The One Church Leadership Mistake You Cannot Make

I bet you and your team have annual goals or focus points. It’s always healthy to have a few things in focus as the year begins. It’s like an organizational resolution, but much easier to keep.

I recently saw Chick-fil-A’s organizational focus for 2018. One item on their list stood out — food safety. When I first saw it, I wondered why something so basic was on their big four movements list. Have they had trouble with food safety recently? Are some stores serving raw chicken?

Then I realize why. Chick-fil-A understands that focusing on new areas of the business is important, but there are some core elements that they must always keep in focus. Food safety might be at the top of that list, hence it made their annual focus list. It doesn’t take too many cases of salmonellae poisoning to destroy a food brand.

So back to us in the church. You probably have some areas of focus for this year. At Woodstock City Church, we too have some important, future thinking opportunities in focus. But, at the top of our list is still one key element: Stewardship.

Stewardship is our food safety. Why? For the same reason as Chick-fil-A. If we lose the trust of those who support our church with their time and treasure, we will immediately begin to fail. We might be able to recover from other missteps, but I doubt we would be able to recover from any breach of financial trust.

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7 Ways I’m Learning to “Disagree and Commit”

Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame wrote a well-circulated article to his shareholders. You can read it here: Jeff Bezos’ Shareholder Letter

In my industry of church, the implications of his letter are equally important. My guess is any industry where leadership is required to make decisions would benefit from adopting a version of these ideas (that’s everyone, btw).

When our leadership team discussed this article, we spent some time on what Jeff calls “High-Velocity Decision Making.” Within this section, he tells a story of how he disagreed with a specific direction one team was taking, but after voicing his opinion through several heated conversations, he decided to “disagree and commit.”

That simple phrase, “disagree and commit,” hit home for many of us, including me. It is certainly an empowering concept in leadership — empowering because it frees those in our organization to move forward without requiring consensus and without the usual ramifications. Obviously, having consensus is helpful, but it’s elusive. Let’s be honest — all leaders have opinions, and the odds of everyone’s opinion aligning for consensus is relatively small. That’s why being able to commit, even without consensus, is empowering. As for ramifications? Being able to decide and move forward without fear of leadership reprisal is even more empowering.

As a leader myself with plenty of opinions, Jeff’s advice rings true. Here’s how I am personally trying to follow his “disagree and commit” mantra, and what I’m hoping it does for our church:

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6 Questions That Will Help Your Next Sermon Reach Everyone

This is about removing assumptions in our preaching and sermon content, so ironically, we need to begin with a few assumptions.

When you preach, I assume your hope is to reach every person in your audience, connect them all to a new way of thinking, and lead them all to apply a new way of living. That’s the basic idea preaching, right? Provide true information that compels helpful application.

If we hope to lead everyone in the room to the truth of our message, we must start by connecting everyone in the room to us and our message. That’s not a simple task.

For instance, if you only had an audience of one, developing a message that will accomplish your connecting goal would be relatively simple. To grasp where one person is in their faith, understanding of God, and engagement in a Christian worldview is likely. Not necessarily easy, but certainly possible.

With an audience of 10, the task gets more complicated — potentially 10 times more complicated in fact. A larger audience brings a larger diversity of backgrounds, understandings, willingness to believe, and willingness to apply ideas or new truths.

Grow the audience to 100, or 1,000, or 10,000, and the task gets exponentially more complex.

In the face of this complexity, there is one preaching mistake I see more than any other:

Too many sermons are crafted around unshared faith assumptions.

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4 Steps to Not Overreact to the Disgruntled Attendee

As a leader you are forced to make decisions, and if your church or company is bigger than you, these decisions will inevitably be upsetting to someone. Decisions have a way of upsetting the status quo. In many cases, the lack of success or progress with the status quo is why decisions are necessary.

Not to oversimplify it, but when decisions are made, the response seems to come from two separate categories of people:

1. The vocal disgruntled
2. The quiet supporters

The first category causes us to question our decision. The response (at least the vocal response) seems disproportionately in one direction. And this disproportionate response can be unnerving.

The second category really does bring balance to the conversation, but their quiet support doesn’t ring as loudly as the disgruntled.

Facing this seemingly unbalanced response, leaders begin to either question their decisions, or worse, seek to make decisions that are more “vocally” supported.

But vocal support can feel like an organizational oxymoron. You’ve never called your local pizza delivery chain to thank them for your delivery, but you might have called to complain when your pie is late. People never call our church to tell us we’re doing a great job, but they have no problem letting us know when something doesn’t happen as they expect.

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50 Shades of Theological Gray

How comfortable are you with theological unknowns?

My church upbringing formed a belief system that did not allow for any theological variance. There was black and white and not much in between, and a “lukewarm” verse taken out of context was always used to substantiate the point. If you ever hinted at a middle ground (the dreaded gray), you were called “liberal” and were considered to be sliding down the proverbial slippery slope. I’m not sure what is at the bottom of the slippery slope, but to hear my childhood church describe it, I assumed it was hell. Basically a slip ‘n slide with Satan.

It makes sense in some respect. There is absolute truth, and it certainly seems possible that opening up truth to interpretation could lead to a complete loss of truth. Many seminaries thrive on this fear. There is a legitimate argument to be made IF every issue has ONE absolute truth. To me, the definition of “issue” becomes the real “issue.”

Take Jesus, as an example. There is certainly absolute truth when it comes to his Messiahship. His death and resurrection are true and critical to faith.

But what about baptism (and the Christians get nervous)? Is it required for salvation? Does submersion count more than sprinkling? I won’t get us started on infant and age-of-accountability!

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The Multisite Mistake Nearly Every Church Makes

I love being a part of the multisite church movement. And it’s certainly a movement!

According to the most recent research I’ve seen, this movement in the church has grown from 100 to 8,000 since the year 2000. That’s explosive growth. All the cool kids are doing it, right?

Of course, with any rapidly growing phenomenon, there will be issues and problems to navigate. The multisite movement certainly isn’t immune to issues. We should probably come back to this topic a few more times, but for now, let’s take a moment and address one specific tension between existing locations and newer campuses.

For background, I am a Campus Pastor. We call it Lead Pastor, but that distinction deserves its own post. I’ve been leading at Woodstock City Church, a campus of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, for nearly seven years. In this time, we’ve experienced a great deal of change in attendance, meeting locations, and staff just to name a few. All along the way, one of the greatest tensions we’ve navigated was learning to act our age.

Here’s what I mean specifically.

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Could Your Growing Ministry be Responsible for Your Shrinking Passion?

What do you do when your pastoring passion is shrinking?

It happens to us all, so we better have some answers.

Unfortunately, too many of our answers involve walking away from ministry, from our current churches, and from even our families, friends, and ourself.

A loss of passion can happen for many, many reasons. I’d like for us to consider one of the most common and equally hidden reasons of them all. I stumbled upon this truth a year or two ago. I was in a funk. I was partially questioning my role, my responsibilities, and even ministry as a profession. I was considering reentering the marketplace. As I began contemplating how I arrived in the funk, I realized over time our church (and everything around it) had grown somewhat substantially. Initially, this realization didn’t connect any dots. But, it did begin to launch a discovery process.

To go back in time a bit… In the beginning years, we would have staff meeting in my car on the way to lunch. We were a much smaller church with way fewer resources. The entire staff served as the president and the janitor. We were all needed for basically every element of ministry that happened in and through our church. As we grew, we added staff. We added complexity. We added complications. We added a building. Throughout the change, our roles and responsibilities also changed. As the Lead Pastor, I continued to function as the president, but the janitorial elements I often did in the past faded away. We had other staff to handle some of the things I used to do.

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Why We Should Stop Comparing Our Average to Everyone Else’s Awesome

I had the opportunity to preach last Sunday. I love when I those weeks roll around.

After our final service concluded (we have three every week), my production director asked me the same question we ask every communicator at the end of each Sunday: “Which message would you like to be the ‘master?’” The master message is the one that is uploaded to all our online portals.

We talked for a moment about each and ultimately decided the 11:00 a.m. message was the best of the three.

And that got me to thinking. Every week, all across the country, pastors and leaders are being recorded. But more often than not, there is a good deal of editing, re-communicating, and “let’s try that again” happening before it ever goes public. We watch these other preachers and teachers and feel both inspired by their message and intimidated by their abilities.

But we’re only seeing their 11:00 a.m. service. We’re only seeing their highlight reels. We’re only seeing their best. It’s like social media profile pictures and the 15,000 selfies that were posted while you read the word “selfie.” More than ever, we have the ability to only post what’s best. And with that, we are positioned like never before to be intimidated by others and convinced we aren’t good enough. In contrast, we seem to only remember our 9:00 a.m. message, where the crowd was still on their first cup of coffee and our production crew was, too.

When we only remember their highlight and our lowlight, we find ourselves in a dark place.

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Why Are People Less Interested in Attending Your Church?

I recently listed 10 areas in our church where we are not satisfied. Nothing is necessarily broken, but there is room for evaluation and improvement.

The law of diminishing astonishment is partially to blame for a few items on the list, like decreasing attendance patterns from regular attendees and lack of enthusiasm within the upper grades of some family ministry departments.

This law reflects the reality of how extraordinary today begins to feel ordinary over time. For example:

  • People who attend our church for the first time can’t believe the musical talent. They are surprised by our excellence. And they are moved by their experience.
  • New guests love how we orchestrate the parking lot with volunteers and egress.
  • First-time families can’t believe how we prioritize their children’s experience — even texting parents during the service with an update if needed.

I could go on, but you get the point. In your church, a similar phenomenon is happening, too. People are walking in for the first time, and their initial experience is extraordinary. The problem is human nature. Because the experiences you are creating week in and week out are equally extraordinary. In many cases, the experience is improving over time as you evaluate and improve. But the rate of new can’t keep up with the human condition.

That’s the law: What’s extraordinary today will feel ordinary over time. The employees at Disney suffer from this law. People who live at the beach suffer from this reality. And so do the people attending our churches. It causes them to attend less frequently. It causes them to engage less prolifically. It causes us to want to quit.

Our initial solution is to create more new, different, and improving experiences. We’ve all tried that, and we’ve all failed to one-up ourselves over and over again. It’s impossible. There’s simply no way to move faster than the human condition. So what can we do?

How can we fight the law of diminishing astonishment?

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Always Content, Never Satisfied

I love this sentiment: “Be content, not satisfied.”

I can’t remember when I first heard it. It sounds like something John Maxwell would say, but I’m not sure. It’s certainly not a new idea. But for many leaders, mastering the power of this statement is novel and can provide new innovations and invigorate change.

At Woodstock City Church where I lead, we are constantly fighting to remain content, but not satisfied. Content because we are partnering with God and his church. Unsatisfied because the mission of God’s church is too big to every feel like it is complete. We take this so seriously around our church that we even labeled it “Make it Better,” one of our six core staff behaviors. “Make it Better” means never fall prey to believing we have arrived.

You know that in an ever-evolving culture, we can never stop evolving our approach, our model, or our strategies. As my friend and boss (Andy Stanley) likes to say, “We must be married to our mission, not our model.”

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