4 Leadership Lessons for Times of Crisis and Change

NASHVILLE. Kevin York, Justin Gray, and I had the unenviable task of informing hundreds of good people that their church community, Bethel Franklin, is closing and merging with Bethel Brentwood. Hard to remember a tougher two weeks of ministry.

The reasons for the church closure/merger are many and they are complicated. That is not what this blog is about.

As we talked to the people, their reactions ranged from anger to indifference. Some were shocked; others saw it coming. Some wanted to fix the financial and facility problems; others only wanted to fix blame. There were lots of tears. Tears of disappointment and tears of thankfulness.

Some of the Bethel Franklin people will transfer to Bethel Brentwood, others to Bethel Murfreesboro. Some will find non-Bethel churches. Some are not sure what to do. I am praying God will help everyone find a life-giving church community.

Every Thursday morning before office hours, I meet with a small group of young leaders who are considering a careers in church planting. We talk about leadership and we pray for each other. Last week I asked them what leadership lessons they learned as we led Bethel Franklin through the crisis of closing/merging. Here’s a summary of our discussion.

1. COMMUNICATION. When leading during change and crisis, leaders must over communicate. For us that meant countless early morning and late night face-to-face meetings with church members. We wanted everyone to already know what was happening before we made a public announcement from the stage Sunday morning. This required us to clear our schedules and be available to tell the same story and answer the same questions over and over and over and over. This type of over communicating is time consuming and emotionally draining, but it is the only way to lead during change.

2. HONESTY. Transparency and painful honesty about leadership mistakes and miscalculations will do more to restore leadership credibility than self-defense, spin, and hype. There is a time for a leader to cast vision and a time to admit mistakes. Everyone occasionally makes decisions that are well-meaning but misguided. Since leaders make more decisions than others, they make more mistakes than people who make no decisions. When a leader humbly and candidly admits mistakes and miscalculations, people tend to be forgiving. When leaders make excuses and ignore reality, trust vanishes like a vapor. When leading through change and pain, honesty really is the best policy.

3. PERSPECTIVE. A big part of spiritual leadership is helping people embrace a providential perspective regarding change and especially regarding the pain that often accompanies change. All week I tried to get people to see that their local church community is an important part of life, but it is not the center of life. There is a big difference in church-centered lives and Christ-centered lives. We want the latter. I tried to get people to see that even though the church services are ending, they are still married to the same person, and still have the same amazing kids. They still have a good job and good friends. But starting in a few weeks, they will simply worship at a different address with a larger group of people. God’s calling has not changed. It is the job of the leaders to paint a providential perspective during times of change.

4. PATIENCE. I expected some people to react in instant anger when I told them Bethel Franklin was over. Some did. Some did not. I also suspected that many of those same people would calm down and be more rational and understanding in a few days. Most did. A few did not. Leaders must exercise patience and allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants in the hearts of His people.

I hope you never have to be the bearer of bad news to good people, but if you do, I hope you remember these four crisis leadership lessons.

 

3 Hard Questions for Preachers

TOKYO AIRPORT. Preaching the Gospel is privilege. It is also a burden. And a calling. I have been a preacher since 1982. I love my job. I love to read, study, teach, and preach. Every day I am thankful that I get to do what I love. I am not a natural communicator. I have had to work hard to develop whatever teaching and preaching skills I have.

Over the years my preaching style has changed a few times. Originally I was a topical list preacher. I would find random verses about grace, faith, or whatever the topic, and preach away. After about ten years of that, I started exegetical teaching/preaching. I spent two years preaching my way through the Book of Mark on Sunday mornings. I spent a year on Acts, six months on 1 Corinthians. Then I taught my way through shorter books like Jonah, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, and James. For the past ten years I have done team prep and team preaching. Hopefully each change has been an upgrade. If you are a teacher or preacher I hope you are constantly upgrading your craft.

Before getting on my Manila to Tokyo to Minneapolis to Nashville flight, I met with some of our best Filipino preachers to discuss concerns and pitfalls of preachers and preaching. Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves.

1. ARE OUR PREACHERS MAKING DISCIPLES? Are preachers doing the work of the ministry? Are they ministering to people and making disciples in small groups? Or are they spending all week in their study with a pile of books? I am not suggesting that study is unimportant. Quite the contrary, but we must study people as well as the Bible. The more we connect with people and their pain, the better preachers we will become. The goal is to make disciples. Preaching is an important part of the disciple-making process, but it is only a part not the whole.

2. ARE OUR PREACHERS CARRYING THE BURDEN? Are preachers carrying the weight of the ministry? Are they shouldering the pressure of the budget, the vision, the values, the mission? Or are they simply communicating pre-packaged points? Last Sunday while preaching at Victory-Makati, I felt an overwhelming burden that I had 35 minutes to connect with those in the congregation. I had a heavy burden because the topic was so important. I was not just communicating information, I was preaching a sermon that had the potential to shape, redirect, and change lives. That is a heavy burden.

3. ARE OUR PREACHERS PREPARING THEIR OWN HEARTS? Preparing a sermon to preach is the easy part. Preparing our hearts to preach is difficult and often painful. I sometimes wonder if the time preachers spend working on slick Powerpoint and Keynote presentations, would be better spent on their faces before God. I also wonder if modern preachers spend too much time researching illustrations to make people laugh, rather than time searching the Scriptures for the original meaning of the text. Powerpoint pictures and funny stories do not change lives. God’s word brings change because it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

I get to work in Nashville, Manila, and around the world with some really great preachers. The reason they are so good, is because they constantly ask themselves the hard questions.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1 ESV

It pleased God through the folly of what we preached to save those who believe.  1 Corinthians 1:21

4 Questions to Identify Potential Leaders

MANILA. A consultant once asked me what I mean when I say that certain positions can only be filled by a “leader.” Without thinking I said I expect a leader to do the following:

1. OWN IT. Good or bad, success or failure, if it happened on their watch, real leaders own it. Everyone gladly accepts the honor and rewards of success, but when things go south, non-leaders make excuses and pass the buck. Real leaders own the mistakes and failures of the whole team. No passing the buck. No blame shifting. In other words, leaders take RESPONSIBILITY.

2. DO IT. Leaders don’t wait to be told what to do and how to do it. They just get it done. I am ok with leaders doing something wrong. I am not ok with leaders doing nothing. Doing nothing is not leadership. In other words, leaders take INITIATIVE.

3. UPGRADE IT. Great leaders know when to call an audible. Non-leaders keep running the same play, even when it stopped working three years ago. Leaders figure out how to upgrade and make it better. In other words, leaders embrace INNOVATION.

4. DO IT NOW. The past is gone. The future is not yet. The only reality we have is to work with is the present. Non-leaders live in the past or the future, always talking about the good ole days or only talking about future vision. Real leaders act now. They don’t wait. In other words, leaders live with a sense of URGENCY.

Whether you have an impressive title or now, here are four questions that reveal if you are a leader:

When things go wrong, do you take responsibility or pass the blame?

When action is required, do you take initiative or wait for someone else to lead?

When standards are not met, do you embrace innovation or maintain the status quo?

When opportunity knocks, do you lead with urgency or passivity?

How to Create a Healthy Environment for Growth

I was recently talking to a pastor whose church was leaking people. As soon as a family joined the church, another family vanished. As we were trying discover the cause of the leak, I made up the following three points on the spot. I told my friend that as a leader, it is his responsibility to create and maintain a healthy environment for growth. Here’s the environment leaders must work for, pray for, and lead toward.

1. A sense of God’s PRESENCE must be experienced together. Spiritual leaders must value God’s presence as Moses did. “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15) As leaders we don’t create God’s presence, but we can plan and lead meetings that enable people to encounter God in a meaningful way. We can also plan and lead meetings in ways that obstruct meaningful encounters with God. Components of corporate worship that contribute to experiencing God’s presence include, but are not limited to the following: transformational preaching (vs. information transfer), empowered ministry time (vs. pastor doing all ministry), participatory worship (vs. concert-styled performance). If people do not experience God’s presence at our church, they will find another church.

2. A sense of MISSION must be accomplished together. People need to feel like their church is making the world a better place. Many churches are doing great things in regard to mission, but if their mission accomplishments are secrets, then the people will look elsewhere for their sense of mission. Healthy churches do local mission to the underprivileged and global mission to the unreached, they involve as many people as possible, then they over communicate so everyone can celebrate mission together.

3. A sense of COMMUNITY must be built together. All people need community. Some find it in church, many do not. Church community is best experienced through small group discipleship, corporate worship, and missional service. I recently blogged about the idea of mission creating community. 

All three components of a healthy church environment are essential. If two are strong and the other is weak, we will leak people in the weak area. How is your church or campus ministry doing in these three aspects of healthy environment? Where are you strong and where do you need an upgrade?

 

If You Want an Easy Job, Don’t Do Ministry

MANILA. In our well-intended desire to send fully-funded, relationally connected, culturally sensitive, professionally trained, church planters and campus missionaries, I sometimes wonder if we have made ministry too easy. Lifting heavy weight builds muscles. If leaders don’t learn to carry weight, they  will never develop the spiritual muscles necessary for ministry.

I have seen too many church planters and missionaries quit because of the heavy weight of ministry. They simply don’t have the strength to handle relational conflict, spiritual oppression, or financial lack.

Others don’t quit, they never really start. The idea of hard work keeps them out of the game. If you are looking for a 40-hour work week, where you can clock in and clock out at predetermined hours, then I suggest you stay far away from church planting and campus ministry.

While reading Matthew 14 this morning, I felt burdened to pray for my friends in ministry who are sacrificially carrying the weight of ministry, in spite of personal pain.

Here’s my summary of Matthew 14. John the Baptist was jailed and brutally beheaded for drawing moral lines in an immoral culture. The disciples told Jesus that his cousin and close friend had been executed. “When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” The crowds didn’t care that Jesus wanted to be alone. They were only concerned about their own needs. Despite his personal pain and grief, Jesus responded to the crowds with compassion. He fed 5000 with miracle food, he healed many, then he walked on water in an attempt to get that alone time he so desperately needed. But when he got to the other side of the lake, there was another crowd that only cared about their own needs. Again, Jesus put aside his personal pain, and ministered to the needs of the crowd.

Doing ministry requires that we get past our feelings, circumstances, hurts, burdens, and pain so we can pour out God’s word and God’s grace to others. In other words, self-denial is a non-negotiable essential of ministry.

Everyone wants to do the work of the ministry. Few want to carry the weight of the ministry. The work of the ministry is exciting. The weight of the ministry is excruciating. The work of the ministry produces great testimonies on stage that are applauded by crowds. The weight of the ministry presses us to our knees. The work of the ministry makes us want to keep going. The weight of the ministry sometimes makes us want to quit.

We diligently train candidates to do the work of the ministry, but not to carry the weight of the ministry. We give them strategies, tools, and funding, but they often lack spiritual depth, character, and conviction to keep going no matter how difficult.

The bad news: the weight of the ministry is heavy.

The good news: lifting weight builds muscles, and as we build muscles, what seemed heavy will eventually seem light.

The best news: Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and you will find rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

Perhaps the heavy weight of ministry is divinely designed to push us to Jesus.

Here’s an idea. Next time the weight of ministry is so heavy you want to quit, rather than quitting, run to Jesus, take His yoke, and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Leadership & the 4 C’s of Vision Casting

A few weeks ago I was talking to a young leader, trying to upgrade his vision casting skills. I gave him four simple tips about communicating vision.

1. CLARITY. Leaders must create clarity by narrowing the focus when casting vision. A vision to do everything that can be done in the name of God is not a vision at all. It is a sign of undisciplined thinking. The leader’s job is to focus the organization on the core essentials. The more we focus on and clarify essentials, the easier it is to identify and eliminate non-essentials.

2. COMPELLING. Once vision is clarified, it must be communicated in a way that is compelling. A leader who makes an unprepared sloppy vision presentation can make an otherwise exciting vision seem boring. Compelling vision produces action. Boring vision produces nothing.

3. COMMITMENT. Casting a clear and compelling vision without calling for commitment is a waste of everyone’s time. Real leaders are committed and they call others to commitment. Some leaders are hesitant to demand sacrificial commitment because they are not all-in themselves. Commitment is an example that leaders set, not a message they teach. Leadership commitment is contagious. So is leadership non-commitment.

4. COMMUNITY. Clear and compelling vision attracts committed people. As these people sacrifice for the common vision, community happens. Trying to create community for the sake of community creates unhealthy ingrown short-lived community. Doing vision together creates strong healthy long-term community.

SUMMARY. As a leader, you are the CVC (chief vision caster) for your church, ministry, or organization. If you communicate a vision that is clear and compelling, if you model and call for commitment, you will end up with a strong healthy community. You will also accomplish the vision.

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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