5 Reasons Churches should Often Celebrate Wins

Several years ago the church where I served celebrated its 25th year anniversary and we planned a big celebration. I’ve shared below what we did and then some key learnings about the importance of celebration.

Party Candles on a Slice of Birthday Cake

What we did…

Our creative arts team created a fantastic experience that told the story of the last 25 years in all three of our services that weekend. It included several video testimonies, several ‘best of’ dramas, and some of the church’s favorite solos through the years.

I spoke for less that five minutes. I made a last minute change to can my 15 minute prepared message because I felt it would intrude into the moment. We finished the service with some incredible worship. We then held a picnic afterwards that provided lots of fellowship time for former members to mingle with their friends still at the church.

What I learned…

I reflected on this experience and believe these five reasons justify regular celebrations, whether you celebrate major milestones or small ministry wins.

  1. Scripture often tells us to remember God’s blessings (Ps 77.11). Celebration helps us embody that truth.
  2. Celebration helps people feel like they are part of a movement that is truly winning.
  3. Celebration helps mitigate a message that our ‘success’ culture often breeds that we don’t measure up.
  4. Celebration builds confidence in leadership that they are leading the church in the right direction.
  5. Celebration taps that ‘made in God’s image’ part of us. God created us to worship and when we celebrate His goodness, we feel most fully alive.

So, our 25th year anniversary reminded me that as a pastor I must lead our church to often celebrate our wins, even the small ones.

How do you regularly celebrate your church’s wins?

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A Leader’s Heart: 5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself

The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37), one of Jesus’ most famous stories, describes the power of true love. In this story, Jesus contrasts those with big heads (the priest and the levite who had heads full of Bible knowledge) with one who had a big heart, the Samaritan. This story also offers clues about leaders with big hearts. Read that passage and then ask yourself these 5 questions based on the story and evaluate your own leadership heart.

Hands make heart shape
  1. Do I serve others based on their needs or upon the potential value they may bring to my ministry or cause?
    • Historically, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Yet, the Samaritan stopped and aided the man who had been robbed and left for dead.
  2.  Am I willing to be inconvenienced in order to serve others?
    • The Samaritan had places to be, yet he was willing to be inconvenienced. He paid a price with his time and money because he didn’t view people as an inconvenience.
  3. When faced with an opportunity to serve another, do I use the excuse, “Somebody else will”?
    • Research has proven that when I have an opportunity to help someone if I think somebody else will help, the chances I will help drop precipitously. It’s called the bystander effect.
  4. Do I simply talk the talk or do I walk my talk? 
    • The priest and the levite both were trained in the Scriptures, as are pastors. They knew the right stuff but it didn’t affect their behavior. They talked it but didn’t walk it. Genuine love for God is less about what you know than what you do.
  5. Do I serve so much that I lose myself in the process?
    • In ministry, needs never go away and we can easily serve with few limits. The Samaritan served the man by the road and he kept healthy boundaries at the same time. He didn’t bring him back to his home nor did he obligate himself financially for the rest of his life. And after he took are of him, he continued on his journey.

John Maxwell is known for this saying.

People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. 

Great advice for pastors and leaders.

Have have you made your heart larger?

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Evaluating your Staff with a Simple 360 Degree Assessment

Leaders need healthy feedback to lead well. An excellent process, a 360 assessment, has helped me grow in several areas. Simply put, a 360 assessment seeks input from your peers, your supervisor, your subordinates, and a few others. I’ve had two 360’s done on me, one very extensive, and one very simple that I recommend to other pastors and spiritual leaders. I’ve described the process below.

Hand writing 360 Degrees Feedback with red marker, business concept

The simple assessment gave each of our staff pastors 1 to 3 growth areas on which to focus. One of mine was to make sure that when I talked to other leaders, I would put myself in their shoes and ask, “Would I feel loved at this moment.” I’m a task guy, and this simple learning has helped me focus more on building relationships.

Here’s the process I’ve used in the simple 360 assessment.

  1. I asked each pastor to give me the names of a few of their leaders from whom they’d want to receive constructive input.
  2. I compiled this list and added a few more.
  3. We sent three questions to each of these people and asked them to honesty answer the questions.
  4. We kept them anonymous by sending the responses to one leader not on staff who compiled the responses.
  5. I and one of our elders compiled themes out of the responses. We also culled any hurtful comments or those that had no true bearing on leadership growth.
  6. I met with each pastor and shared the themes we discovered (usually 1-3 areas on which to focus).
  7. Each pastor then selected 2 people in his ministry orbit with whom he would share his growth areas and ask for regular accountability.

The end result? A way to address growth areas in a positive and proactive way.

Below you’ll find the email we sent to those we asked to evaluate.

Dear name,

As part of our annual review process we are collecting information about the potential and performance of our staff pastors. You are one of several chosen either by the pastor being evaluated or by me.

Would you please help by giving us your candid feedback, with truth and love, to the questions below?

The answers you give will not be presented verbatim to the pastor, nor will the pastor know who made any specific comment. The responses will be kept anonymous.  After the responses are received (around six respondents per pastor) one of our elders and I will group them into themes.  Then I will perform the annual review with that pastor along with a self-review each pastor will do on himself.

We want to serve our church with our best.  I will also participate by having the pastors and elders anonymously answer the same questions about me.

Here are the questions:

  • What’s going well under name’s leadership?
  • What’s not going well under name’s leadership?
  • What’s missing under name’s leadership?

Please respond with your answers to the email address below within the next five days. Name (the objective leader) will receive them and remove your name to keep them totally anonymous.

Healthy evaluation and feedback can become a tremendous tool to lift our leadership game. I encourage you to use a 360 assessment with your staff. It may feel a bit scary before it’s done. But if done well, you and your leaders will profit from the experience.

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3 Simple Questions that Can Make or Break Leadership Effectiveness

Sometimes leaders can view their role only encompassing the big-picture, long-term, and strategic kind of stuff. I’ve learned, however, that how I treat simple one-on-one encounters with others may impact my leadership and my church in greater ways than my big-picture stuff. I suggest silently asking yourself these three questions when you’re with another person at your church or organization.

Business people standing with question mark on boards

3 Key Questions that Can Make or Break Leadership Effectiveness

  • If I were in this person’s shoes, would he or she feel loved by me?
  • What does this person need from me now and how can I meet it?
  • What is God doing in this person’s life and how does He want me to help?

Perhaps these questions are ways to live out the maxim, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

What are some other subtle leadership insights you’ve learned that affect leadership effectiveness?

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What Snorkeling Taught me about Selecting Leaders

Several years ago I spent ten days with my family vacationing in the Bahamas in a condo literally steps from the beach. The snorkeling was dazzling. I saw over two dozen varieties of fish, excluding the nurse sharks, dolphins, and a giant starfish I found. My experience with three specific fish reminded me that we leaders must keep certain principles in mind when we select other leaders to serve with us.

snorkeling, silhouette of woman hand with mask and snorkel

One day while on that vacation we took a powerboat trip to a private island in the Exumas, a collection of islands in the Bahamas. The experience included feeding grapes to threatened iguanas and fish slivers to giant stingrays. The highlight was when the tour guides fed grouper carcasses to lemon sharks and reef sharks as we stood a mere ten feet away.

Schools of triangular-shaped silver fish about the size of saucers also swam a few feet from the shore and after our broiled grouper lunch, I decided to try an experiment. I put on my goggles, took two hotdog buns, and waded out into the water. I pinched off small bits of the bun and dropped them a foot in front of me while I was under water. A feeding frenzy ensued reminiscent of a piranhas’ attack.

As long as I gave these fish hotdog buns, they stuck around. But once I ran out, they scattered. Here’s the principle I learned from these fish.

1. Shy away from prospective leaders who just want a piece of you. These people are mostly takers.

I often snorkeled in a reef about two hundred yards east of the beach in front of our condo. One day as I swam there the reef shelf suddenly dropped from a depth of four feet to over ten feet into a horseshoe-shaped mini-lagoon. I looked to my left and saw the most beautiful fish I had ever seen, a fish about a foot long with huge feather-like fins. Unlike most fish when I dove down toward it, this one wasn’t frightened. For ten minutes I snorkeled about two feet away from this magnificent fish.

When I returned to the condo I described the fish to my daughter and she exclaimed, “Dad, I think that fish was a lionfish. It’s poisonous!” I responded, “No, it couldn’t be.” I then googled ‘lionfish’ and the picture in Wikipedia included this caption: The lionfish’s attack posture. That posture was the one the fish took when I was snorkeling. As I read further, I learned that if you touched one of its spines you’d experience severe headaches, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. If you didn’t get immediate emergency medical attention you could die. Apparently the lionfish was waiting for me to get close so he could sting me.

I had been so enthralled with the fish’s beauty that I almost put myself in a dangerous situation because I didn’t know enough about the species. Here’s the second principle I learned from the lion fish.

2. Carefully vet those who dazzle you with the first impression they make on you. First impressions can deceive.

Call me stupid, but the next day I went to the same reef hoping to see the lionfish again. This time I wanted a picture, from a safe distance though. It wasn’t there, but as I floated I noticed a piece of seaweed about the size of a large pencil carpenters use to mark wood. For some reason I kept looking at it and as my eyes focused on this floating ‘seaweed’ I realized it was actually a fish. From my elementary school days I remember seeing a picture of this species called a ‘trumpet fish,’ a relative of the seahorse.

I almost missed seeing this unique fish because it blended so well into the reef’s background. Here’s the third leadership selection principle I learned from my fish experience.

3. Your best leaders may be right in front of you and yet you don’t notice them. Often they won’t stand out in a crowd (much like how David didn’t ‘look’ like a king when God told Samuel to pick him).

So, the next time you face a leadership selection decision, consider these three principles.

What principles have helped you make good leader selections?

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