5 Dumb Leadership Assumptions You Never Learned in Seminary

After two seminary degrees and 35 years in ministry, I’ve gleaned a few insights I wish I’d learned long ago. Although my seminary profs never directly taught me to question the dumb leadership assumptions I’ve listed below, even if they had I wonder if in my youthful enthusiasm I would have listened. Unfortunately it often takes the hard knocks in ministry to teach us what we must know.

Don't assume text concept write on notebook with pen

As you read each assumption below, ask yourself if you agree. I’ll comment on each of them after the list.

  1. What worked before should work again.
  2. Church people will always respect a pastor’s position.
  3. When leaders stay silent, they are agreeing with you.
  4. Reason always prevails.
  5. Everybody perceives the same reality.

It’s taken a few years for me to realize it, but each of these has proved grossly false.

What worked before should work again.

It just doesn’t. Culture changes. Technology changes. Expectations from church people changes. If we as leaders and churches don’t consider how we can do ministry better, this proverbial definition of insanity proves true: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Church people will always respect a pastor’s position.

I recall one preacher who quoted Psalm 105.15 (KJV) Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. He used it in the context of elevating the pastor’s role to an esteemed position. It may be nice if people do that, but some people won’t respect just because you are a pastor. Sometimes the contrary proves true. Your role actually may elicit disrespect from some.

When leaders stay silent, they are agreeing with you.

I’ve tripped on this one a lot. Too often when I’m jazzed about an idea and share it with key leaders or staff, I’ve gotten blank stares or simple nods when I first shared it. I’ve interpreted those nods and stares as resounding support from them. After all, if they objected, they should have said so right then. In retrospect, however, often they were simply being polite. Although I had spent sufficient time to process my idea, they hadn’t. By not asking questions or providing them more soak time before implementing the idea, I’ve often found later that they never really liked it. The result? At best reluctant acquiescence and at worst, active resistance. But, when I’ve provided sufficient soak time, the idea often evolved into an even better one that the leaders really embraced.

Reason always prevails.

Unfortunately, emotion often trumps reason, even among mature leaders. I’m learning more about how neuroscience affects church leadership, especially when hormones hijack clear thinking. Check out this post to find out if your emotional brain has hijacked your leadership.

Everybody perceives the same reality.

In court, lawyers often use conflicting testimony to their advantage. The same holds true in churches. People simply perceive reality differently. Some may see the church as going great. Others may see the opposite. It can become frustrating at times for every leader. When those conflicts arise, seek wise counsel from someone outside of the conflict who can provide objectivity.

What assumptions have you found to be false in your ministry?

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10 Ways NOT to Grow a Church

We often read posts about ways we can grow our churches. But seldom do we read about ways that DON’T grow our churches. Consider these 10 ways NOT to grow a church.

dont even think about it written on a notepad paper. illustration design

How not to grow a church.

  1. Never say, “No.”
  2. Please everybody.
  3. Don’t take a vacation.
  4. Strategize first, pray later.
  5. Act like you have it all together.
  6. Try to figure out what others are saying about you.
  7. Secretly criticize churches that are growing faster than yours.
  8. Try to make each service bigger and better than the previous week’s service.
  9. Immediately implement the techniques you just learned from a church growth conference.
  10. Disregard, marginalize, or forget the 9 ways above.

What would you add to this list?

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6 Faith Qualities Every Leader should Embody

Hebrews 11, one of the greatest chapters in all the Bible, lists several faith heroes from the past and includes details about their lives that evidence great faith. We often refer to this chapter as the ‘faith’ chapter. It offers leaders profound insight about faith that we must believe and embody to effectively lead. I suggest these 6 faith qualities every leader should embody.

Compass with arrow pointing to the word faith. 3D render image suitable for religion or self confidence concept

6 Faith Qualities Every Leader should Embody.

  1. Faith pleases God.
    • The write of Hebrews begins the chapter by reminding us that  God commended the ancients for their faith (v 2). He emphasizes that idea with, Without faith it is impossible to please God (v 6). If we want our leadership to please God, we must exercise true faith and trust in Him.
  1. Faith does not eliminate uncertainty or discomfort.
    • Verse 7 recounts God’s command to Noah to build an ark. Up to this point Noah had probably never seen rain. Yet, he exercised faith when he built a giant boat on dry land. Verse 8 tells us that God told Abraham to go to a place he had never visited before nor even seen. Yet, he obeyed in faith. Both of these biblical characters faced great uncertainty, yet showed great faith.
    • In fact, when we exercise faith (take a step into uncertainty) we actually may feel a bit fearful or anxious because our brains don’t like uncertainty. When we face uncertainty the fear centers of our brains cause specific hormones to enter our blood stream and certain neurotransmitters to increase in our brain which creates anxiety and even fear. So, a step of faith as a leader may initially cause us emotional discomfort. It’s normal. It’s a biological process we can’t avoid. Feeling such emotions doesn’t necessarily reflect lack of faith.
  1. Faith takes the long view.
    • When God told Abraham to go to a new land he, was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (v 10). The secret of Abraham’s patience was his hope in the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of God. His ultimate Promised Land was heaven, just as ours is.
    • Even in verse 13 the writer of Hebrews tells us that these faith heroes,  were still living by faith when they died and that, They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance (v 13). Leadership requires that we take the long view of ministry, not rating our ministry success by the inevitable short-term setbacks.
  1. Faith confronts the impossible.
    • In verse 11 we read about God’s promise to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son, although he was 99 and she was 90. Such a pregnancy at their age seemed humanly impossible. How did Abraham reconcile that? I love what Kent Hughes says.
    • “He weighed medical probabilities of them having a child at such an old age (humanly impossible) with the divine impossibility of God being able to break his word and decided that since God is God, this would not be impossible.”

    • He goes on to make this insightful point. “We are not to indulge in fideism—faith without reason—or rationalism—reason without faith. We are to rationally assess all of life. We are to live reasonably. When we are aware that God’s Word says thus-and-so, we are to rationally assess it, [believe God at his Word, and obey] my notation.”[1]

    • Sometimes ministry challenges seem impossible to hurdle. Faith gives us the courage, however, to confront those impossible challenges.

  1. Faith requires sacrifice.
    • In verses 17-19 God asks Abraham to do the incredible, to sacrifice his promised son. Abraham had never seen a resurrection but reasoned that God must be able to raise him from the dead. Unknown to Abraham, God had other plans all along (He had prepared another sacrifice). But his faith prompted him to act sacrificially. Healthy leaders recognize that leadership often requires great sacrifice.
  1. Faith enables perseverance.
    • In verses 32-35 Hebrews lists the incredible successes of several biblical heroes who exercised faith. By human standards the heroes in this list were true winners.
    • Fortunately the writer doesn’t end this chapter there. He pivots to a new list, a list of those who also exercised great faith but experienced horrible difficulties. Yet, These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v 39).
    • Sometimes we lead at our best yet see little or no progress, experience great heartache, and feel like giving up. During those times, perhaps the supreme mark of genuine faith is our courage in the face of such difficulties.

Every leader must lead with great faith. Those who have gone before us model what it means to lead with such faith.

What have you learned about faith and leadership?

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[1] Hughes, R. K. (1993). Hebrews: an anchor for the soul (Vol. 2, p. 100). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

 

12 Powerful Questions Pastors should ask about Effective Leadership

In the book First, Break all the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they list 12 core questions the Gallup organization discovered that when asked, give organizations the information they need to attract, focus on, and keep the most talented employees. I’ve included them here as a helpful set of questions about effective leadership pastors should ask themselves and ask about those who serve on their staff.

Speech bubble with the word questions on white background.

12 core questions about effective leadership

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my church make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Questions have a way of making us think deeply.

What questions would you add to this list?

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4 Tips that will Make your Presentations, Talks, and Sermons Sticky

If you are a pastor or a leader, you deliver sermons, talks, and presentations. And you probably spend significant time preparing them. So it makes sense to deliver them in ways that make them sticky, that is, stick in the listeners’ minds and hearts. In this post I share some science based insight to consider as you prepare your talks and sermons.

An open microphone awaits the next act at a summer music festival

Tips to improve how much people remember your sermons and talks:

  1. Remember how much of the listener’s brain is dedicated toward visual processing.
    • God created our brains so that about 20% is dedicated solely to visual processing (the back part called the occipital lobe). Add to that the parts of the brain that indirectly deal with visual processing and almost 50% of our brain is dedicated to the visual directly or indirectly. So, a lot of brain real estate is ready for visual stimulation. This insight alone should make us think how to maximize the visual in our talks and presentations.
  2. Use color in your power point presentations as much as possible.
    • If you’ve ever wondered why Facebook and Twitter use blue, well, the brain really likes the color blue. Color evokes emotion and feelings. Color improves retention and enhances learning.
  3. Use pictures over text.
    • The old adage a picture is worth a thousand words is based in neuroscience because of number 1 above. Pictures are easier on the brain than words are. It takes twice as long to process and recognize words as it does to do the same for pictures. One study found that we can process pictures 10 times faster than blinking the eye.
    • And faces…God hard-wired our brains to respond to faces. When we were born the first thing we focused on were faces. And a specific part of the brain is dedicated to facial recognition.
    • If you only hear a piece of information, a few days later you will only remember 10% of it. But if a picture were added to it, your recall increases to 65%. And you can remember up to 2,000 pictures with little learning. That’s not true with learning words. So, use pictures in you presentation.
  4. When you must use text, use short words.
    • We’ve all probably endured someone deliver a talk with powerpoints filled with words. And you probably forgot everything. Why is that a problem? It’s because we actually process words we see using the auditory brain pathways. So, when you are listening to someone give a talk, we’re actually having to use our auditory pathways doubly, to listen and to process the words from the screen. We’re actually switching our attention back and forth.
    • So, do you eliminate words from your presentations? No. But when you do use them, use short ones, draw attention to them with circles, arrows, etc., and be consistent with each slide (don’t have a different layout each time).

It’s amazing how a few tweaks in your talks can improve listener retention.

What have you done that has helped your listener retain more of what you say?

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