5 Essentials Necessary to Build Church and Team Unity

Unity is a powerful force in God’s Kingdom, in our lives, in our families, in a business, and in the local church when it includes five essentials, seen in the great leader Nehemiah.

Every leader wants his or her organization, team, or church to be unified. Without it teams lose, churches flounder, and businesses drift. However, when your group is unified it’s fun, refreshing, invigorating, motivating, and productive.

The great leader Nehemiah could not have completed his massive building project of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall without unity. Nehemiah 3 lists scores of projects and people involved in the project and gives insight into these 5 essentials necessary to build unity. I use the acronym UNITY to make it easy to remember them.

Understanding: clarity about its true meaning.

Unity does not imply uniformity, meaning everybody is the same or likes the same thing. Unity doesn’t mean that we embrace selfish, divisive, abstinent, or irresponsible people for the sake of unity. It is not peace at any price. Rather, unity implies that we all embrace the same purpose and that purpose overrides our personal preferences. Nehemiah’s purpose was to obey God’s prompting to rebuild the wall.

Nattitude: how true unity shows itself .

I needed an ‘N’ to make the acronym work, so I stuck it before attitude :). In chapter 3 we see several key attitudes necessary for lasting unity. Those attitudes include these.

  • A whatever it takes attitude instead of “it’s not my job.” Many came from outside Jerusalem to work on the wall even though its completion would not directly benefit them.
  • An extra mile attitude. Several people listed in the building project worked on more than one area.
  • Finally, passion, optimism, and zeal. One builder, Baruch, worked with great zeal.

Ronald Reagan was probably one of the best presidents the U.S. ever had and he was an eternal optimist. He often told this, his favorite joke.

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears.

‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist.

Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist.

‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’ (source: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/page/got-to-be-a-pony-in-here-somewhere)

Unified teams need more people with “looking for ponies attitudes.”

Intentionality: alignment around a common mission

Their common mission was to rebuild the wall. By restoring the wall, it would point to God’s glory.

Team: together everyone accomplishes more

You’ll find a common phrase mentioned 14 times in this chapter, “next to him.” They worked as a team, shoulder to shoulder, with arms linked to complete this great project. The gaps in the walls were filled because each person and group filled in a gap.

This chapter lists 38 names and 42 building projects. Those who worked on the project included men and women, priests, city guards, temple servants, merchants, and people from the public sector.

Yieldedness: it’s not all about me

Many groups helped even though they would not directly benefit from it as greatly as others. Yet, they chose to leave their homes in the countryside and come to Jerusalem to help for the greater good. And, Nehemiah didn’t let “what’s in it for me” people play a significant role or dictate direction. A what’s in it for me person only cares about what he wants, his agenda, and his preferences.

Yieldedness is an attitude that conveys that I want what’s best for the group and the mission.

What other aspects of unity have helped you build it?

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Are you a Thinking Leader? Take this Quiz to Find Out

One of the greatest leaders who ever lived was the Old Testament character Nehemiah. God gave him a burden to rebuild the walls surrounding Jerusalem in around 400 B.C. Even though he faced incredible odds, criticism, discouragement within the people, the haves exploiting the have nots, hunger among the people, and threats of violence from his enemies, he prevailed. A deciding factor, apart from his faith in God, was his ability to think clearly in the midst of crisis and difficulty. I believe a deciding factor in a leader’s ability to lead is clear thinking as well. Nehemiah’s responses point to 6 statements every leader should consider about about how his or her thinking affects leadership.

From a brain standpoint, two parts of our brain often vie for attention and energy: our thinking part (the pre-frontal cortex, located right behind our forehead) and our emotional center (the limbic system, located deep in then brain). When our emotional centers control, clear thinking degrades. When our thinking centers control, we can dampen the emotional center’s power and lead more effectively. Here’s what we learn about Nehemiah’s thinking.

  • Before he left for Jerusalem, four months passed (Neh. 2.1). During that time he was thinking about the problem (Jerusalem was in shambles) and waiting for the right time to approach the king.
  • When he finally arrived, he waited three days before he surveyed the situation (Neh. 2.11). He was probably thinking about how to fine tune his immediate plan before he inspected the walls.
  • When his critics criticized him, he refused to get drawn into arguments with them. Rather, he immediately prayed and then kept moving forward with the task at hand, rebuilding the wall (Neh. 4.4)
  • When he discovered that some wealthy Jews were exploiting the poor Jews, he didn’t emotionally react although he was very angry. Rather, Nehemiah 5.7 said he, “pondered.”

Nehemiah had learned to submit the thinking part of his brain to God which helped him lead most effectively.

Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these statement in the THINKING LEADERS QUIZ.

  1. I often shoot from the hip without thinking, especially when I feel threatened by another’s actions or comments.
  2. I easily let my emotions control my response (internal or verbal) when someone criticizes me.
  3. Sometimes I can’t concentrate because I’m so angry about something that happened.
  4. I tend to be a fire-aim rather than a ready-aim-fire leader.
  5. I seldom pause long enough to think about what I am thinking about.
  6. I seldom carve out time simply to think.

How did you do? If you answered yes to two or more statements, you’re probably not thinking as effectively as you should. As a result, you may not be leading at your best.

So, how can we become better thinkers? Consider this post on how to handle reactivity and this one on how our hormones can sometimes hijack our leadership.

What has helped you lead more effectively from your thinking?

3 Lessons on Change from Nehemiah

If your church is not changing, it’s not growing. I heard someone once say, “Don’t be afraid of change. You might lose something good, but you’ll gain something better.” However, bringing change in a church is often difficult. One of the greatest leaders of all time, Nehemiah, effected change in the setting that surrounded the building of the wall around Jerusalem. He modeled for leaders three essentials necessary to bring change.

In Nehemiah 5, after Nehemiah faced opposition from without (criticism from his adversaries) and opposition from within (discouraged people), he faced a new crisis. Wealthy Jews were exploiting the poor by charging excessive interest rates. As a result, the poor faced hunger, crippling debt, and even slavery because some had to sell their children into slavery to pay off the debts.

In the midst of that crisis Nehemiah engaged three essentials that resulted in the guilty party changing. The rich repented of their abuse and paid back the money they had taken from the poor.

He engaged these three parts of himself to bring that change.

His heart: he engaged his passion.

In verse 6 he writes, When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.  In other words, this issue gripped his heart. It stirred his passion and emotions that motivated him to action.

His head: he carefully thought.

Rather than reacting to the situation and letting his emotion override good judgment, verse 7 says, I pondered them in my mind…. In other words, he paused long enough to get a clear picture of things before he acted. James reminds of this.

James 1.19   My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

His hands: he did something.

Finally, he took action by taking these four steps.

  1. Define reality by clearly defining the change you want to bring (the rich were exploiting the poor and that needed to stop).
  2. Bring the right people to the table (vss 7-12). He had to engage the right people to solve the problem. So, he confronted the guilty party and informed the rest of the people what he had discovered.
  3. Secure commitment (v 12). He held the guilty accountable by asking them to take an oath that they would give back what they had taken.
  4. Set a good example (vss 14-16). Nehemiah didn’t simply expect others to change. He, too, took responsibility by setting a good example. He sacrificed by refusing the king’s food allotment usually given to governors like himself. He committed to never exploiting the people as former leaders had. He committed to being a different kind of leader.

Nehemiah wisely managed change by using his heart, his head, and his hands to effect that change.

What has helped you create change in your church or ministry?

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5 Ways to Handle the Chronic Church Critic

Every church has ’em. The Chronic Critic…the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say. You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times was on a mission from God. Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.

How to handle the chronic critic:

Complete this statement: The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I…

  • Reacted
  • Blew up
  • Screamed
  • Cussed (maybe not out loud, but in your mind)
  • Stayed silent and drove my anger inward
  • Became defensive
  • Felt embarrased
  • Listened and learned from the critic
  • ???.

Were any of these responses true of you?

Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobia was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the 5 P’s below. Nehemiah 4. 1-9 tells the story.

Neh. 4.1   When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,  2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?”

3   Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building — if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”

4   Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.  5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

6   So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

7   But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.  8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.  9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (NIV)

You’ll recall that God gave Nehemiah a burden to re-build the wall around Jerusalem, a noble task. He obeyed God’s prompting and got criticized for it. The five insights below from Nehemiah’s response to his chronic critics give us a good template to follow when we’re criticized. I call them the 5 P’s.

  • PREPARE FOR IT: if you want to make a difference for God, you will be criticized, even though what you’re doing is noble. We live  live in a fallen world and this world’s systems and values oppose the rule of God. If satan can use criticism to derail you, he will. The greater impact you have for God, the more you will be criticized, not less. If you try to please everybody, you may avoid criticism, but you’ll be miserable.
    • For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism. (Harrison’s Postulate)
  • PAUSE AND PRAY: Instead of reacting, retorting, getting defensive, showing the illogic of his critics, Nehemiah first turned to the Lord in prayer (v. 4). The criticism hurt, but he did not even the score. He asked the Lord to bring appropriate judgment. Prayer takes the sting out criticism and when we pause, it gives time for clear thinking to rule, rather than reactivity.
    • Matt. 5.44 … I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer… (Message)
  • PRAY AND PROCESS: Criticism often makes us feel bad and often we act irrationally or in an healthy way to it. When we get criticized we must, however, process that criticism by asking these kinds of questions. What is valid about it? What do I do with it? Do I ignore it? Do I confront the criticizer? Do I learn from it? We should not disregard all criticism.  We can learn much from our critics. Some critics can even become our best coaches.
    • Psa. 141:5 Let the godly strike me!  It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. (NLT)
      • Evaluate the merit of criticism in two ways.
        1.  In light of the spirit and attitude in which it was given. Did the critic criticize to help you or to hurt you?
        2. In light of the voices to whom your critic listens. Does the critic hang around with godly people, or simply run with a pack of other critics?
  • PROCEED WITH CARE: Although Nehemiah often prayed, he didn’t use prayer as an excuse to do nothing. He did something. He moved forward with the project to rebuild the wall. When the chronic critic criticizes you, don’t let it immobilize you. Do something tangible.
    • You may need to separate yourself from your constant critics and not listen to them any longer.
    • You may need to boldly tell your critic to stop criticizing.
    • You may need to listen and learn from your critic.
  • PROTECT YOUR VULNERABILITIES: In response to his critics, he posted guards at the wall’s most vulnerable places. Sometimes criticism reveals where were are weakest and most vulnerable. When such criticism reveals those weaknesses, we may need to take some of these extra steps to deal with those sensitive places.
    • Consult a good counselor.
    • Invite a safe friend into your life to help you process the criticism.
    • Study Scripture to see what God’s Word says about that area.
    • Read a helpful book that addresses your sensitive area.

Ultimately we must look to Christ who provided the perfect pattern for responding to our chronic critics.

1Pet. 2.23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (NIV)

What has helped you respond to your critics?

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[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 50). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Are you a People Pleasing Pastor with your Board

Skinny, nerdy, and lacking much athletic ability, I grew up trying to get people to like me. Although I didn’t compromise my Christian values to gain popularity, I used other techniques to gain approval. Those techniques included profusely offering compliments to others, smiling a lot, and avoiding ruffled feathers. Slowly I developed people pleaser tendencies that followed me into ministry. Several years ago after I realized that I was becoming a people pleasing pastor, I began to change how I relate to my board that I’ve described below. Although I’ve made progress, I’m still in recovery. In this post I share three ways I’ve learned to not be a people pleaser with my board.

For my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I researched over 2,000 pastors and saw myself reflected in many of their stories. In one phase of on-line research pastors could anonymously record their pleaser stories. I gathered over 100 single spaced pages of stories, many of them heartbreakers. Here’s one pastor’s story that struck a chord in me.

For the first three years after coming to First Church, in the fall I would bring a list of recommended goals for the coming year for the church board to consider adopting for the church.  The third year I did it, the board asked me to discontinue this practice as they did not want the church to be a “pastor-driven” church.  They stated that someone other than the pastor should drive the goal-setting process.  This was a hard blow for me as I saw it as a rejection of me as their leader.  They wanted me to be their chaplain, but not their leader.  I honored their request and stopped bringing recommended goals to the church board.  However, I never really got over that experience and I have remained fearful about trying to take an active leadership role with the board ever since.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why I feel bored here and want to move on, but have no idea where to go next.

I felt the pain of this pastor because I’ve been tempted at times to replace my leadership role as a pastor with people pleasing. However, at my current church in London, Ontario, I have an excellent relationship with the board that I attribute to these new behaviors. I feel like I am fully free to lead yet not people please.

  1. I listen a lot. I don’t assume I know it all. Having moved from the U.S. to Canada, I not only adjusted to a new church, but to a new culture as well. I’ve adopted a posture of listening and learning and in the first 60 days I met with over 100 people in various venues simple to listen. The word has gotten out that I really want to listen. It has given me solid credibility with the church.
  2. I over-communicate. The first year, each week I sent our board a brief summary of my week’s activities and learnings. I’ve also added a new feature in our weekly Sunday bulletin called, “Where’s Waldo (a.k.a. Charles).” In a paragraph I share a synopsis of what I did the week prior. An 80-year-old church member told me that she enjoys reading what I’ve been doing. She said she never knew what a pastor did during the week.
  3. I’ve become intensively collaborative. Many U.S. pastors have come to Canada and have failed because they’ve assumed a very dominant top down leadership style. It does not work in Canada (and probably not as well in the U.S. as it once did).  I’ve enjoyed listening to other’s ideas and incorporating their suggestions into my leadership. I’m not people pleasing in doing so. Rather, I’m honoring how the body of Christ should work together.

I still have a ways to go in my people pleaser recovery. But I’m making good progress and enjoying the journey.

What have you discovered that has helped you avoid people pleasing tendencies?

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You can learn more about the book and view a cool video trailer here.