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Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

babe ruthBases loaded! One run down! Bottom of the ninth! Two outs! And you, the team captain come up to bat! Best player!  Most dependable! Cheerleader for the whole team!

And you strike out on three pitches!

I’ve read that one of the most difficult things for great baseball players to accept as they move from being a high school or college superstar to playing professionally is the inevitable and frequent disappointments—even failure—that is part of the game.

Hall of Fame players only get hits 30% of the time!  That means 7 out of 10 times that they bat, they make an out!

The big sluggers, the home-run kings, strike out more than anyone else, and only hit a home run about 1 out of 15 times at bat.

What do you do as a church/ministry leader when you “strike out?”  What do you do when you make a bad financial decision, the wrong hire, a damaging strategic decision?  What do you do when you and everyone in the whole stadium know that you just struck out on three pitches?

  • Some players blame the umpire, the fans, their wife, the team spirit—everybody but themselves.
  • Some players just throw the bat and slam their helmet down in rage. That helps everybody on the team feel better!
  • Some players give up on themselves; they quit.
  • Some players play cavalier—just pretend like it didn’t make any difference!

If these are not productive ways to respond when you strike out, what might we do:

  • Admit that you struck out!  Don’t try to pretend that you didn’t.
  • Don’t blame other people! Even if the pitcher is GREAT, he’s not striking everyone out, so somebody is hitting him!  The umpire is not calling everyone out on strikes.
  • Seek to understand the reason you struck out. Did you guess incorrectly? Were you too aggressive, too impatient, too unfocused? Did you irritate the umpire?
  • When you think you might know why, you might think about whether this is an area that you can improve upon with training, with practice, with coaching, with self-control—and then do what you need to do!
  • If you can’t figure out what you did wrong, then ask other people to tell you—and listen to them.
  • Get back up to bat as soon as you can.  Fear of failure is really bad! Once that gets into your head and takes over, it is increasingly difficult to succeed again.

In church leadership and ministry, even the best leaders are going to make dramatic errors. I’m not talking about moral choices or integrity issues, I’m just talking about bad decisions.  These decisions affect people’s jobs, people’s lives, and sometimes even people’s faith because so much of what people believe is wrapped up in the leaders they follow.

That is why it is so painful, just gut-wrenching when you make big, wrong decisions.

The Bible is full of great men who made terrible decisions:

  • Abram passes Sara off as his sister to Pharaoh
  • Jacob steals the birthright from Esau
  • Joseph can’t keep his dreams to himself
  • Moses kills the Egyptian in rage. Later he gets so frustrated with his people that he overstates his own role in satisfying their needs and offends God.
  • Samson, Jephthah, Eli—the judges God chose made big mistakes.
  • King Saul, even David, and especially Solomon

Haven’t you wondered as I have about the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, that is, how some of them made the list?  All of these were leaders—but all of them only got hits 3 out of 10 at-bats!!

After that list of great heroes in Hebrews 11, the writer says thatout of weakness [they]were made strong “ (v.34).

You will strike out!  Maybe a lot!  But if you can acknowledge your weakness and respond to it in a godly way, He can still make you a Hall of Fame player!

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Strategic-PlanningWhen the LST board asked us to begin the strategic planning process, they were in agreement that they wanted an outside party to be an integral part of the process.  I believe that the main reasons for this was to

  • Insure the integrity of the process,
  • Benefit from an experienced person,
  • Benefit from one who has thought deeply and creatively about the process.

Two other criteria seemed very important to them: first, that the person be at least experienced in working with faith-based non-profits—if not a strong believer themselves. Secondly, we wanted to find someone who used a coaching model, not a consulting model—about which we will talk more about later.

We first explored a well-known Christian organization with which some of our board members were familiar. I’m sure they would have been of great help to us, but we eventually decided not to turn to them for the following reasons:

  • They did not seem to grasp the scope of our need and kept offering us more than we wanted and more than we could afford.
  • When we finally got on the same financial page, what they did offer seemed barely adequate.
  • Our assigned advisors seemed like they were new to the organization—which doesn’t mean that they might not have been the very best on the staff, but it did not inspire great confidence when we talked to them.

We then gathered recommendations from our acquaintances. Our board members were very helpful, suggesting university professors who taught strategic planning, attorneys who did mediation and other people-oriented services, and executive coaches.  As we interviewed each of them, it became apparent that they were all highly qualified.  Those that we removed from the list came off because

  • Their area of strength was not really strategic planning.
  • They were so professional that we were afraid of being put into a template plan with little regard for our idiosyncrasies.
  • Their time schedule for availability did not match ours.

One of the first requests I made of each of these candidates as we were interviewing them was if they would explain the difference between coaching and consulting. I confessed to being pretty fuzzy on the distinction—and I wasn’t the only one.  Nevertheless, these are the distinctions that came out of our conversations:

  • Consultants advise clients on how to solve problems while coaches ask questions that help the client discover his/her own solutions.
  • Consultants focus on results and clients focus more on the people involved.
  • Coaches help their clients create processes while consultants analyze, advise, and sometimes implement their solutions.

As I mentioned earlier, our board was keen on using a coaching model, not a consulting model.  I know coaching is all the rage now, but it seems to me that consulting has its own place and value as well.  Sometimes the home team is in a totally new situation or they are in a potentially overwhelming problem; they need someone to offer them solutions and perhaps even implement those solutions. They don’t have any of the answers themselves and need help from those who have had similar experiences and dealt with them successfully.  Consulting has its place.

We chose, however, a person who uses a coaching model, primarily because our board does not think we are in the middle of an unsolvable crisis.  I believe they wanted a coach because they believe that those of us who know the LST ministry the best—the board themselves, the staff, our workers and volunteers, and our donors—are in the best position to evaluate the present and look a little ways forward.

I really appreciate that confidence as does the rest of our staff.

Next, we’ll look at beginning the strategic planning process.  By the way, I welcome your questions or insights!

I know you want to know who we hired to serve as our coach. If you don’t mind, I’m going to show him what I am writing and ask for his permission before I tell you. Thank you for your patience.

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Strategic-PlanningStrategic planning for a faith-based organization raises different questions and  . . . well, I just don’t think it looks the same as strategic planning might look for a for-profit enterprise of the same ilk.

About 18 months ago, the board members of Let’s Start Talking brought up the idea of developing a strategic plan. Just now, we have begun the process, and even getting to this point was not without some pain. For the next nine months, I will be working on this, so I thought it might be helpful to some of you to share the process with you.

Let’s start with some of the questions:

Why go to the trouble and expense of doing a strategic plan? 

As you probably know, my wife and I founded Let’s Start Talking in our living room 33 years ago. LST was first organized as a ministry of a local congregation, answering directly to the elders of that church.

In this start-up phase, the ministry had no employees, no regular donors, and no plan for the next year except to meet the needs that were placed in front of us, which for LST meant, recruiting students and training them to go with us on short-term mission trips at the invitation of a handful of European churches with which Sherrylee and I had a relationship because of our previous mission work in Germany.

By the end LST’s first decade (1980-89), we were taking about 50 students, who raised all their own money plus enough to cover the small cost of organizing the projects, training the workers, and overseeing them in the summer. Financially, we were a zero-sum organization, starting each year at zero and finishing each year at zero.

The only plan was to recruit enough workers to do the work that God had placed in front of us.

LST mushroomed in the 90s, going from 50 workers to over 300. The breakup of the Soviet Union generated a huge desire among Christians to share the Gospel in these many countries where Communism had attempted to suppress and eradicate faith. But no one spoke these many languages, so LST’s strategy which involved working in English but was also direct evangelism became one of the most successful ways to work. LST, which one couple could manage in the 80s, now needed to become much larger.

The strategic plan was the same as it had been, i.e., to recruit more workers to meet the greater need!  As we recruited more workers, we generated more income, so we hired one office assistant and one recruiter. As the numbers grew, we added first volunteer office help, then hired office help, so that by the end of the 90s, we had 12-15 employees. The ministry was growing to meet the need.

But the dimension and scope of LST’s work was creating some issues. The 150-member congregation that had provided our legal status and oversight for almost 20 years decided that we were too big now and that the liability was bigger than the church wanted to take on. God had a big change in front of us!

And what was my plan for the ministry?? To continue to recruit more workers to meet the growing number of invitations from mission sites—now all over the world. But to do that among Churches of Christ, we needed a sponsoring church.

In 1999, a Fort Worth mega-church assumed our oversight, organized us into a Texas non-profit, and generously supported the ministry. But, of course, in this new arrangement, LST was required to have a board of directors.

Now after another decade, LST has continued to expand into China and the Muslim world, the budget has doubled in size, and the ministry is now an independent non-profit. LST now sends out more church members than college students and the funds all workers raise only cover about 70% of the annual budget, so outside fund raising is a necessity. All of these changes have been pretty dramatic!

What was our strategic plan that got us through these changes?  To continue to recruit more workers to meet the vast need of the world to hear the story of Jesus!

As you have probably deduced, the first obstacle to formulating a strategic plan has been this strong sense I have had of having always had a very simple plan that has always worked! I have always stated it as “following God and trying to do the tasks he puts in front of us to do!”

About six months ago, the LST board insisted that I get serious about strategic planning.  So, I’ve worked pretty hard to get my head around the idea. Here are the thoughts that have helped me:

  • Planning is a way of letting other people know what I believe God wants to do with LST.
  • Planning is an opportunity for people to look objectively at the ministry and make helpful suggestions.
  • Planning can suggest new ways of measuring outcomes that might be helpful.
  • Planning is good for donors who want to see measurable steps toward measurable goals.
  • Planning helps board members perform their duties better because they have a better definition of ministry activities and goals.
  • Planning should help us anticipate potential changes and prepare better for them.
  • Planning may force me as Executive Director to define both the vision and the means more precisely than I am inclined to do otherwise.

What would you add to this list?

Next I want to talk about the search for a consultant/coach to help us work through the strategic planning process.

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The fact that Leadership is such a big topic now frightens me after reading and thinking about Isaiah 3 this week!

Isaiah 3:1-7  –  “the Lord Almighty will take away . . . everything they depend on”

As Isaiah prophesies concerning the fall of Jerusalem and Judah—which would occur about fifty years later–not only do the signs of the catastrophe but the means of destruction include the absence of real leaders for the community.  Look at the list of leader-types that are missing because of Israel’s failure to follow the Lord Almighty!

  • Heroes
  • Warriors
  • Judges
  • Prophets
  • Elders
  • High officials
  • Leaders of fifty (could be either civilian or military. Let’s just say community leaders.)
  • Counselors/Advisors
  • Skilled craftsmen
  • And even the astrologers and fortune-tellers who, though forbidden, had large followings

Compare this list of absent leaders to our own time:  We certainly live in the age of the anti-hero.  Our judges and political officials do not inspire great confidence. Where does one turn today for leadership and have categorical confidence in that group? Church leaders? Educational leaders? Military leaders? Union leaders?  Societal  or cultural leaders?

So what happens when such a leadership vacuum exists? People start turning to non-leaders and asking them to lead.

The Youth start leading! What young people want rules the day!I will make boys their leaders, and toddlers their rulers.”  Well, that doesn’t work in Isaiah’s day because it results in social disaster: “man against man; neighbor against neighbor; young insulting their elders and vulgar people sneering at the honorable.” (v.5) I’m not sure that a society—including a church community—should be built on the immature desires of youth.  Isn’t that what Isaiah is saying here?

Or those with more stuff are chosen to rule! Since you have a coat, you be our leader.”  But those with More Stuff  refuse because it is not in their own best interest. They are taking care of themselves first.

Oh my people, your leaders mislead you; they send you down the wrong road.” (v.12)  And, as is always the case, the poor suffer the most because those with coats and contrived leadership oppress them, an abuse of power that leads to general destruction of the society—under which the poor suffer even more.

Isaiah 3: 16-26 – “The women of Zion are haughty.”

I bet this section got Isaiah into big trouble.  I found it fascinating because in railing against the haughtiness of women, Isaiah acknowledges the impact of women even in that very patriarchal society.  Why mention the women of Zion if they had no influence!

But they did. (See v. 12). They had stepped into the vacuum and had done no better than the men. The very graphic picture that Isaiah draws of bejeweled women, “craning with their necks, flirting with their eyes, walking with dainty steps, tinkling their ankle bracelets,” all seems intended to show the same kind of misplaced sense of what real leadership looks like.

Just as the Lord stripped away from Judah the male leadership that had abandoned His Way, he does the same with the women who flaunt their beauty and sexuality for power and control—again sounding very much like our day, doesn’t it!  The Lord Almighty strips Zion’s women of “everything that makes her beautiful”(v. 18). . . .”Instead of smelling of sweet perfume, she will stink. . . .Shame will replace her beauty” (v.24).

Conclusion

If Jerusalem’s false and vacuous leadership resulted in its destruction, then shouldn’t the titanic number of words bemoaning, attacking, and attempting to generate leadership in our age sound like a warning to us?

The warnings of Isaiah point all of us back to God’s leadership. There is no other that will not lead to destruction.

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Last evening, I went to one of our regular restaurants to pick up supper and take it home.  I had to ask for the menu, even though we have eaten there dozens of times over the last decade, and I thought to myself: shouldn’t I know the menu by now?

But the fact is that the menu has changed several times over the last ten years. I don’t mean just a new item or two replacing something that no one ever ate; rather, I’m talking about new menus that mean you can’t even remember what the old menu was anymore!

The latest iteration, however, was not about new items, but about combinations of items. For just $20 you can have your choice of appetizers from a pre-selected list, plus any two entrées, again from a selected list. That’s the combination package that I chose, but there were other groupings as well. Lots of choices!

Have you walked down the cereal aisle lately at the grocery store? And it is a whole aisle—because there are so many different brands and kinds of breakfast cereal. I’m a Cheerios person myself, but now I have to choose between original, Honey Nut, Multi Grain, Apple Cinnamon, Banana Nut, Chocolate, Dulce de Leche, Multi Grain Peanut Butter, Cinnamon Burst, Frosted, Fruity, Oat Cluster Crunch, and Yogurt Burst Cheerios.

Choices—lots of choices—are inherent in the mentality of our culture.  It wasn’t always so.  I remember when we only had three TV channels, not hundreds, and  most people drove either a Chevrolet or Ford.

The Keurig Brewing System is a great example of how we function today.  Keurig advertises its machines as “single cup” brewers of coffee, tea, and other hot drinks.  From what I can gather, Keurig offers about a dozen different versions of its machines from which to choose, both residential and commercial, as well as over 250 different flavors of beverages.

So instead of making a pot of coffee which you drink out of your favorite mug each morning, you get to walk into the kitchen just barely awake and decide whether you want coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, then decide whether you want a breakfast blend of coffee or a real man’s roast, then decide whether you want an expresso-size or mug-size coffee, then punch a button and all your dreams come true! After that cup,  you decide whether you want another cup—and your decision tree starts all over again.

And people love having all those choices every time they want a cup of coffee! 

Church leaders tend to resist lots of choices.  Many, many choices mean messy organization, messy vision, messy budgets, messy theology.  Church leaders want simple church, single purpose, focused activities, and unified vision.

If you have tension in your church between elders and ministers and/or leaders and members, chances are good that it has to do with those who want choices and those who don’t.

If you are a church leader, think about these things:

  • The Apostle Paul had only seven points of unity in his letter to the Ephesians: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God.  If we insist on unity on these points, we have apostolic backing.  If we go beyond this list, we are on our own!
  • This need for lots of choice is a generational difference—and the younger generation always wins because they live longer than you do!  When you are gone, they are going to sing the songs of their choice, meet when they want to, in the groups they like.  If it is not in defiance of Paul’s unities, don’t try to force everyone to eat Original Cheerios just because it is your favorite!
  • Allow yourself to see choices at church as something positive. I bet you don’t just watch network TV anymore—if you watch TV at all. When we got our first “other” channel in the DFW area, they showed the same movie in prime time for three nights in a row. Now you have your choice of around 75 thousand movies on Netflix at any time of the day or night. So many choices allow us to choose good movies now, not just the ones some program director wants us to see.  And that’s good!

Sherrylee’s Grandmother Blackman is famous in our family for saying when asked about raising teenagers, “If it’s not a sin, let them do it!”

That’s not bad advice for church leaders.  

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Hosni Mubarak is 82 years old and has been a driving political personality in Egypt since 1975 when he became Vice-President under Anwar Sadat. He assumed the Presidency in 1981 after Sadat’s assassination and is the longest serving Egyptian president in modern history. Today, however, our daily news reports are full of images of dissenting Egyptians in the streets, protesting Mubarak’s government and demanding his overthrow.

Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in 1994 at the age of seventy-five and decided not to run again in 1999 at the age of eighty-one, although he was still immensely popular and surely would have won reelection.  He withdrew from public life in 2004, but continues to be a extraordinarily popular father figure in South Africa. His 90th birthday was a national celebration, and his brief appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup games was marked by a “rapturous reception,” according to The Guardian.

Mubarak’s situation in Egypt is a classic example of why older church leaders might need to step down—as did Mandela—before they are thrown out.  Older church leaders would do well to look at the reasons Mubarak should step down and why he will not be celebrated like Mandela.

1.            Mubarak made a name for himself as a heroic Air Force pilot and officer during and after the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict—but nobody cares about that anymore! The glory of former deeds is short-lived when your current actions are out of sync with your people.  Church leaders may have been great missionaries, former preachers, university professors, large contributors, community leaders, and so forth, but all of that is meaningless to church members who don’t remember, never knew, or weren’t around then. God will certainly remember your good works, but your ability to lead must be based on what you can currently do, not what you have done in the past.

2.            For many years now, Mubarak has been intolerant towards his critics and his opposition! A feeling that one is above being criticized is a sure sign that it is time for you to step down. No leader is above criticism. If you feel in anyway exempt from or entitled to a free pass from criticism, then you are showing signs of staying in leadership too long.

3.            Age itself can expose an inability to keep up with inevitable changes. Both Mubarak and the recently overthrown dictator in Tunesia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ignored—or at least underestimated—the power of social media like Facebook and Twitter until it was too late for them to survive as leaders. Older church leaders should ask themselves if they are in touch with what their flock is watching, listening to, thinking about, even twittering about?? If you don’t know—or worse, don’t care—then you should consider stepping down before you are overthrown!

4.            Age-related physical weakness affects your ability to lead others. We laugh about “senior moments.” We sit around the table talking about surgeries, arthritis pains, and friends who have recently died.  I was with an older church leader just the other day who listed off ten of his family members that died in a ten-year period, and I thought to myself, why did that surprise him? He was 78 and his family members and close friends were all slightly older or slightly younger. This particular Christian was very much alive and very spry, but many church leaders get to a point where they are physically unable to be a leader. Mandela had reached that point after the abuse his body took under apartheid, but he stepped away before it inhibited his ability to lead—so he continues to have great influence!

5.            Mubarak has dismissed his government in an attempt to appease his critics; he has also imposed curfew to control the protesters. Both these defensive and offensive orders have been ignored by the people! When no one is following you, you are no longer a leader—regardless of the title that you wear.  When older church leaders can no longer effect change without resorting to their office as the sole reason for demanding obedience, they have remained a church leader too long. If you have ever said, “We are the elders and we will decide, not you!” then you should resign immediately. Power can be exercised long after leadership has evaporated, but church leaders  are given the gift of leadership from God, not power!

6.            The 86-year-old Saudi king came out strongly backing Mubarak. If only people your age are backing you, if only people in your generation agree with you, if only people in your family are following you, then it is time to step down.

Good News for Older Church Leaders

The good news is that many great leaders do recognize that it is better to step down than to be a top-level leader too long! More good news is that stepping down does not mean the same thing as becoming non-productive or losing one’s influence.  In fact, one’s influence probably grows because you show such vintage wisdom!

What stepping down does mean is usually giving up power!  And power is the opiate from which it is so difficult to withdraw!  If we could only realize that losing power is inevitable–almost no Mubarak-type leaders avoid eventually being thrown out.

Churches don’t have demonstrations. We might sometimes see mild protests, but no riots in our churches against older church leaders who should but don’t step down. We just have mass frustration and mass exodus!

So do you want to be a Mubarak or a Mandela?

 

 

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I am almost at the end of my first year of blogging, so an email from WordPress that arrived yesterday surprised me.  I did not know that I was going to get an evaluation from them.

Of course, I was interested in the raw statistics. As of just sixty seconds ago, WordPress recorded 14,972 views since the first blog on February 10. Now that does not represent a large number in Blogworld, nor is it the actual number of people who read some post. It could have been my mother clicking hundreds of times, trying to figure out how to get my blog to come up with her WebTV (yes, it still exists!). No, really, I know people are reading because you tell me—and I appreciate that!

I have to say that I have really enjoyed writing this year. I’ve enjoyed the discipline, the challenge, the exchange of ideas with many of you, both on and offline, but perhaps most of all, I’ve enjoyed being of some benefit to you.

Many commented on the “Great Churches” series. A lot of you enjoyed the “Raising Your Kids To Be Missionaries” project, and I got lots of great feedback on the “History of LST” I did in September. On the other side, the Advent series did not seem to resonate—or maybe we were all just too busy. Timing does seem to make a difference, and I have a lot to learn there.

As we start this new year together, here are some of the things that I want to do make this site more useful to you and to the Kingdom!

  • Re-do the basic site so that I can control the pages a little better and make them friendlier.
  • Allow comments to show up more readily and try to encourage more dialogue.
  • Show popular posts that some may have missed.
  • Make the site more useful with ready links to other pages like LST, and FriendSpeak as well as other important blogs.

Content-wise, I want to focus a lot this next year on the area of Leadership. I’ve already got two major projects I want to tackle, one being a look at the leadership style we promote at LST called 1A Leadership.

The other area I want to explore with you will draw on Sherrylee’s and my experiences over the last thirty years in starting, building, and continuing to lead a non-profit ministry. The non-profit sector is growing rapidly. More than 30,000 new non-profits registered with the IRS between January and August 2010, and many of these are faith-based.

In addition, I’d like to go a little deeper into some of the topics we touched on this last year—not too deep, just a little more, along with a chance to respond to some of the comments you made.

I’d love for you to make suggestions, comments, or criticisms. Tell me what you would like to talk about. I promise you that I will listen!

If you and I were sitting down in a cozy room together with an hour to talk about anything, what would you want to be sure and talk about?

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