Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2 Differences Leaders Build Together

If you’ve dealt with people at all, it’s not an earth-shattering revelation to recognize that people are different. We all come from different backgrounds, upbringings and value systems. And as your relationships begin to expand beyond your own culture, those differences can seem magnified.

In the local church, Jesus called us to reach people very different from ourselves. The beautiful (and challenging) thing is that we’re called to do it with people who are very different from each other. When we begin to understand that our unity comes from Christ who saved us and commissioned us, then we can start to embrace our differences and leverage them the way God intends for us to.

There are at least four primary differences among the people found in every church. In this post, we will look at two of those. As leaders—by God’s grace and in the power of His Spirit—here are some ways to bring those differences together to accomplish your mission.

Different workload

Let’s face it—life’s not fair. As a leader, your goal is not to try and make it fair. Some people in your church or organization will work harder than others. You can either work yourself into a frenzy trying to get everyone to “share the load”, or you can invest in those who are willing. The former is futile, but the latter will actually get things done. But a word of caution is in order here. Some people who seem like they’re hardly doing anything can actually be doing more to accomplish your mission than you can imagine. Just because a person is limited physically or otherwise, doesn’t mean they aren’t significantly contributing through prayer or other behind-the-scenes efforts. God doesn’t call us to do our fair share. He calls us to do what we can do—however seemingly big or small—with all our might.

Different commitment levels

It would be nice if everyone was as committed to the mission as you are. The reality is, some people will always be more sold-out than others. There are at least two ways to handle this. The first seems to be the default reaction of many leaders—guilt/cajole/harass the non-committed. If you think that will work, then by all means, go right ahead. But you will never guilt/cajole/harass anyone into a higher level of commitment. You will only drive yourself and everyone around you into frustration—or worst case, you will drive them away. As a leader, the best way you can build commitment is to build excitement. Excitement and enthusiasm is contagious. It isn’t taught—it’s caught. When people not only clearly understand the mission, but begin to actually see the vision, they will begin to get as excited as you are. Some won’t. But most will. The ones who won’t will marginalize themselves while the ones who do will accomplish great things. As a leader, fuel the fired-up and quit trying to light wet wood.

In the next post, we will look at two more differences we can build together to accomplish the mission God has given us.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Closing the Loop - 2 More Keys to Effective Communication

When thinking about clear communication, it’s tempting to put all the emphasis on the sender. But in reality, the onus for communication is on the receiver as much as the sender. It reminds me of the old saying about leadership. If a leader thinks he’s leading and no one is following, he’s just taking a walk. In the same way, if you think you’re communicating but nobody’s listening, you’re just talking to yourself. And there are some really special places people go who talk to themselves too much.

There are four keys to mastering clear communication. A few days ago, we looked at the first two keys to effective communication from the perspective of the sender. In this post, we will look at the final two keys from the perspective of the receiver.

Be the right kind of receiver

  • Are you present?
    It only makes sense that you need to be present to receive a message that is being communicated to you. But how often do people rely on second or third hand information rather than receiving the message directly from the communicator? In the context of the local church, it’s important to be present as much as possible. Sermons are not like inoculations—get your shot and you’re good to go. Instead, they are more like regular daily nutrition. Eating only one meal every few weeks or so will leave you malnourished—no matter how good the meal is. Growth requires regular, consistent, systematic nourishment that can only come from being present when the “food” is served.
  • Are you listening actively?
    There is a difference between hearing and listening. Just ask your spouse. It is possible to hear all the words your wife says about her day at work. But you will find yourself in a lot of trouble if you don’t actively listen to her. Active listening is different for different people and different contexts, but the bottom line is that it requires you to do something. Take notes. Give verbal feedback. Ask questions if appropriate. Listen with your whole body—nod your head (not nodding off to sleep), make eye contact, sit up or lean toward the speaker. Your attention span is like a muscle—you need to work it out to make it grow. Actively listening will do that.
  • Are you eager to receive?
    Your attitude as a listener will determine how much you get out of a message. If you don’t like the communicator, you won’t get much out of it. If you have a predetermined position on the subject or think you “know it all”, you are probably wasting everybody’s time. To be a good receiver, you need to be eager to see something you’ve never seen before. Before the message is communicated, pray about it. If you know the text or the subject ahead of time, learn about it. One of the reasons I am committed to systematic expositional preaching is that everybody knows where we’re going to be next week—and the week after that. That way everybody has the opportunity to eagerly anticipate the message by reading and studying ahead. Go into the message with questions in your mind. Expect to be changed by the message and you probably will. 

Have the right kind of response

  • Do you disagree?
    You will not agree with every message that is communicated to you—and you shouldn’t. We are inundated with messages in this information age. Discernment is a necessity, but it requires effort. Examine the sender’s character. What is his track record? Does he have a reputation of being reliable? If the sender has proven himself to be reliable and his character matches his message, spend extra time trying to figure out exactly why you disagree with him. Be a Berean (Acts 17:11). Spend time examining the sender’s message in light of your own biblical study. If you are able, go to the speaker privately and seek clarification. Separate your personal prejudices and preferences from the content of the message. Work hard to give the sender’s message consideration before completely discounting it. If the message only has minor points you disagree with, latch on to the points you agree with and act on them. If it is unbiblical or heretical, or the message doesn’t line up with the sender’s character, remove yourself from his teaching.
  • Do you agree? If you agree with the sender’s message, you still have a responsibility to check the Bible to make sure what he is saying is true. It is very easy for false teaching to tickle our ears by telling us only the things we like to hear. Just because a speaker might pander to his audience doesn’t make his teaching true or helpful. Be discerning about messages you like as well as those you don’t like. Always take it to the Bible. Discuss the message with other listeners. Discover why you agree. Are you agreeing because the message is self-justifying? Or are you agreeing because it challenges you and exalts Christ? Hopefully the latter is true. When you are confident that your agreement is biblically grounded and genuine, then you need to encourage the sender with positive feedback. Acknowledge your reception of the message with both verbal and non-verbal feedback. Not only will that encourage the speaker, it will help you to be an active listener and increase your ability to retain what you hear.
  • Act on it. Finally, a right response requires action by the receiver. Although all good speakers seek ways to apply their message to their listeners, the ultimate responsibility for application belongs to the receiver. How will this message change your life? What will you do as a result of it? Set personal goals based on the message. Make sure they are specific. Many messages you receive are beneficial, but broad. Narrow it down to a specific area of your life. Make sure your goals are measurable and time-specific. “This week I will do X at Y time each day.” Put them on your to-do list or your daily planner. Also make sure they are realistic and achievable. You won’t be able to save the world by Tuesday of next week. When a message is particularly motivating, you can leave feeling ready to charge Hell with a water pistol. That excitement is commendable—just not sustainable over the long haul unless you set realistic incremental goals along the way. You probably won’t be able to do everything at once—but you can do something every day along the way. The key is to do something—act on what you heard.

Sometimes poor communication is because of bad senders—we’ve all heard them. Sometimes it’s because of bad messages. As a speaker, I spend most of my time studying and crafting messages that are biblical, relevant and applicable. I work hard and pray hard to make sure my life matches my message. The same is true of most preachers I know. As receivers, we need to make the same kind of investment—because poor communication is just as likely caused by bad receivers. Take time to study the messages you hear. Be a Berean. Work hard and pray hard to make sure your life matches the messages you hear. Apply them to your life. Close the loop and communication will really happen.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2 Keys to Being an Effective Communicator

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the concept of leadership that we begin to mystify it. It’s very easy to think that developing leadership skills is for somebody else. But in reality, each of us uses the tools of leadership every day. The things that make better leaders also make better husbands, wives, parents, co-workers, students or citizens. More importantly, the things that make better leaders also make us better Christians and church members.

Topping the list of leadership skills that everybody needs to master is communication. Anybody that has been married more than five minutes understands the importance of communication. Parents understand the importance of communication. Leaders need to understand communication as well.

There are four keys to mastering clear communication. Today we’re going to look at the first two, which are from the perspective of the communicator. Later this week, we will look at it from the perspective of the receiver.

Be the right kind of sender

It’s easy to blame others when we can’t seem to get our message across. As a leader, you can never start there. Good leaders always need to start with a self-assessment.
  •  Are you prayed up before you attempt to communicate?
    Before we talk to others about the direction we feel that God is leading us to go, it’s a good idea to talk to Him about it.
  • Are you prepared to communicate?
    “Winging it” rarely engenders the confidence of a listener—and if you think they can’t tell you’re not prepared, you’re wrong. If you don’t really know what you’re going to say before you say it, it’s probably a good idea to keep your mouth shut. You need to figure it out before you ask your listeners to.
  • Are you burdened with your message?
    Many of the biblical prophets introduced their messages with, “The burden of the Lord for….” We communicate all kinds of things with varying levels of importance. But the crucial messages of leadership need to be communicated out of a clear sense of calling. You can tell when a salesman cares little about the product he is pitching. In the same way, people can see right through a leader who doesn’t have a burden for the message he’s communicating.
  • Do you have credibility?
    There is an inherent amount of gravitas with a person who has “been there, done that”. But understand that personal experience doesn’t necessarily equate to credibility. Faithfulness to Scripture builds credibility. Consistency builds credibility. Humility builds credibility. Coming alongside those you’re communicating to and living life with them builds credibility. Credibility is earned over the long haul.

Have the right message

To be a good communicator, your message must be worth communicating. You can be smooth and entertaining in front of an audience, but a good performance rarely equates to clear communication. The difference is the message.
  • Is your message clear?
    One of the difficulties of leadership is remembering how far ahead of your people you are. If you are as prepared as you should be, you have a crystal clear understanding of your message. But in order to make it clear to your listeners, you need to remember that they aren’t there yet. Make your message clear by starting at the beginning. Repeat often. Use illustrations. Repeat often. Clearly define your terms. Repeat often.
  • Is your message specific?
    Make sure you are talking to the audience who is in front of you. Continually referring to the ubiquitous “they” separates your listeners from the message instead of drawing them in. This message is for you. It speaks into your life. Show them specific ways that it does.
  • Is your message purposeful?
    Tell your listeners what the point is. If they don’t understand what the point is, they won’t have any need to invest in responding. Whether through the internet, books, television or talk radio, people are inundated with words. Let them know that your words have a purpose for their lives.
  • Is your message meaningful?
    A NASA engineer briefing can be clear, specific and have a very important purpose. But since I’m not involved in the space program, it wouldn’t be meaningful to me—at all. That’s one of the wonders of communicating the Gospel to people—it is the most meaningful message in the world.

Communication is a two-way street. In the next post we will look at the final two keys to clear communication—from the receiver’s perspective.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

3 Things to Do Before You Plan for Revitalization

It’s very easy to look at the condition of many churches and see the need for revitalization. When attendance is down, baptisms are down, and kingdom impact is down, revitalization is needed. Blaming society or culture is a non-productive cop-out.  

As leaders in our local churches, God has given us a mission and it’s our job to lead our church to accomplish it. The mission is the leader’s burden before it can ever become the church’s burden. It is his vision from God long before it’s the church’s vision. 

But simply having a burden and a mission and a vision isn’t enough—because by themselves, those things don’t get anything done. All they are is words hanging in the air until something actually gets done. In order for something to get done, a plan has to be made . 

Here’s the order—God burdens the heart of a leader with the mission he wants to accomplish through his people. The leader sees the vision and casts the vision to God’s people. Then the leader begins to work with the people to plan the work that it will take to accomplish the mission. 

But here’s the part that is often overlooked. After God gives the burden and before the plan is made, the leader should do three things.

Get some rest

The worst thing a leader can do is jump right in to planning.  No matter how pressing the burden for revitalization might seem, don’t start to plan until you have a clear head. And you can’t have a clear head when you’re exhausted. God hardwired us with a need for rest. When we don’t rest, we’re rebelling against the way he made us. We’re telling God that he can’t do this without us. We need to have enough faith in God that we can rest in him even when the need for revitalization is urgent. When it comes time to plan the work that God has called you to do, do it with a rested mind.

Make it real

Is your burden real or is it theoretical? I know what the statistics tell me. I know what demographics tell me. I know what Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Research tell me. But what is my neighborhood telling me? It’s one thing to know that demographics tell you Millennials need Jesus. Do you actually know any? Your burden won’t really become real to you until you begin to experience the need for yourself. If your church needs revitalized, get outside and begin to feel the lost and dying community around you. Meet the people. Begin to find ways to share life with them. You can’t begin to craft a good plan until the mission is real to you.

Make it yours

Has God called you to pastor a church in need of revitalization? If he has, then you have to own it. It has to be yours. The calling is yours. The burden is yours. The responsibility to lead is yours. Leadership isn’t done by consensus. Leadership isn’t done by collaboration. Leadership isn’t done by majority rule. Good and godly leadership happens when God’s man feels God’s burden for God’s mission and begins to lead and influence and inspire God’s people to accomplish it. Now, I’m not talking about being a dictator. I’m talking about leadership. Somebody has to drive the bus. One time when Adrian Rogers was talking about headship in the home, he said that anything with no head is dead and anything with two heads is a monster. Leadership matters. Own it. Make it yours. And lead.

Now you’re ready to start planning for revitalization.

Nehemiah 2:11-16

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