leadership, pastors, health

Holiday Survival Guide

Unknown-3Let’s face it, the frenzy of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons seem to come earlier and move faster along with a “Christmas Wish” list that grows almost as long as the lines at the mall. Then there are the obligatory events, parties, concerts, fundraisers, year-end meetings, and a new year beckoning for us to be at our visionary and resolved best as leaders.

How do you keep from getting caught up in the merry madness? Here are 5 ways to survive the holidays, maybe even enjoy them again…

1) Declare your intentions now. Talk about your desire to avoid the mayhem this year with your spouse, kids, lead team, co-workers, etc. Ask them for input into how, together, you can avoid the overkill that so often accompanies what one classic song describes as, “The most wonderful time of the year.”

2) Plan on doing (and spending) less and experiencing more. This doesn’t mean taking a page out of the “Christmas with the Cranks” playbook with an all-out boycott. It does mean choosing to say “No” to some otherwise festive events that, collectively, only serve to bring out the “bah-humbug” in all of us. And, why not opt for more thoughtful and less expensive gifts for your loved-ones and friends? This may just start a trend everyone will be grateful for and happy to follow.

3) Eat less, exercise (and sleep) more. Determine to enjoy your favorite holiday foods in moderation and to stay active. And, no, “Black Friday” doesn’t count as aerobic exercise. Get the rest you need by going to bed a little earlier and, when that rare opportunity presents itself, take a “power nap.” Why wait until the New Year to resolve and live healthier?

4) Serve together. What if you gathered your family or small group and traded a day looking for a parking space and standing in crowded lines shopping for an afternoon volunteering at a homeless shelter or evening caroling at a nursing home? Do this with no other agenda than to be a blessing to others.

5) Hit the “pause” button often. No, we can’t always drop everything for several hours. Still, be intentional about some 15-30 minute moments of reflection daily, social media free! Make a list of all the people and the things you are most thankful for. Read the Christmas story (Luke 2) slowly and reflect on what “Immanuel, God with us” really means to you.

You don’t have to settle for merely surviving this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Determine to take back this holiday season and discover again the true reasons for the season.

How to be a BIG Church

Unknown-12I Love BIG Churches – Part 4

How to be a BIG Church!

Bigger is always better when it comes to some things… but we aren’t talking about mere numbers. Regardless of the size of your ministry and the greater demographic you are hoping to influence, here are some ways you can go BIG for Christ.

5 Ways to be a BIG Church…

1) BIG prayer. You can be certain of this, “Whenever God determines to do a great work, He first sets His people to pray!” (Charles Spurgeon) Fast and pray together in increasingly creative ways… 24hr prayer summits, days of fasting, scripture praying, prayer walls, stations and more. Simply put, you and your ministry family cannot pray enough as you align yourself with God’s unique purpose for you!

2) BIG worship. It doesn’t have to be a large venue or a long service to worship well and dive deep together into the Word of God. Make your times of gathering as a congregation a priority not only for you, but for those neighbors and friends you are inviting to join you. Give your best and make it all about Jesus!

3) BIG service. Who are you partnering with in your community to meet needs and be the hands and feet of Jesus? From a local school’s tutoring program to a homeless shelter, from a foster parenting group to a ministry fighting human trafficking, there are people with a heart for service you can partner with in your sphere of influence!

4) BIG giving. Don’t be afraid to inspire and inform often about the importance of tithes and offerings. Why? Because of the partnership potential it brings to the Kingdom of Christ. Keep the motivations before your people… from missionaries abroad to local and regional ministries, remind often that giving makes it go as God multiplies it for His glory!

5) BIG love. “Love one another.” The most influential thing any church has going for them is their capacity to love each other. People are attracted to people who genuinely care for one another, in spite of faults, failures and sins. Through small groups gathering often to simply being there for each other on a daily basis… leave no doubt in your communities mind that you are love by God and love one another in a BIG, BIG way!

Be BIG and go BIGGER and BIGGER in the ways that truly matter. The numbers will take care of themselves as people come to Jesus and you grow disciples who make disciples!

Here’s a BIG BONUS for small/medium sized churches… check out Breaking 200 Without Breaking You by Carrie Nieuwhof.

I Love BIG Churches 2

Unknown-4I Love BIG Churches – Part 2

4 Ways to Beat BIG Church Bitterness

It’s been said that, “A few apples spoil the bunch.” The big bad BIG Church reputation may actually apply to a few who have, unfortunately, earned it well. Still, I have found these to be the exception. Regardless, how we respond and relate to others is on us. Bitterness of any kind, for any reason, is unhealthy and quickly becomes a disease that infects a lead team (staff) and even entire church culture. So, what do you do with it once you recognize it?

Here are 4 Ways to Beat BIG Church Bitterness

1. Confess it. Get rid of it. You’ve held on long enough. Confess it to the Lord. Then, go to those you have spoken ill of and seek their forgiveness. Do the same with those you have infected and then repent of it. How? By speaking encouragement and blessing. Remember the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice…”

2. Pray for them. It’s hard to have bad feelings towards people you are sincerely praying for. I don’t know how this works, I just know it does. Pray those BIG Church leaders receive wisdom, faith, influence, blessing, peace and more as they serve the One they will ultimately answer to… just like you. Do this privately, do it as a lead team and even in your large settings, meetings and services. Remember, “What goes around, comes around.”

3. Learn from them. They may not always know better than you, but they might know some things you don’t. Maybe you know what they know and they have simply done what you haven’t? Either way, be humble enough to admit that they might know (and practice) somethings that may yet prove very healthy for you and your ministry culture. DON’T NOT BE AND NOT DO EXCELLENT THINGS JUST SO YOU WON’T BE LIKE “That BIG Church.”

4. Partner with them. Could it be that God’s people are better together than apart? Of course. And, I get it… different groupings of God’s people have and will exist until Jesus comes again. God uses them in unique ways to carry out His greater will. Still, aren’t there some things we could do better together to reach the lost and impact our communities for Christ? You won’t know until you try, until you ask. Take the lead on this…

Seek out that BIG Church leader. Encourage them, share concerns with them, pray for them. Yes, you will probably have to make an appointment. That’s just areality of leading a larger organization with a different system of doing business. Yes, it is a business… and, there is no more important business than the Father’s business. Jesus thought so. No, they may not be interested. However, imagine what God could do through His people if they did!

Whatever you do, don’t live and lead bitter. Let BIG Church bitterness go. It will only burn you and, worse, those you love. Refocus your energy. Big, small, mega, milt-site, home-based… there is so much potential yet to be realized as you invest in God’s unique plan for you and those you serve with!

 

I Love BIG Churches!

Unknown-2I Love BIG Churches: Part 1

Are You BIG Church Bitter?

We all know the story.  One of those “BIG Churches” starts growing and then explodes in number. They get bigger and bigger while other churches get smaller. Some even close their doors and it’s all the fault of that “BIG Church.” But, is this an entirely true story?

Why are we tackling this “elephant in the room” among church leaders? It’s simply because we want to see churches of any size grow and gain more and more influence for Christ in their communities! Who knows? If more leaders spent less time criticizing others and more time uniting, praying, leading, serving and simply being God’s people in their communities, maybe their own influence would grow a little more? Oddly enough I began working on this series over a year ago when I was leading a wonderful, smaller congregation and, having pastored two of “those BIG churches” (and now on staff at another “BIG Church”)… my heart hurt every time I needed to confront BIG Church Bitterness.

If you find yourself a critic of big churches, and an even bigger critic of “mega churches,” this mulit-part series may be for you.

Here are 5 Signs You are BIG Church Bitter…

1. You speak negative about their leaders. Do you find yourself questioning or, worse, condemning big church leaders for things like preaching too shallow or leading too “CEO?” Your inner narrative is even worse when you think about these leaders!

2. You speak negative about their people. Obviously everyone that attends “that big church” does so because they can stay anonymous. They show up for the “big show” and leave. They don’t have to be and aren’t truly invested.

3. You are convinced you are deeper spiritually. You wouldn’t dare say it, however, your leadership and your people are simply deeper and better followers of Jesus Christ. You preach, teach and practice the truth, the whole Gospel and they don’t. Besides, they can’t possibly be true to the Word and have that big of a following.

4. You are sure they make a bigger impact only because they are bigger (and have more money). Here’s a good question to ask yourself, “Can big churches do what they do because they are big… or are they big because they’ve done what they’ve done?”

5. You secretly wish you were like them. Someone once said, “Methinks he doth protest too much.” (Hamlet paraphrase) Of course, you aren’t one of these. Some leaders might, but you insist you would never want their level of influence or the responsibility that comes with it. You have never once coveted their salaries which, of course, are too big. Yet, for someone who doesn’t care about “that big church,” you sure spend a lot of time and emotional equity thinking and talking about them among your leadership and people.

Here’s the problem with these 5 signs… they are all sin. They don’t curry the favor of God and only keep His favor from flowing. Talking bad (often disguised as sarcasm) may score points with people who are quick to agree and then stroke the egos of their far more spiritual leaders, but God simply hates it for what it is… disunity. It’s one thing to critique leadership and organizational styles and systems, it’s another to get personal. I’ll refrain from the Bible lesson. Needless to say God’s Spirit and Word combine to oppose BIG church bitterness and the counter-productive culture it creates. If you truly love the Lord, His Body, and desire to reach the lost for His glory… you’ll stop.

It’s time to see that”BIG church” (and maybe yourself) in a different light. Ask yourself, “Am I BIG Church bitter?”

Coming up next in this series:

I Love BIG Churches: Part 2… How to Beat Big Church Bitterness.                                        I Love BIG Churches Part 3… Exposing BIG Church Myths                                                                                           I Love BIG Churches Part 4…Questions to Ask about BIG Churches

Some Advice for Pastors – Part 2

UnknownHere is my second piece of advice for pastors at any stage of your leadership journey…

Lead Your Team.

By leading your team, I’m not talking about visioning, strategizing, planning, resourcing, training, etc. There is no shortage of books, conferences, coaching, and more to help you lead well on these fronts. I’m talking about something far better… and far riskier.

I was a young, eager pastor, attending one of my first national general assembly sessions. I was a little in awe of seeing some of the leaders I had heard about and was determined to glean from their insights. I saw one such leader, Dr. Carl Flewellen, across the crowded lobby and walked up and said, “Hi, I’m Tom and I’m a new pastor. What advice would you give to a young pastor just starting out?” Without hesitation he put his hand on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eye and said, “Love’em. Just love’em!” This wasn’t the advice I expected, but just what I needed.

Anyone can attend a leadership simulcast and implement the latest in leadership principles with their teams… and I’m a big fan of stuff like this! However, if you aren’t wise enough and brave enough to truly get to know your lead team, their hurts and hopes for themselves and their families… you aren’t really leading to potential and your team is far less than they can be. You may be managing well, but you aren’t leading like Jesus. Dare to develop a relationship with them.

Know your team and care for them personally with the love and compassion of Christ. No, you can’t do this with an entire congregation (although you can die trying!). What you can do with your lead team (staff or lay-leaders) is to partner in far more than your organizational vision and values. Share their lives and they will be far more likely to share your vision.

Piece of advice #2 is simple… “Just love’em!” 

Some Advice for Pastors: Part 1

imagesWhether you are thinking about pastoring, just getting started or are have been at it a long time, here are 3 pieces of friendly advice I’ve picked up after 27 years of being just called and crazy enough to keep doing it…

Lead Yourself.

“Young man, I don’t know what you do for a living, but you either learn to love what you do or die a young man.” Those were the words an ER Doctor told me after diagnosing a kidney infection, kidney stones, an ulcer, etc. I was a wreck and just fell apart. And, it wasn’t in the middle of a board meeting, either. No, I was actually trying to take some time off going to a St. Louis Cardinals ball game with my family. Too little, too late. Instead, I ended up sick in a bathroom and then half passed out on the sidewalk waiting for my wife to get the car and find the nearest hospital. It took no time for them to discover that my system was all out of whack. The doctor nailed the diagnosis. I was stressed out… way out. I was too embarrassed to tell him I was a pastor, paid to model and preach the abundant life that comes from following Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Although I would have to learn this lesson again (and again)… this was Lesson 101 in learning to manage myself well.

Leading as a team is essential for sustained success in life and leadership. However, while you should have individuals and teams in place for both accountability and encouragement, they are not ultimately responsible for your health. Only you can manage you in a holistic way. I’ll shoot straight, you will be to blame if and when you burn out spiritually, emotionally, relationally and/or physically. Only you can pace yourself, only you can take time off, only you can worship daily, only you can get adequate rest, only you can eat right, only you can exercise, and only you can have a life beyond your title. Bottom line? Only you can lead you. Ministry is hard, and that’s an understatement. Then again, welcome to planet earth. No excuses. Determine now to live for the long haul and lead yourself well.

Leading yourself is my first piece advice for both rookies and veterans of ministry life.

5 Beliefs of Good Leaders

Unknown-2Are you up against something you don’t know how to handle? Is your church or organization stuck with what seems like few solutions?

Here are 5 things good leaders believe and say in tough times…

This is happening. The first people to face facts should be those tasked with leading. Look the problem square in the eye. Don’t let others around you deny the realities or even dumb them down. “It is what it is.” However, you know the deeper truth… it isn’t what it will be, either.

This is hard. Admit your limitations, even your fears. Size up the situation, not making it out to better or worse than it is. This is going to take sustained effort and a lot of focused energy. This won’t be the most fun you’ve ever had as a lead team. Roll up your sleeves and get to it!

God is able. It’s time to apply some stubborn faith. Refuse to give in to negativity and doubt. Start speaking a greater reality over your leadership, people and the situation. Rally around the power of the promises of God in His Word. Speak with the win that is yet to come in heart and mind. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV)

We can do this. It always takes more people (and time!) to get out of trouble than into it. Gather your leadership team. Take the best next step. Engage your people. Partner with experienced outside help through coaching. Whatever you do, don’t go it alone.

There is more. This ins’t the end. You will face this, get through this and you will move on to greater influence, challenge and success as you stay focussed on your mission. You will take a hit or two along the way. However, stay grounded with the humble knowledge that God will be true to His Word & see you through to the other side.

Believe it and speak it while you work it out together!

5 Ways to Encourage Educators

Unknown-1We all have that teacher, coach, bus-driver, librarian, administrator or other educator who played a vital role in us becoming who we are today (Thanks “Coach P” & Mr. Pyle!). As a new school year begins, let’s pay this forward by practicing…

5 Ways to Encourage Educators in Your Life

1) Pray for them daily. Who couldn’t use more prayer? Remember, they face the same real world stuff of life as us. Pray the Lord blesses and strengthens them for their task.

2) Encourage them often. Don’t assume they know how important they are and how much they are appreciated as they mold the minds of our kids! Let them know… often.

3) Be kind in your critique. Take the tone and choose the words you would prefer they use when evaluating your kids or, better yet, your parenting skills. Think honesty and encouragement as a good combo.

4) Be generous at holidays (or anytime “just because.”) Educators aren’t in it for the money. Give them a restaurant gift card, gas card, movie card, coffee shop card… or get together with other parents to buy them a new iPad, send them on a paid weekend away at the destination of their choice. Why not? When they are at their best, so will our kids!

5) Be grateful for their influence on our kids. “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” (Henry Adams) They are investing in life changing moments with our kids. Think of even more ways you can help them do the job and fulfill the call they have assumed.

THANK YOU EDUCATORS!

How do you honor the educators in your life? Share your suggestions in the Reply section below…

Living & Leading “off the grid”

IMG_7325Social media is here to stay. Call it the “new normal,” it’s really not been “new” for quite some time. What matters today is how we as leaders incorporate it into our lives and leadership. Notice… we incorporate it into our lives, not the other way around. With the ease of access and the lure of having the world at our fingertips, how do we manage our use of social media? Here are 3 suggestions…

1) Plan for it. Like anything else of priority, plan on some strategic time slots for writing posts, reading up (blogs, articles, news, etc) and even for your more social side of social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc).  Be sure to include a specific time limit (10-11pm or 6-7am, etc). Otherwise, you may end up caught in the “surf” of the cyber world and realize you have wasted 2+ hours that could and should have been spent living and leading with real people in the real world.

2) Go for it. If you are going to be in the social media stream, then do it right. Write that blog article, share that inspirational post, send that picture that captures just the right family moment. Congratulate, well-wish, emoji to your heart’s content. Please, stay above the fray of all the personal “TMI” and worse, the vicious name-calling, side-taking, and the drama of it all… personal, political or otherwise. Invest your social media time in constructive, thoughtful and productive ways, especially when using your platform to address relevant issues of the day. Michael Hyatt has a wealth of instruction on how to create and manage your social media platform.

I think the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the Christ followers in Ephesus applies well here… “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV) 

3) Turn it off. You don’t have to socially document every waking moment. One professional platform guru I follow ( Jon Acuff) just unplugged for a week and probably only ended up increasing his following for it. People were just waiting for him to get back in the stream and even share a little about what he and his family did while on vacation. Other social media giants never seem to do this when, in reality, they have people they pay to keep up their presence 24/7. You probably don’t have “people” for this and you shouldn’t hold yourself as a leader to their standard. That’s a trap and only creates unrealistic expectations. Find your social media pace and stick to it… posting 1-2 times a week, checking social media 1-2 times a day, etc.

Whatever you do, unplug from the social media world and just take a walk with your spouse, play with your kids, or spend some time in God’s Word and prayer. Resist the temptation to narrate your life and the organization you lead and just live and lead in the reality of the moment. Trust that you have planned for your social media “fix” and just relax and enjoy life in the here-and-now.

You can live and lead in increasingly productive ways and have a strong and consistent social media presence. Manage it well and never let it take over your life and leadership. Live, lead, love, and laugh in the real world with real people. Speaking of the real world…

31 Tips for 2016!

Unknown-1Here is Tip #24 for leaders (especially my pastor friends out there!)… Finish What You Started. Which is why I’m including #25-31 practical tips in this post as well…

It’s so easy to get sidetracked, especially for most visionary type leaders. While we may have done a good job planning, prepping, promoting, praying, and more… we are often too quick to move on to what’s next and forget to follow-through and follow-up on what’s already going. Take a deep breath, gather your team and do your due diligence to see that what gets going, gets done.

#25 – Put down that sticky bun and pick up some clean eating habits. Every day (or meal!) can’t be a “cheat day.” Check out the lifestyle options Advocare has to offer. Yes, I use it. No, I’m not a distributor. I am much healthier than I was last year before I started being a steward of this aging body God has loaned me. Cut way down on the carbs (bread, potatoes and “country fried” anything) and load up on the lean meats, fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.

#26 – Create a standing work station. I use a cafe table that is adjusted high enough to do the trick. You might check out some actual standing desks such as those at Ready Desk. However you do it, don’t just sit there. Stand up, walk around, stay as mobile as possible throughout the day.

#27 – Pray about it. We miss this one constantly. Stop worrying, waiting, planning and plotting and pray for them, it or whatever you are facing. Find some trusted partners to step up, kneel down and pray with and for you. Worry is a waste. Don’t. Do pray vocally, specifically, passionately and constantly.

#28 – Drink half your weight (in ounces) of water every day… or give it a shot, anyway! AND STOP DRINKING THE EMBALMING FLUID KNOWN AS SODA. Take it from a recovering Diet Mountain Dew addict… it’s not doing you any favors. H2O is a large part of the stuff God made us of. Fill your body with it morning, noon and night.

#29 – Stop focusing (obsessing) on those who are against you and your vision. It’s pride masquerading as “concerned” leadership. Pray for them, whoever “they” are, (“Lord, move them up or move them out.”), deal with them in a redemptive but firm way if needed, and then focus on Jesus. Invest in those who are with you and if you must obsess, obsess on getting it done for God’s glory and the good of others.

#30 – Lighten up. Some of the very best advice my dad has given me is this… “Tommy, the world was doing just fine before the two Tom Pelts came along and will do just fine when we are gone.” Ouch… thanks, dad. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Live, laugh, love and lead light.

#31 – Invest in your family! Date your spouse. Put in overtime with your kids. Make family memories and make no apologies for it. In all of the deathbed conversations I have been privileged to take part in, not one person has lamented not making more money, gaining more position and power, or spending more hours at work. I have, however, heard many wish they could have done more for Christ and with their families.

Take nothing for granted and lead with a grounded sense of gratitude to the Lord for the privilege to learn from and lead with others! There you have it… 31 Tips for Leaders in 2016. Got your own tips? Add them to the discussion thread below!