Why Smart Pastors Fail

Sometimes really smart pastors fail. I think I know some reasons why they do. Recently I read You’re in Charge–Now What by Thomas Neff and James Citrin. The book targets leaders moving into new positions. Whether or not you’re moving into a new ministry role, read this book. It’s a great read. The last chapter is worth the price. The authors give 10 traps for new leaders by playing off the book Why Smart Executives Fail by Sydney Finkelstein whose authors list several destructive behaviors leaders in failing companies show. Below, I’ve tweaked those 10 to make them applicable for ministry leaders.

A smart pastor can can fail if he…

  1. Sets expectations too high (by never meeting them) or too low (and thus disappointing high performing leaders in the church).
  2. Makes rash decisions or suffers from analysis paralysis.
  3. Appears to have all the answers.
  4. Ties his or her identity too closely to ministry success.
  5. Fails to see reality (remember the fable ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes”).
  6. Squashes dissenting opinions.
  7. Doesn’t keep his role in context (remember, we are not saviors, Jesus is).
  8. Misses who really holds the power (just because power roles are written down somewhere does not mean they reflect who really holds the power).
  9. Tries to win every battle.
  10. Bad-mouths the previous pastor or ministry leader.

What would you add to this list?

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Saving your Family without Killing Your Ministry

pastors balancing family life and ministryMy wife and I have 3 grown kids. One has survived a brain tumor, one was a straight arrow, and one was a challenge. My oldest daughter Heather (our challenge) even co-wrote a book with me about the experience in our family called Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy.

I’ve excerpted 5 insights from our book about how to keep your family intact in the pressure-cooker of ministry.

1. Resist turning words into weapons.

Heather got me so angry that at times I said some things I wish I had never said. I wish I could have taken back some of those angry words as the Bible tells us. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov. 12.18 (NIV-G/K). One psychologist suggested that we wait 30 seconds before responding in an angry situation.

2. Stoke the relationship fire with your children to keep the relationship alive.

If you’ve ever gone camping, to keep the fire going you must stoke it by stirring the embers. Often when I was hurt so much I had to make a conscious choice to reach out to her in tangible ways to let her know that I loved her. Just small things like simple grace gifts kept the relationship alive. Although I stumbled often, Heather later wrote us a letter that really touched our hearts. Here’s what she said.

“Thank you for never closing your heart to me. I wouldn’t be what I am now if you had…I always felt the love of God from you…through your unrelenting pursuit of me in my times of darkness, through your never giving up on me, through everything you did for me in spite of how horrible I was..that’s how God loves us.”

3. No matter how much your children may hurt you, never close your heart to them.

At times I felt like giving up on her. But by God’s grace, I kept my heart open to her. I’m glad I did because I got to experience the fruit of reconciliation later.

4. Keep a good sense of humor.

Sometimes you simply must laugh between the tears. One night Heather showed up at 4 in the morning as we caught her climbing into the window on the biggest day of the church year, Easter Sunday. I had to keep a sense of humor to keep from killing her.

5. Choose your battles carefully and lose some on purpose.

Some battles with your children are not worth the fight. On biblical/moral/ethical values, stand your ground. On personal preferences, it’s worth losing some of those. Dress, a clean room, and some music choices are personal preferences. I love what one parent advised, “If you can cut it off, wash it out, or grow it out, don’t sweat it.”

What have you learned that has helped you keep your family intact?

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5 Non-negotiable Decisions every Leader MUST Make

5 decisions every pastoral leader must makeThe concept of ‘adaptive leadership’ is a new one I learned a few years ago. It’s been incredibly helpful in developing my leadership.  The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifets-Linsky-Grashow unpacks the concept well. An article by Susan DeGenring on the subject lists 5 decisions great leaders must make. I’ve summarized them below. You can read the full article here.

5 non-negotiable decisions every leader must make:

  1. Shift focus and reframe your job from that of problem-solver, to that of developer of problem solvers.
  2. Give the work back to the people.
  3. Ask the important, and sometimes, tough questions, and don’t give all the answers.
  4. Know how to help people learn, not by telling, but by understanding the perceptions, beliefs and values that drive their action, and help them plug into alternative, more agile ways of thinking.
  5. Accept that heartache is inevitable and courage is essential when you lead.

What insights about adaptive leadership have enhanced your leadership effectiveness?

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Defensive Pastors – 5 Things NOT to Do

Each week pastors sit on the hot-seat. We preach sermons in which we invested hours to people who don’t have to be there. We hope what we say helps people grow, helps our churches grow, satisfies our influences, and most of all, honors God. But what happens when someone, especially an influencer, doesn’t like our performance as a leader or communicator? Or, what if they simply don’t like us? What happens we we become defensive pastors?

When that happens, it’s easy to become defensive when those people tell us what they don’t like. When I’ve become defensive, I end up the loser. When I don’t, although I may not change his or her opinion in the conversation, I actually win because the other person feels like I listened. Often, I can take a grain of truth from them and realize a growth area for me.

Below I’ve listed 5 responses that make things worse when someone criticizes us or tells us something about our performance that we’d rather not hear.

  • Cross your arms in the defensive posture.
  • Quickly interrupt them.
  • If they tell you that you are being defensive, disagree with them.
  • Bring up lots of facts that prove your point and disprove theirs.
  • Send them an angry email later.

On the positive side, what has helped you become less defensive?

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Great article on criticism by Tim Keller here.

8-Point Checklist for Pastoral Body Care

body careStatistics tell us that pastors don’t take great care of their bodies. However, if we are to remain effective for the long-haul, we must pay careful attention to taking good care of our bodies.

Answer these 8 questions and determine how well you are caring for your body.

  1. Am I keeping my body weight at a reasonable level? Calculate your body mass index here?
  2. Do I regularly exercise (3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes)?
  3. Would others say I manage my stress well?
  4. Do I do some fun things outside of ministry?
  5. Do I take a full day off each week?
  6. Do I avoid guilt feelings when I take my day off?
  7. Do I take a real vacation each year?
  8. Am I able to disconnect from the phone, email, and computer for several hours at a time?

How did you do?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, what should be your next step to take better care of yourself?

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