discernment

31 Tips for 2016 – #11

Unknown-1Here is Tip #11 for Ministry Leaders in 2016…

Say, “I don’t know” more often.

Just because we are the leader, doesn’t mean we know all the answers. People often come to us with questions because they make two assumptions…  1 – We know the answer and 2 – We understand the question (or the situation) to begin with. The fact is, sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.

We need to avoid the temptation to look and sound competent when we simply aren’t. It doesn’t mean we are less of a person or leader, it just means that we are ignorant in the classic sense of the word… sometimes we simply don’t know.

Good leaders don’t give into an arrogance that demands to have all the answers, all of the time. Or, worse, to give the appearance that we do when we know we are clueless. We should be secure enough in who we are and the team that we have around us to admit that the best response to a question that stumps us is, “I don’t know. Let’s see if we can find that out together.” 

Saying “I don’t know” does 3 powerful things…

  1. Encourages a sense of team. No one has all the answers and we need the collective insight of others. No “one man show,” here.
  2. Engages team members. The answer may just be a question or two, a team member or two, away. Ask around and get others involved in the answer or solution. Collaboration is key.
  3. Empowers team members. Those with the answers may/may not be the one’s with the resources the answer requires. Either way, team members are brought around the table and then empowered to see that the question is answered and accompanying need is met. This is something that good leaders will acknowledge and celebrate!

Not feeling the need to have all the answers is liberating. Believe it or not, most people will respect you for it as a leader all the more. Why? Because they know you are no different than them, and they don’t know it all, either.

Grow your team by these three powerful words, “I don’t know.” 

Making Wise Decisions

images-17Have a BIG decision to make as a team? Remember this, making wise decisions comes from asking wise questions.

Here are 3 simple but vital questions to ask first and answer before you pull the trigger…

1) Is this the right thing? Be honest with yourself, the Lord and your team. “Why are we doing this?” Do you truly believe this is the right thing to do for the overall health and to forward the vision of your church or organization? How do you know?

Here are 3 Tests…

Does it align with God’s Word? This is your #1 concern to discern. For example, how will the direction you choose position you to make disciples?

What has wise counsel said? Agree together to get some outside advice from those who have “been there, done that.”

Who will this help and who will this hurt? This isn’t an option. Make an honest assessment of who will will and won’t be likely to follow your lead and what that might mean going forward. Then, do the right thing, anyway.

2) Is this the right time? Consider Joseph and the “Store to Pour” Principle…

When faced with famine, Joseph had a decision to make. Is this the time to store it up or pour it on by faith? How does this inform your decision-making as a leader?

3) Will I love and lead people through it? There is no “cruise control” on this ride. It is your job to lead well start to finish. Be prepared to listen well, answer questions, and be sensitive to all those who will be adjusting to this new direction. You may just be surprised… some you thought would get behind it won’t and some you thought wouldn’t, will.

What questions would you add to help inform and inspire an active faith in you and your team? Share your insights in the discussion thread below…

How can we partner in a leadership conference, PEAK Pastors retreat or ongoing coaching relationship? Email me at tompelt1@gmail.com or discover more about Covenant Church Coaching at www.tompelt.com.

Leadership Transitions (7 Ways NOT to Follow a Great Leader)

imgres-7Are you considering following a great (or long-term) leader in a new position? Whether you are a pastor, associate pastor, or business leader, never underestimate the unique differences between the previous leader and you.

There is also an organizational story that needs to be listened to and learned from in order to help you make a discerned decision and lead well if you assume the new position.

Here is the “Cliff Notes” version of a chapter in my leadership story. Call it a “cautionary tale…” Once upon a time I followed a great leader who had a long tenure at a widely respected church. I failed to do many strategic things. It went really bad, really fast, for everyone. The end. Wait, by God’s grace, there was more to the story, there is always more to the story. For now, here is some advice on making healthy leadership transitions and 7 Ways NOT to Follow a Great Leader (and how to do it well!)…

1) Don’t meet with your predecessor when possible and ask them tons of questions throughout the process, even long after you arrive. I met with mine… briefly, pleasantly, over dinner. This was a token meeting at best. We both said we were willing to further the conversation. Neither reached out or followed-up until it was way too late and too much damage was done. Ultimately, this was on me.

DO seek them out when possible and not only ask for an open dialogue, but get permission to talk about them and their tenure with those you are about to lead. Why? Because their DNA saturates the ministry just as yours does the ministries you have led. Ignore this at your own peril. Besides, if they are the quality leader everyone believes them to be, this won’t be a problem. If they or the present leadership aren’t okay with this, that may tell you all you need to know.

Specifically talk to them, the present staff and leadership about things such as…

  • Differences in personality
  • Differences in leadership style
  • Differences in communication style
  • Differences in role
  • Differences in vision/values

There are valuable lessons to be learned about yourself, the church and the leadership as you discuss these differences. Don’t miss out.

2) Don’t meet with present staff and ask what they really think about the health and trajectory of the ministry. Again, I did do this, but wish I had gone deeper. Actually, I had but a brief phone conversation with the longest serving staff member. Not smart. Agree or disagree with their assessment, they know many people and many things you simply don’t and you need to know where they stand.

DO meet with the present lead team as a group and individually. Specifically ask the following type of questions…

  • What do you love about the church and how things are going/run?
  • What don’t you like about the church and how things are going/are run?
  • Regardless of official polity (leadership structure and process), how do things really get done and through whom?
  • Let’s talk “sacred cows.” What are they and which ones need “tipped.” Which ones are “land mines?”
  • When was the last big staff conflict? What was it over? How was it resolved?
  • How have you been hurt in ministry? How are you going about the healing process?
  • What are the 3 biggest needs of the congregation? In other words, “What’s broke?”
  • What would you do first and/or change if you were me? Why?
  • What would you definitely NOT do if you were me? Why?
  • What are your plans for the future, if any?

Sure, you and everyone else may simply want to look to the future in faith and talk vision, and you should. However, skip a thorough assessment of the past and present and you won’t have a future. At least, not a preferred one.

3) Don’t talk extensively about the local/regional culture. Every area is unique. Not learning about what makes the culture and it’s people special will keep you distant and disconnected. I skimmed the surface on this one and even assumed I might bring more of my culture to them. I’m not saying to start faking an accent… but simply to embrace and even celebrate the culture that is unique to the people there.

Do talk to the staff, lead team and people to find out…

  • What should I do/not do to embrace the culture and “fit in?”
  • What are 3 of the most important cultural traditions/events here?
  • My family and I like to do this… does anyone else?
  • What cultural distinctives come with who we are as a family? How might these translate over time, if at all?

BONUS: Ask around at some local places such as coffee shops and restaurants about the church you may be leading? What do they know about it? What is the church’s reputation, if any?

4) Don’t ask even tougher questions, such as…

  • What do you really want to ask but are afraid to? (You may still want me to come anyway!)
  • What are you hoping I won’t discover or figure out until later? (I may still want to come anyway!)

I know. This sounds a little jaded, right? However, sometimes people’s hearts may be in the right place but they fail to address the critical issues. They are only trying to protect you or someone else. Perhaps they don’t want to overwhelm you? They might even want you to come so much that they forgo some of the finer details and paint a picture of the church (or of you to the church) that isn’t accurate or complete. Dig deeper. Trust the Lord and people enough to go there.

5) Don’t get it in writing. Whether it has to do with your compensation or agreed upon roles, vision, staffing, etc, trust that a general sense of agreement is good enough and clearly understood by all necessary parties. And, don’t follow-up to see if important items have been communicated as agreed upon. I did the first part, but assumed the second. Not good.

DO understand that putting things in writing isn’t a lack of faith in the Lord or anyone else, it’s wisdom. Doing so has a way of involving the appropriate teams in a more specific way and helps to clearly affirm expectations and goals. From a practical standpoint, there is just too much information exchanged to remember it all. And, from an eternal standpoint, this decision involves the lives of too many saints and sinners to take anything for granted. Assume little. Besides, at your prayed up and processed best, you and the congregation will be taking a big step of faith regardless of how thorough you are.

6) Don’t involve an outside coach and a prayer/accountability team. Keep it just between family and close friends who will encourage you and mostly tell you what you are hoping to hear. This isn’t their fault. They genuinely want to support you, but they may be too close to question or call you out when needed.

DO invite a coach and/or a group of seasoned leaders to question you and second-guess you as much as they pray with and encourage you along the way. They’ve likely “been there, done that.” You need to know what they know. Stay humble, confess your ignorance. Ask them a lot of questions and listen up! Speaking of listening…

7) Finally, don’t listen to your spouse, kids and their “feelings.” Naively believe only the best in people and their motives throughout the process. Do your best to protect your spouse by seeing things only in the brightest and best of lights. Above all, avoid probing and sharing your true feelings with one another under the guise of faith. On the other hand…

DO listen to your spouse. Trust that they have a perspective and a discernment that you may lack. Listen closely to what they are saying and take it to heart. What are they feeling and sensing about people and the situation in general? Do they honestly feel they can be real with you and you with them? This is too big not to! God put you together for a reason. Besides, if it isn’t healthy for your spouse and kids, it isn’t worth it, regardless of how much the new position may promise. 

Did I forget prayer? No… but prayer goes beyond something you check off the “to do” list. You simply can’t pray over this decision enough privately, as a family, with trusted advisors, with those you may be leading and more. Just be sure not to lead yourself and others in prayers that only affirm the direction you want to go and then blame God for it. Pray to listen and learn, discover and discern. Then, be obedient to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you and through others.

So, there you have it, minus the gory details. Eventually, and by much grace, there was and continues to be healing for the church and for our family. Praise God, He really does “…work all things together for good…” (Romans 8:28). Hindsight has revealed some amazing ways the Lord has used this to mold and make us and others into more effective disciples of Jesus Christ. However, years later, scars are present as reminders of hard lessons learned. I hope they prove valuable to you as you make your own leadership decisions and fulfill God’s will for your life and ministry.

What advice would you give someone considering a new position, especially following a long-term leader? Share your thoughts below in the Reply section…

3 Questions to Ask First

images-13Have a BIG decision to make as a team? Here are 3 simple but vital questions to ask first and answer well before you pull the trigger as part of our ongoing “Small Church, BIG Change” series…

1) Is this the right thing? Be honest with yourself, the Lord and your team. This is about motivation. “Why are we doing this?” Do you truly believe this is the right thing to do for the overall health and to forward the vision of your church or organization? Resist the temptation to simply “go with the flow” when you may not be fully in agreement. Don’t. Good executive level leaders don’t want you to and good team leaders shouldn’t. How do you know if it is the “right thing?”

Here are 3 Tests

  • Does it align with God’s Word? This is your #1 concern to discern.
  • What has wise counsel said? Agree together to get some outside advice from those who have “been there, done that.”
  • Who will this help and who will this hurt? This isn’t an option and, no, you aren’t doing this to please or put-off any particular group (at least, you shouldn’t). However, make an honest assessment of who will will and won’t be likely to follow your lead and what that might mean going forward… then do the right thing, anyway. Too many leaders ask, “Who will we lose if we do?” Instead, we should be asking, “Who will we gain if we do?” (Or, “Who won’t we gain if we don’t?”) Any way you ask it, as “fishers of men,” take some more of the focus off the fish you already have in the boat and onto those yet to come on board!

2) Is this the right time? The landscape is littered with the fallout and debris from the meltdown that was the right thing at the wrong time. Jesus modeled this on numerous occasions when He would say things like, “My time has not yet come…” (John 7:8, NIV). And, we are reminded by the Wisdom writer,There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV). Talk through the timing of this decision along with the “who, what, when, where and how” of launching it well.

3) Will I love and lead people through it? There is no “cruise control” on this ride. It is your job to lead well start to finish. So, don’t lose sight of the fact that you and your team have been praying this through and processing it together for some time. Those you lead are just hearing about it and even your best supporters may need some processing time before getting as enthusiastic as you are about it. Be prepared to listen well, answer questions, and be sensitive to all those who will be adjusting to this new direction.

You may just be surprised… some you thought would get behind it won’t and some you thought wouldn’t, will! Be prepared to lead in love with one voice and with a firm but gentle touch as people grow through this with you.

These aren’t the only questions to ask nor things to consider when making a BIG decision. However, these 3 questions will go a long way towards making a right decision, at the right time, for the right reasons.

What questions would your recommend asking before making a BIG decision?