

We set aside time and spend time planning and preparing for a number of other “important tasks”…Be calculated, create a system, be intentional with your encouragement and become more effective in this simple yet crucial tool.

How Effective is Your Encouragement…really?

Creating a SPARC in those you lead through effective encouragement will change your culture, the relationships and the productivity of those around you! But beauty is in the eye of the beholder…in other words, you need a system in place to find out if what you think is effective encouragement is actually being effective! The only way to do this is through honest feedback that you seek out.

Ask periodic questions, include them in your employee reviews…be creative and find multiple ways to measure the effectiveness of your encouragements:

“When was the last time someone praised you for something you did?”
“What recent encouragement has meant the most to you personally?”
“What did you do that you were proud of but no one noticed?”

Kingdom Eyes and Ears

A New Lens

A prayer of mine recently has been to see with “Kingdom Eyes” and hear with “Kingdom Ears”. How differently would our attitudes and lives be if we filtered everything through God’s lens of what is best for His Kingdom…and not necessarily what we would say is best for us personally in that moment?! If we are not careful our prayers can become a selfish wish list instead of a desire to see the Kingdom of God grow.

For Your Name’s Sake

In the Psalms there is a phrase that is used over and over, “for your name’s sake”. The writer is asking and praying for things just like many of us do: forgiveness, guidance, provision, deliverance, etc… But the notable aspect of these prayers is the motive and heart behind what is being asked. WHY do I want to be forgiven? WHY do I want God’s guidance? WHY do I want to be helped in times of trouble? The question is not what but why. Do we want God’s help just so we don’t have to hurt or deal with pain which would make our lives more comfortable OR do we want God’s help so He can show the world His great power? Do we want God to guide and lead us so we end up in a more successful position OR do we want God to guide and lead us so His Kingdom is advanced?

When you pray, what is the “WHY”, the reason behind what you are praying? Is the “what” God focused and Kingdom minded or Self focused?

Psalm 25:11 For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
Psalm 31:3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Psalm 79:9 Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.
Psalm 143:11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

Change the focus, change your attitude

Yes, God is our Father and He desires to provide for us and give us blessings (Matthew 6:25 – 7:12) because He loves us! But is our driving motivation of prayer for God to just accommodate us? What if our prayers were Kingdom Minded? What if our prayers were rooted in what would be best for advancing the Kingdom? And what if my personal needs and comfort took a backseat to the Kingdom of God.
Next time you pray and ask God for something…ask with the Kingdom in mind. How does what you are asking help move the Kingdom forward? Next time something doesn’t go the way you were praying take another look at the situation and see it with Kingdom Eyes.
God loves us and wants what is best for each of us! As we grow in our love for God may we want what is best for the Kingdom!

Love Self? (The Replenishment Cycle)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

As Christians we paraphrase this into “Love God. Love Others.” but forget or rather neglect the “as yourself” part. Which poses the question, is it possible to love others and God without loving yourself (in a Biblical and Godly way)? No. Jesus teaches and gives the ultimate example of self-sacrifice and a lifestyle of serving but does not teach or promote self-hurt or self-harm. When we neglect ourselves we mask it by calling it “sacrifice” or “serving” but in reality it is harmful to ourselves, our relationships and our ability to work for The Kingdom!

Loving Self:

So what does it look like to love yourself in a Godly way? It will look different for everyone but there are many tools to help identify what it is for you! One of these tools is called “The Replenishment Cycle” (developed by Tom Paterson http://www.patersoncenter.com/lifeplan/paterson-lifeplan.html)

The Replenishment Cycle:

We all have aspects of our lives that either drain us or recharge us. If we do not identify what refuels us and make intentional time and effort to implement those into our lives we will not be able to effectively love ourselves, others and ultimately God. Below is the Replenishment Cycle (which has been adjusted by Gil Stieglitz: http://www.ptlb.com)

replentishment cycle

Loving yourself is to have a life that is full enough that you can pour into others. If you are drained and empty you have nothing to give or offer (the obvious image of trying to pour water out of an empty glass). But when we stay filled we can effectively and more continually pour into others. As you begin to identify what you need to stay replenished and healthy, it would be good to look at this from different time perspectives: what do you need in each of these boxes daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually? Everyone is different, so what replenishes you will be different from your spouse, friends, kids, coworkers, boss, etc…

Rest/Sleep: How much time do you need for sleep to stay replenished? Do you need to go to bed early and get up early or stay up late and sleep in? Do you need one or two power naps? How often do you need a day off? How often does your family need a vacation and for how long? When do you and your spouse need a date night?

Right People: There are two types of people in our lives…those that drain us and those that recharge us. The draining people in our lives are not bad people…they are the people who we need to be pouring into! But if we are only spending time with those who need us/drain us then we are going to be running on empty in no time. Who are the people who recharge you? How often do you need to spend time with them and it what capacity?

Creation/Recreation: What is fun for you? Do you like making art, refinishing furniture, making music…? Does creating replenish you? Or is it recreation: sports, games, sowing, etc…? Identify what creation and/or recreation activities replenish you and how often you need to be engaged with them.

Right Work: My dad always told me if you enjoy 75% of your job then you have the perfect job! Ideally you want to be in a career that isn’t a constant drain however the reality is we do what we need to do to provide for ourselves and our family. But ideally, what is the right work for you, what is the right career for you right now? If you don’t have the option to have a career that is replenishing then can you supplement by volunteering or doing something on the side that keeps you replenished by doing what you love?

New Information: Learning will replenish you! This may or may not be in a classroom/school setting. For some this is taking additional classes or continuing through the educational system. For others it is reading, watching documentaries, going to conferences or learning to fix your car by watching YouTube videos. How do you get replenished by learning?

Eliminate: Bob Goff (http://bobgoff.com) is known for saying he quits something every Thursday! The most replenishing thing you could day may be saying no to something. A healthy leader knows when to say no. What is on your plate that needs to be taken off? This is difficult because most of the items on our plates are important but we cannot do everything. What do you need to eliminate?

Nature: There is something rejuvenating about being in God’s creation! Whether you consider yourself and outdoors person or not, nature is reviving. You need to determine what form of nature you need and how often you need it? Maybe you need to be outside hiking weekly or once a year need to be someplace where you can admire nature from the comfort of an air conditioned room.

Add/New Actions/Habits: What are you currently NOT doing that would replenish you if you started doing them? This could be starting a new hobby, exercise routine, healthy eating regiment, family dinners, date nights, etc…  As it is important to know when to say no, it is just as important to identify what you need to begin.

Jesus: In John 15:1,4 Jesus says, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, as I remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Our souls are replenished by being with Jesus! How will you remain in Jesus and remain filled?