But First…

I like to think I’m obedient.

But I’m most obedient when I trust an outcome.  I’m obedient when I understand and can see the big picture.

In our #LentChallenge reading for today, Jesus is teaching about the cost of following him.

Luke 9:59, 61 (emphasis added)

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

What is your “but first” response to God when he calls you to something?

See as leaders, we expect others to follow us.  We get irritated when they don’t trust us or willingly follow.  We are annoyed by their excuses – their “but first”s – and yet we often rattle off our “but firsts”….

But first I have to save up.

But first the kids need to be in school… or out of school… or on their own.

But first I need to explore all my options.

But first I need to have a plan for my retirement.

But first I need to finish a project.

Our “but firsts” aren’t usually bad things.  They are good things.  They may even be responsible things.

I don’t think this passage is about shirking responsibility.  It’s about faith and obedience.  For me, it’s a reminder of how many times I run to excuses when God calls me to a bold move… to something uncomfortable or scary.

Where might God be calling you and what are your “but first” responses?

Lonely Places

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:16

Jesus work on Earth was being noticed.  People were flocking to him for healing.  They were eager to hear his teaching.  His influence was growing.

And yet, he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

This is both convicting and freeing.

As the pace of influence and leadership grows in our lives, the demands become greater.  People’s expectations escalate.

I’ve often felt guilty for how much I long for quiet, for space to think, for time alone.

Jesus modeled this for us well.  He withdrew.  He got away.

He withdrew to lonely places.  Places of solitude.  I think the word “lonely” here is significant because to be lonely implies some discomfort.  It would probably have been more enjoyable to get away with just his closest friends, but to make himself lonely suggests that he wasn’t just seeking relaxation and retreat.  I suspect that he went to lonely places because it is when we are stripped of everything common and comfortable that we are more attuned to God.

And in those lonely places he prayed.  He knew that at the peek of his influence he most needed to hear from God.

For those in seasons where your influence and leadership are growing exponentially, be all the more diligent to seek lonely places to get alone and pray.

 

#LentChallenge Day 12

LentChallenge

I don’t want my life to be hard.  I naturally gravitate toward comfort.  Sometimes I expect if I’m doing everything right my life will be pain free.  Sorrow is something I fiercely avoid.

I realize that thinking is inconsistent with some of my core beliefs but it is amazing how pain avoidance sits at a deep subconscious level.

In our #LentChallenge reading for today, I’m struck by Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:38:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

If Jesus faced sorrow, he knows how to meet us in ours.  Don’t run from sorrow, run to Him.

Don’t Ignore the Ops

Why did you get into ministry leadership?

Was it to process 501 (c) (3) paperwork?  Maybe create budgets?  Build organizational charts?  Fix broken computers?

Yeah, probably not.

In fact, when you considered getting into ministry leadership, these things probably didn’t enter your mind.  You didn’t study accounting, HR or IT.  But while operational issues aren’t the most compelling reason to be a leader, paying attention to operations is essential for any great leader.

Operations are like the oil to the ministry engine.  Without effective operations, the ministry engine is not going to run well and eventually poor operations will burn a ministry engine up.

Low_Oil_Lamp_Red

That’s why it’s critical for us as leaders to value the operational needs of our organization.

Operational issues don’t get me up in the morning but they will keep me up at night.

While you’ll probably never be an expert on operations, here are some things that you can do to make sure operations are properly supported.

  1. Invest in qualified staff.  It’s tempting to put off hiring operational roles when there are pressing ministry needs, however good operations staff will save you a lot of time, money and headaches in the long run.
  2. Reinforce operational systems.  Most of your staff are not going to be excited about filling out the proper paperwork for a check request or creating their annual budget, but as the leader you must reinforce the value of these processes.  The easiest way to reinforce it, is to model it.  Meet deadlines and turn in the proper paperwork.  Don’t expect to be given exceptions because you’re the leader.  What you value, others will value too.
  3. Keep your nose in it.  Even though you hire qualified people who understand it better than you, don’t allow yourself to become too disconnected.  I personally sign every check that our accounting team processes.  This takes a couple of hours of my week but it helps me see in real time how we’re spending our ministry dollars.
  4. Meet regularly with your operations staff.  Create a regular meeting time to check in with this team to hear their needs, frustrations or concerns.  By creating time for them, you convey the value of operations to the overall ministry needs.  It will also create an opportunity for you to hear of concerns before they become crisis.
  5. Don’t underestimate the value of your Board.  Enlist a Board of Directors with proven competency in operational issues and fiduciary responsibility.  Be accountable to this team and heed their advice.

Ministry leadership is a great honor and privilege.  While operational issues will rarely be the motivator to get you up in the morning, poor operations will be the thing that keep you up at night.  Too many ministries have floundered because a leader took their eye off of this important element of leadership.

 

The Question Every Church Leader Should Ask Now

“What will happen when I’m no longer serving in my position at my church?”

This is a question that I had to think through recently as I transitioned from Cross Point to Menlo Park. It’s a hard question to ask, especially when you’ve been a part of growing something from the ground up. However, I now know more than ever how important this question is, no matter which position you serve on staff.

Every church leader is an interim leader. Why? Because unless you plan on pastoring our church after Jesus returns, every church will have to face the reality of a leadership transition. Are you ready?

Smart leaders realize that succession planning should start with leaders early in their tenure. From the moment you fill a position, you should start thinking about how you can prepare for the next person who fills your role, whether it’s 2, 10, or 25 years from now. A true succession plan encompasses a plan for any leadership transition reason, whether it is the pastor’s own decision, the board’s, or an unfortunate emergency situation.

My friend William Vanderbloemen, former pastor and President of Vanderbloemen Search Group, has spent the last year researching hundreds of pastoral succession plans along with his co-author Warren Bird, Research Director at Leadership Network, to help pastors answer the question, “What’s next?”

VanderbloemenBird_Next-3Dalt copy

Next: Pastoral Succession That Works is a culmination of hundreds of case studies, interviews, and insider stories of succession failures and successes to help you ask the right questions to prepare for the future. It is intended for pastors, board members, and any church staff member who desires their church to have a lasting legacy.

I’ll be doing a full interview with William soon, but a few highlights from the book are:

  • Every pastor is an interim pastor.
  • There is no cookie cutter approach to succession planning.
  • The lack of emergency succession plans is staggering.
  • Pastors and boards have done a poor job of creating options for a pastor’s future identity.
  • Churches should revisit their succession plan each year.
  • A successful succession plan is the best legacy you can leave your church.

Next: Pastoral Succession That Works releases today!  Go check it out!

Summer Reading Plan: A Fruitful Life

FruitfulLife

Eric Bryant has a new project that just released called A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be.

Eric serves at Gateway Church in Austin, and previously he served at Mosaic in Los Angeles. His previous book is called Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World (also known as Peppermint-Filled Pinatas).

I had the chance to ask Eric a little more about this new project:

Jenni: What is A Fruitful Life all about?

Eric: According to Jesus, we have unlimited capacity to influence others spiritually. No matter what we’ve experienced or what we regret or where we are from, in Christ’s Kingdom we can become fruitful – transformed and transforming the lives of others.

Derived from Jesus’ parable of the soils, A Fruitful Life will help you with the following:

  • Discover your calling.
  • Make decisions using a grid for hearing God’s voice
  • Overcome the most painful moments of life.
  • Make progress in areas where you are most tempted.
  • Experience renewal and bring change to others.

Jenni: In working with leaders, I often help them find their place to make a difference. What are some of the insights you share that can help people find their niche?

Eric: Sometimes we make simple things complicated. Jesus explained that if we can avoid being like the first three soils, we could have a life that is described as fruitful. In other words, if we can learn to be receptive (hearing God’s voice), tenacious (not give up on what we know we should do), and intentional (avoiding distractions), we will be who we’ve always wanted to be.

Applying the Scriptures to our life and developing the skills derived from the parable of the soils really is life-changing. I have seen God do remarkable things in my life, in the lives of others who went through this material in small groups, and in the lives of those who experienced the material in the context of a retreat or sermon series. When we are spiritually receptive, tenacious, intentional, and proactive, we are in the right place for God to work in our lives and through our lives.

Jenni: What makes this project different from others?

Eric: Like you, I am fascinated by creativity and innovation, so it was important to me to share this message in a unique, fun, and helpful way. By teaming with the Snippet App, we are offering something that is far more interactive than a paperback and much more than an e-book. Each Snippet in this series includes videos and other discoverables, plus the ability to interact with each other.

Jenni: You mentioned to me that you have a special offer for those who frequent my blog.

Eric: I do! I appreciate your leadership and your message to the world so much!

10 people in your audience will win the entire series. Here’s how: download for free A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be and be sure to check out the last chapter on how to become a winner of the next four snippets in the series.

Jenni: Thanks so much! Congratulations on this project!

More on Eric:

Dr. Eric Michael Bryant serves with Gateway Church in Austin as the team leader for Central and South Austin and as part of the teaching team. Known for their mottos: “no perfect people allowed” and “come as you are, but don’t stay that way.”

Eric coaches church planters and campus pastors, teaches on Post Christian Ministry, and leads a cohort for a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary where he earned his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership. More on these opportunities can be found here.

Summer Reading Plan: What Life Are You Waiting For?

SORRY.  THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.

————————————————————–

This week’s summer reading is Pastor Pete Hise’s new book, What Life Are You Waiting For?

What Life Are You Waiting For Book Promo from Quest Community Church on Vimeo.

Pete is one of those guys who lives what he teaches.  His belief in the life-changing power of God will compel you and challenge you to take the transformational adventure that he believes God has called you to.  This book will push you to ask tough questions, grapple with unresolved heart issues and, most importantly, compel you to ‘push play’ on life.

what-life-book-shadow

If you’re interested in winning a copy, share with us in the comments one adventure you’re taking this summer.

Happy Monday!

 

Turning Off the Critic

Another Sunday in the books. Four services, thousands of attendees, hundreds of volunteers, even a dozen commitments for Christ, and yet I couldn’t shake this gnawing sense of dissatisfaction. In fact, this aching feeling was becoming common every Sunday night as I drove home tired and spent. For all the effort and all the good, it still felt not quite good enough. For all of our great planning and preparation there were still problems. For all of our good communication, volunteers still didn’t always show up. For all of our backup measures, systems still failed in the moments they mattered most.

Rather than see the good that was happening in our ministry, all that wasn’t working was exceedingly overwhelming me. A critical eye consumed me.

Continue reading at Sunday Magazine…

Align Your Stars

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Every organization has them.

S T A R S

The employees that shine a little brighter than others.  They’re gifted.  They’re tenacious.  They do whatever it takes.  They believe in the vision.  They are problem-solvers and idea-generators.  They outrun the rest of the pack.  They’re growing.  They’re leading.

As a leader,  it’s your job to align your stars.  You must position them to shine.

Stars only burn brightly when they are in the right seat, empowered to lean into their strengths and develop their gifts.

If a star gets bored and lacks a challenge, or if a star gets frustrated by roadblocks in organizational bureaucracy, they will either burn out or move on.

A star won’t stay where it can’t shine.

What are you doing to align the stars in your organization?

*Original photo source

20’s Church

Long, late night conversations around the kitchen island.

We did this frequently.  Sometimes it was just recapping the day, sometimes it was boys, dating and that whole mess, other times it was our shared passion for the future of the church.

But one of those late night conversations sparked an idea…

Heather was living with Merlyn and I last summer during her internship at Cross Point.  (Btw, it’s the craziest thing to have a 20 year old living in your home and trying to figure out whether to be a parent or a friend.  I suspect I was a little of both.)

If you haven’t met Heather yet, you will soon.  This girl is a dreamer.  She’s not afraid of dreaming audacious dreams but more than that she’s not afraid to actually make them happen.  She has a way… a tenacity about her that is both inspiring and scary in all the right ways.

This summer Heather and Taylor (another intern from Cross Point’s Summer 2013 crop) are embarking on an adventure.

Heather

Hear what Heather has to share about her love for the church, her generation and her Summer 2014 project:

Just like the majority of pastor’s kids, I was raised by the church. I was taught by it, I was hurt by it, I was cared for by it, I was betrayed by it, I was loved by it. Unlike many pastor’s kids, though, my journey doesn’t stop there. I’m not finished with the church. I’ve seen the damage it can do, but I’ve also seen the life it can create, and I see the latter happening far more often than the former, despite what media and society tells us. The church is one of my biggest passions, not only for how much good I see in it, but for how much potential I believe it has. As a church we have done a lot of really great work, but if we are going to bring “up there down here”, we have a lot of work to do and we need to be working harder than ever to do so.

As a 21-year-old college student, I look around at my classmates and those in my generation and see so much potential for change in the church, but a lack of knowledge as to how to take advantage of that potential. According to a study done by the Barna Group, six out of ten 20-somethings who were “spiritually active” in their teens stop going to church in their 20′s. They found that “only one-fifth of 20-somethings (20%) have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences.” As David Kinnamen says, “You’ve lost us”. This generation is driven. We are motivated. We want to be challenged. We are searching for answers that aren’t as black and white as “yes” or “no”. We are a generation of world-changers, and yet there are relatively so few left of us in the church.

My point is not to criticize our churches because that has been done before and, quite frankly, I don’t think it does anything. Rather, I want to share with you a journey I am embarking on with the goal of sharing with the world all the good the church is doing in decreasing those sobering statistics and reaching out to what has been called the “Invisible Generation”.

In a little over a month, I, along with my friend, Taylor, will be touring the country and visiting over 20 different churches to explore how they are effectively reaching out to the 20-something generation. Through research we’ve conducted over the past nine months we’ve discovered several common themes that our generation seems to really be seeking out, and we are excited to see what those churches are doing with them! Throughout the summer we will be posting videos, pictures, and blog posts and we would love for you to join us as we explore how the church is reaching a generation no one seems to be able to figure out how to reach.

Will you join me in praying for them, encouraging them and then listening to them as the help us understand how to reach the 20-something generation?