13 Top Quotes from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit #WLS17

Every year I attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at a local video venue with over 50 of our leaders. This year did not disappoint. It was probably the best Summit for my team and me. In this post I list the top 13 quotes from the speakers. If you’ve not been to a Summit, make plans to attend one. It’s a great investment in leaders.

Top GLS quotes:

Andy Stanley:

  • The next generation’s good ideas seldom come from the previous generation.
  • Replace ‘how’ with ‘wow.’ (He’s referring to encouraging people with their ideas rather than discouraging them with, “So how in the world could we do that?”)
  • My greatest contribution to the world may not be what I do but who I raise.

Lazlo Bock, senior advisor Google:

  • Connect work to meaning.

Juliet Funt, CEO Whitespace at Work:

  • We all need white spaces which are strategic pauses between activities
  • The four thieves of productivity are drive that leads to compulsion, excellence that leads to perfection, information overload, and activity that leads to frenzy.
  • 4 crucial whitespace simplification questions:
    • Is there anything I can let go of?
    • Where is good enough, good enough?
    • What do I truly need to know?
    • What deserves my attention?

Markus Buckingham, author and consultant:

  • The two biggest areas that motivate employees:
    • At work I know what is expected of me.
    • At work I have a chance to use my strengths.

Sam Adeyemi, senior pastor Daystar Christian Center, Nigeria

  • Great leaders change other people’s view of themselves.
  • Leaders don’t attract people they want but people like them.

Angela Duckworth, author of GRIT

  • The Definition of GRIT: sustained passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
  • Two key indicators you have grit: you are a hard worker and you finish what you begin.

Gary Haugen, CEO International Justice Mission

  • Be careful of being more impressed with bad men that our good God. (He’s referring to the temptation to get caught up in all the bad things happening around us while forgetting that God is bigger.)

If you went to the summit, what were your biggest take-aways?

Avoiding Ministry Failure: 5 Questions to Ask when you do a Ministry Pre-mortem

Ministry initiatives in the church often fail. A simple planning tool called the pre-mortem, however, can minimize ministry failure. In my last post I suggested 7 good reasons to conduct the pre-mortem, a tool credited to Dr. Gary Klein. A pre-mortem is an exercise that assumes your plan spectacularly fails and considers beforehand what might go wrong. It helps teams plan ahead to avoid potential pitfalls. In this post I explain how to do a pre-mortem.

To get started, you’ll want to schedule a pre-mortem session with your team and include these steps when you convene them.

  • Brief your team about the proposed plan.
  • Describe the imaginary failure in colorful terms. Imagine it as a spectacular fiasco.
  • Ask your team to write down everything they believe could have possibly gone wrong.

After these steps, consider these questions.

  1. What did you miss that contributed to the failure?
  2. What went wrong as you implemented your imaginary plan?
  3. Who messed up and why?
  4. Had you known these pitfalls, what would you have done differently?
  5. After completing your pre-mortem session, what do you need to change about your proposed plan to avoid potential failure?
  6. Who needs to know these changes?

Here’s a helpful guide that describes in more detail how to do a pre-mortem.

Have you ever conducted a pre-mortem? If so, what additional questions would you include?


“I just learned how to conduct a ministry plan pre-mortem to help avoid failure.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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7 Benefits of an Often Overlooked Planning Tool: the Pre-mortem

Jesus recognized the role good planning plays in life and ministry. He said, Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (Luke 14.28) Unfortunately, lack of planning often torpedoes otherwise good ministry ideas. Scientist Gary Klein, author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, offers a great idea he calls a pre-mortem. In this post I unpack 7 benefits a pre-mortem offers in planning.

planning tools

Dr. Klein says that a pre-mortem can increase the chances that our plan will succeed. In contrast to a post-mortem that we often perform after a plan fails, a pre-mortem is an exercise that teams do before they implement a plan.

By imagining that an event is over and that it failed, a pre-mortem can often surface potential problems that you can address and prepare for before you invest time and resources in an event or a plan.

In my next post I’ll give crucial questions to ask to make a pre-mortem successful.

But first, I’ve listed several benefits of a pre-mortem.

  1. A pre-mortem helps you fail on paper rather than in practice. A pre-mortem considers what might go wrong so you can plan to avoid those mistakes
  2. You can surface potential pitfalls in a safe environment. Before others get overinvested in the plan, considering the pitfalls beforehand makes it less threatening for a team member to voice a concern.
  3. A pre-mortem helps you value your team members by soliciting their ideas and thoughts. We all like others to feel that our voice matters. A pre-mortem reinforces that experience.
  4. You can help team members become more sensitive to potential problems as you roll out the plan. By discussing potential issues beforehand, your team is more likey to see potential issues when you do roll it out.
  5. You can increase the chances that you will avoid a painful post-mortem autopsy prompted by a failure. We’d all rather avoid autopsies.
  6. You can surface potential problems you might have otherwise missed. Pretended your plan has failed makes you think outside the box.
  7. ___________ (what would add as a seventh benefit?)

So, the next time you plan a big initiative, try a pre-mortem.


“I just learned 5 good reasons to conduct a ministry plan pre-mortem to avoid failure.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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5 Ways to Deepen Your Integrity

Daniel and his three friends are some of my favorite bible characters. They modeled what it means to live a life of integrity. Several years ago James Patterson and Peter Kim authored the book, The Day America told the Truth. They conducted a survey by asking Americans what they would be willing to do for 10 million dollars and were shocked at their discovery. In this post, with a backdrop of their findings, I suggest 5 ways to deepen your integrity from the book of Daniel.

Here’s what the authors learned about integrity from their research.

  • Would abandon their entire family (25%)
  • Would abandon their church (25%)
  • Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
  • Would give up their American citizenship (16%)
  • Would leave their spouses (16%)
  • Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
  • Would kill a stranger (7%)
  • Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

When I read this survey my heart sank. I can only imagine that since that survey over 20 years ago, a similar survey would yield even more discouraging results.

However, Daniel and his friends model for us these 5 ways we can deepen our integrity in a world that seems to discourage it.

  1. Be willing to make tough choices. On several occasions Daniel made tough choices like refusing to eat the royal food and refusing to worship the image of the king. Although each choice carried a potential deadly penalty, he stood his ground.
  2. Treat your adversaries with respect. When King Nebuchadnezzar issued an edict for all the wise men (Daniel was considered one of them) to be killed because no one could interpret his dream, Daniel appealed to him with great tact and wisdom. His actions averted certain death for he and many others.
  3. Build your moral compass around Jesus. The story of Daniel consistently reinforces how Daniel kept his deep commitment to God even though he lived in a pagan world and was force fed that culture’s beliefs.
  4. Stay consistent in the small things. At one point the king demanded that he and he alone be worshipped for 30 days. Anyone refusing to do so would be killed. Daniel had prayed three times daily to the one and true God for decades. He could have easily cut corners for just 30 days. Yet he stayed true to his allegiance in what could be perceived as an inconsequential issue (just take a break for a few days).
  5. Realize that people will either become bitter or better when you live with integrity. Several significant government officials began to respect and support Daniel after they experienced how he responded to them with integrity and character. Yet at the same time other officials became jealous of Daniel and were offended at his integrity.

Leadership integrity is crucial in the days in which we live.

What choices have helped you deepen your integrity?


“I just learned 5 ways to deepen my integrity.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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5 Brain Biases that Limit Leaders

Leaders would like to think that they lead in unbiased ways. However that’s easier said than done. The fall of man affected every part of who we are, including our thinking. Brain biases abound. A Google search reveals almost 200 different biases. Among those 200, what brain biases poses the greatest threat to effective leadership? In this post I explain five and suggest an idea for each to counter its potential negative impact.

Scientists call these ‘brain’ biases cognitive biases, judgment errors that rise from our tendency to mentally jump to conclusions. Daniel Kahneman,  Nobel prize winner and author of the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls them heuristics, mental shortcuts we use when we make decisions. Because our brain has limited energy, we can’t consciously ‘think’ before every decision. Therefore, we intuitively make many decisions (over 40% of what we do is habit) that require limited mental resources and allocate our brain energy only to those that require our immediate attention. As a result, we sometimes don’t make the best decisions which can impair our leadership.

Here are my top 5 brain biases.

The confirmation bias. This bias reflects our preference for those who agree with us. We subconsciously look for people and information to confirm our preexisting beliefs, actions, and attitudes. As a result we spotlight only the information that supports the decision we want to make and we tend to discard negative input that we need to see the full picture and make the wisest decision.

  • Suggestion:  Do a pre-mortem on a planned ministry or initiative. Before you make the decision, gather your team and ask, “Let’s assume we did (such and such) and it gloriously failed? What would we say contributed to the failure?” Allow full and frank discussion. This post goes into greater detail about this bias.

The planning fallacy. This bias explains how our plans and forecasts tend to mirror best case scenarios. When we plan a new initiative, we tend to assume everything will go as planned, with few bumps or obstacles along the way. For example, studies show that college students tend to vastly underestimate how long it takes to write a major paper.

  • Suggestion: Assume that your project will take you 50% longer than you anticipate. Schedule that extra time into your calendar. If it takes less than that, consider it bonus time to spend on other projects.

The sunk cost bias. This bias appears when we’ve invested considerable time and effort into something that is not going well, but we simply can’t give it up. If we did, we’d feel like a failure. This often happens in churches when we keep a ministry alive when we need to kill it.

  • Suggestion: What ministry or project is not working and draining your soul? If you could magically make it go away, how would you feel? If, as you imagine it gone, you feel a great weight off your shoulders, you may have succumbed to this bias. It may be time to kill that program or project. In this post I unpack this bias in more detail.

The correspondence bias. This bias is also called the fundamental attribution error. This happens when we attribute unseemly behavior of others to their character or personality but when do the same thing, we attribute it to external circumstances.

  • Suggestion: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Our brains are wired to be negative and assume the worst. Unless a behavior is really egregious, tone down your judgmentalism until you get the facts.

The halo bias  or halo effect. This bias mirrors the previous bias. It affects us when we make unrealistic judgments about a person’s ability to perform a task or judge their character based on positive qualities we see in him or her. Ministry expectations can easily fall to this bias. Church people can assume that because a new pastor has good speaking skills that he also must be a superb organizer, is great at hospital visitation, and is an excellent counselor. Unfortunately, most pastors can’t excel in every ministry area.

  • Suggestion: Find the core strengths of those you work with, both volunteer and paid. Help them develop those skills without trying to make them who God did not create them to be.

Bias can sneak into any leader’s life. Inventory your leadership and honestly ask if any of these biases have slipped in. If they have, create a simple plan to deal with them, sooner than later.

What other brain biases have you seen in ministry?

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