Category Archives: leadership

Taming Your Problems; Saddling Your Challenges

A Season of Stampeding Problems

This is a season of stampeding problems that can seem like they are charging us on every side.  In a season of intense pressure, it is important to consider how to effectively process problems, so they don’t trample you.

Like many people, I have been binge-watching several TV series.  One of my recent favourites is Yellowstone.  Yellowstone stars Kevin Costner and is a cross between Bonanza and Sons of Anarchy.  In addition to its anti-hero protagonist and cliff-hanger episode endings, it has you secretly wanting to build a cabin and train horses (this is, literally, the life of my dad).

One of the narrative devices, metaphors, and subplots of the show is the process of taking a wild horse and breaking it, so that it is able to be ridden and, in the hands of an expert equestrian, do astonishing things.

This image is well suited for seasons of immense and relentless pressures.

What does it look like to tame our problems and saddle our challenges with a tenacious hope in God and the empowering of the Holy Spirit?

Confining the Problem

Like wild horses, the first step in taming problems is to corral them.  In a season of stampeding problems, this can seem harrowing but it vital.  If you are feeling overwhelmed with people issues, conflict situations, regathering protocols and family matters, it is important to separate them.  Problems, like wild horses, stampede together.  Take time to list (corral) them by naming them. Problems, like a herd of wild horses, are less overwhelming and dangerous when they are separated and corralled.

One of the benefits of corralling your problems is that it is easier to separate them with fences in your mind.  If you find yourself being stalked by your problems while you are trying to sleep or being present with your family, corral them on paper.  Once you have listed and separated your problems, create appointments with them.  This way you know when you will pick them up again. 

Challenges are Tamed Problems

Now that you have corralled your problems, it is time to tame them into opportunities.  Like breaking a wild horse, it can be risky, but it can also be rewarding. Persistence and perseverance are fundamental in this process.  You have to face your problems to break them.  It is vital to face each problem individually and find a way to reframe it into a challenge.  One of the main differences between problems and challenges is how you see them ending.  For each of your problems, face them head-on.  List what you are afraid of, what all the possible outcomes are and what the risks are.  Then, intentionally, reframe each of them into a challenge by prayerfully seeing what God could do in each.  A challenge is just a problem tamed with hope.  Tame your problems into challenges by pulling yourself into the future with a persistent hope in Jesus.

Opportunities are Saddled Challenges

Now that you have tamed your problems into challenges, it is time to saddle them into opportunities.  Consider how each challenge can be an opportunity for God to work in your life, someone else’s life, your ministry/church, etc. and begin to act your way into them with this perspective.  Our hope is not in the removal of the problem but in God’s work through them.  Consequently, don’t see problems as obstacles to be avoided but as opportunities to explore.  Saddle your challenges into opportunities by praying your way through them with a persistent hope in what God can do.

The Journey Ahead

On occasion, I have had the privilege to go horseback riding in the mountains.  It is an amazing experience.  Not only is the settling amazing but the fact that you are journeying on the back of a once untamed horse is a marvel.  Riding a horse on a trail near a cliff edge is a poignant image of someone who has learned to corral their problems and saddle their challenges. They know that there will always be problems and, as a result, there will always be opportunities. Thus, the wisdom here is not to make all the problems go away (avoid them or ignoring them) but learn how to tame and saddle them as they take you into the wide frontier ahead!

In an unprecedented season of problems, may we learn with God’s help to corral, tame, saddle, and ride them into the future with a tenacious hope in Jesus.  The frontier is calling, and Jesus is leading us on.                                                                             

Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This

Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This: A Lesson from GameStop for the Church

Several weeks ago, amateur stock traders rallied together to boost the stock of GameStop, artificially inflating the stock price and disrupting the stock market.  Although Wallstreet investors were betting on GameStop’s inevitable demise (GameStop is like Blockbuster for video games), the amateur traders manipulated the system for their benefit.  They drove the stock price up and, if they bought low and sold high, profited while those on Wall Street lost.

Beyond the sensational headlines of this modern-day participatory culture case study with a David & Goliath edge, is an undeniable reality that, in spite of the temporary surge in stock enthusiasm, GameStop’s out-of-date business model will not be profitable in our increasingly downloadable world.

I believe a similar storyline has started to play itself out with the Church.  As the Church prepares to enter a post-Covid world, there will be many church leaders who will rush back to reopening and abandon their digital expressions, ministries and methodologies as they do.  As we embrace the promise of re-opening in society, we are at risk of “flooding the market” and buying stock in our previous out-of-date and ineffective ministry methodologies.  We will be tempted to trade in false hope!

As a church leader, you are entering a precarious season with a major temptation.  With accelerating vaccine rollouts (yay!) and the promise of things opening up again (yay!), the temptation of the church will be to go back to the way it was rather than the way it needs to be.

The lure will be strong!  We will be tempted to go back to what we knew, even if it stopped working long before Covid struck.  This will be the case for education models, business plans, architectural design, and churches.  In our rush for normalcy, we are at risk of selectively forgetting our previous ineffectiveness.  We’ll forget that overall church attendance, giving and engagement (across all denominations) were all trending downward before the pandemic.  To think the trend will magically reverse as we enter a “new normal” with an altered world is naive foolishness.  Will it feel good again to do things we are highly competent at?  Yes.  Will it be as effective as before?  No.  Although it may feel good to us, it will not, necessarily. mean it will be good for the church.

This is not a new human temptation.  Consider the Israelites in the desert.  It wasn’t long after their exodus from Egypt that they longed to go back.  Even though it was terrible, they longed for the familiar and predictable.  We are the same.  We, too, are tempted to just go back to the old way of doing things, even if it didn’t work, rather than adapt, learn, grow, change and redeploy for a new post-Covid world.  I don’t blame anyone for the temptation.  A year of learning new ways of doing things is exhausting; feeling like a fish out of water is uncomfortable.  However, to abandon all the lessons we have learned, the new methodologies we have discovered, the skills for innovation we have embraced and to revert back to the old way of doing things in a world that has been altered forever (especially when the old way of doing things was universally determined as ineffective) would not be wise.  It will be easy, tempting and comfortable, but it won’t be good leadership.

What wasn’t working before, won’t magically work now.  Society has taken ten years of change and condensed it into one.  If our evangelism and discipleship ministries weren’t effective before, resurrecting them post-pandemic won’t make them work.  Additionally, not everyone will come back in-person.  Some will prefer online engagement.  You may disagree (especially if you, personally, prefer in-person expressions) but there are people in our church communities who will desire to stay connected exclusively online or use online engagement as a way to augment their in-person participation.  We can’t ignore this group in our rush to in-person gatherings.  If we do, we do so at our peril.

We are all tired of change and we will all be tempted to just move back into the well-worn ruts of previous (pre-Covid) ministry methodologies.  I believe we are at a crossroads to either change and adapt to our emerging world or devolve back into a church that was already waning in effectiveness, blissfully adopting out-of-date methodologies for a world that no longer exists.  Nostalgia may feel good, but it is a sterile environment for conceiving vision.

As you look ahead, recognize the long-term impact of your choices and commit to move against your natural impulse and use this time to implement the long-term change needed.  Refuse to go back to the way things were.  Refuse to embrace ineffectiveness because it feels comfortable.  Whatever you do, don’t do this!

Eight Things to Consider as You Prepare for Easter

Easter is coming (April 4th)!

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As the highpoint of the Christian calendar, it is the most attended Sunday service of the church year. As we approach the second Easter of the pandemic, I believe it is time to lean in hard this Easter. Don’t fall into the temptation to simply accommodate things online this Easter, but intentionally and creatively design things to thrive digitally this year.

The following are eight things to consider as we plan and prepare for Easter 2021:

Be Digital by Default
Depending on where you live, you may be able to have some people in the room for Easter services (in my area that is currently limited to 15%) but the majority of people will join you digitally. This is especially true of anyone who will come for the first time. As a result, don’t dismiss your digital presence and experience. Recognize the uniqueness of digital culture and plan accordingly. Be digital by default and use this Easter to connect with more people than ever before. Boost social media posts (targeting people in your community), encourage your people to share the services with their connections, be creative and embrace the four shifts of digital culture: Experience as Story, Experience as Participation, Relational Authority and Tribalism (I talk about these in my book Digital Mission and the Digital Mission Course).

Be Creative
As we move into the Easter season, this is a season to embrace creativity as you engage online. Reject the temptation to simply do what you would have done in-person and assume it will work online in the same way. It won’t! Find ways to tell the Easter story that are more creative and engaging (especially for digital culture). This doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but this season does provide the unique opportunity to do things you have never done before.

Be Memorable
This will be a unique season in the life of your church. Resist the temptation to just make it through. Have your team(s) ask, “how can we make this year’s Easter one of the most memorable for our people and community?” What are some memory creating moments in the season that will help foster engagement, expectancy and community? To that end, perhaps consider ways you can celebrate baptism, have a Church-wide online party with fun surprises, give creative Easter baskets to families in your church, find a way to creatively share the message of Easter that leads to response, etc. Whatever you do, use this season to increase engagement, make memories and foster community.

Be Missional
Because you will be more intentionally online this Easter, extend your reach. Lead a campaign for your people to share your services online by inviting their neighbours and friends, use Facebook Watch Parties, boost services with paid social media ads and engage with your community. Find ways to serve your community in this season. We discovered that people are itching to serve others and one of our most effective community engagement strategies is to help people serve others. Maybe it is creative Easter baskets for long-term care home residents, a fun and safe Easter-themed social activity for the community, etc. This is the season to reach far and wide into the community that God has strategically placed you in.

Be Social
People are desperate for community. Consider how you can help people get connected in your church and move from connection to community. Community is possible digitally (I argue in Digital Mission that it is just built in reverse). Find ways to connect with people and welcome them into your church community.

Be Hopeful
If there was ever a season to preach about the hope of the resurrection, this is the year. Don’t shy away from hope. People are desperate for it! Whatever your theme, the message of Easter is the message that we are hardwired to hear, and this season people are more attuned to hear this message than ever before. Don’t shy away from preaching the Good News of the resurrection!

Be Personal
This is the time to connect with people in personal ways. Everything online is personal (your newsfeed, the items curated for you on Amazon, your search engine results, etc.). Make your digital relationship with your congregants personal as well. This is easier in smaller church contexts but anything you can do to make Easter more customized for individuals and families will communicate your love and care for them. As people become increasingly expectant of a personal touch, the church can do this in unique and extremely meaningful ways. Take time with your team to discuss how you can make your Easter more customized for each of your community’s individuals and families (for example, if you are doing a gift bag, basket or box, customize with a handwritten note, with items curated for their unique family make up, and if you include pre-packaged food of some kind recognize those who are celiac, diabetics, etc.). This will communicate care and concern!

Be Gentle
This has been an extremely hard season. Be gentle with yourself! This has all been rather overwhelming and you are learning things that are beyond your regular areas of competency. Avoid comparing with others and simply and importantly love the people in your care. Be creative in your context. Don’t be tempted to look at the church down the block or online. Find ways to be digital, creative, memorable, missional, social, hopeful and personal in your context and avoid the comparison game. Whatever God is calling you to, do that!

As I have repeatedly said to pastors in this season, you are doing better than you think you are in terms of ministry effectiveness (it is just that all of your conditioned gauges of effectiveness are no longer working because they are all conditioned to in-person metrics and feedback). Additionally, pay attention and care for yourself with lots of understanding and grace (this has been the most difficult season to lead in our generation and don’t under-estimate the impact on you).

Be gentle with yourself!

Pastoral Leadership, Covid-19, and the Stages of Grief

Change is Hard!

As a pastoral leader, this has been a difficult season on many fronts. You have led your community of faith through an unprecedented health crisis, managed relentless pivots, made difficult decisions, and dramatically changed the models of ministry you were not just comfortable with but were competent in.

People like change until you change what they love (or are good at). And let’s face it, we were not just competent at our old methodologies, systems, and structures, we mastered them. This is why (pre-pandemic), even in the face of rapidly declining baptisms, disciple-making, attendance, and giving, we were so adverse and reluctant to change our methodologies.  Our competency and comfort kept us on a trajectory of complacency.

Covid-19 changed that!

Covid-19 has forced us to change the way we do things and pushed us out of our comfortable ineffective ruts. I believe God will use this to drive us closer to Him in intimacy (trusting more in Him than our methods) and toward greater innovation as we seek to discover what ministry will look like in a post-Covid-19 world.

With all major change, we need to grieve what was in order to accept what is and dream of what could be. All grief has commonalities, and the five stages of grief is a helpful tool to understand that journey. It can help you gain awareness empathy for what you, your church, and your team are experiencing.

As a leader, you are journeying these stages personally. You are grieving a way of doing things that you were very competent at and stepping into a new methodology and a different culture (digital is different) where you aren’t as comfortable or fluent. It is a loss and one that can be disorientating and discouraging.

Second, consider the stages as a team leader. Journeying the stages together doesn’t always mean you will journey it faster or healthier. Sometimes people can experience an arrested development in the grief journey. Therefore, be cautious that your team isn’t getting stuck together in one of the stages. Also, stay on the lookout for misunderstandings with each other as everyone processes grief at different speeds and in different orders.  

The Five Stages of Grief

The following are the stages of grief that I think pastors and church leaders are currently processing and journeying. As you read through them, consider where are you and your team are in that process.

Shock and Denial

Overnight, the comfortable way of doing things changed. We went into crisis-mode. We moved online with pragmatic naivety, believing that we could just do everything digitally in the same way we did it in-person. We were mistaken. We were in denial.

I think some are stuck here, hoping things will get better or get back to “normal,” unaware or unwilling to admit that 2019’s version of normal is not coming back. The way we did ministry pre-Covid-19 is not returning just like the way people shopped, exercised, watched movies, and learned will not. This is not a bad thing! In fact, it holds many opportunities for those willing to embrace them. If nothing else, it has pulled us out of our complacent slumber of apathetic ineffectiveness.

Anger

After the initial shock and denial comes anger. This emotion and feeling can be quite substantial. Your family and staff have probably felt this from you. You have probably sensed this in your team. We get frustrated, feel out of control, feel overwhelmed, and start blaming when we grieve the loss of what/who we love. Don’t underestimate this and the impact of this stage on your life and ministry.

Bargaining

The next stage is bargaining. This is the stage where we try to bargain our way out of our loss. Instead of moving to acceptance, we try and find another means to bring back what we love. This may manifest as a false hope that everything will be over soon, that things will just go back to “normal,” or when we try and justify that things are working when all indicators tell us they are not (for instance counting 3-sec views as equivalent to a person in physical attendance).

Depression

After bargaining comes depression. Once we realize we can’t bargain what we lost back into existence, we begin to accept the reality of the loss and the change at hand. As a result, there is often a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. The future is unknown. You are unsure of what to do. You question your competency and can feel overwhelmed by the situation. This stage can grab people and hold them tightly. Be aware of this in your life and in your team. Although hope exists (on a spiritual level (Jesus will lead us) and practical level (there are methodologies and new approaches that are and will be effective)) it can be hard to see them at first.

Acceptance

The final stage is acceptance. This is where we begin to accept the loss of what was and start to see the hope of what could be. In terms of the church, this where we begin to acknowledge that our old methodologies of preaching, community-building, evangelism, disciple-making, leading, and interacting won’t work anymore but something new can. Acceptance begins to dream, have hope, and move forward with faith and innovation.

Where Are You?

Where are you in these stages? Where are your teammates? Where is your team as a whole? Maybe this framework helps you understand how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. Perhaps it gives you something to discuss as a ministry/staff team as you work through the stages together.

Don’t rush through the grieving process! People journey grief at different speeds and the stages aren’t always linear.

Remember: You need to grieve! Grief is healthy! You need to grieve the loss of what was so you can embrace what can and will be. 

Lean into grief but don’t get stuck in it!

Four Leadership Postures for 2021

As we leave 2020 behind and press into 2021, I want to consider four leadership postures for the year ahead…

Self-Care (Healthy Rhythms and Intentional Rest)

The temptation of entering into 2021 is to turn the page on 2020 and enter the coming year ignorant of the long-term effects of leading through a pandemic.  Turning a calendar page might feel good but it doesn’t erase the impact of a difficult situation, season or year.  We know this to be true in other people’s lives, but we are often blind to it in our own.  I want to emphasize this.  In every major catastrophe or event, people often weather the storm, only to experience long term impacts.  In extreme situations, this is known as PSTD, but the principle of delayed and long-term impact shouldn’t be ignored.  As we enter 2021, it is vital for any leader to focus on self-care.  To take adequate time off.  To pursue healthy rhythms.  To get help even if you don’t think you need it.  If you are experiencing any symptoms from what I posted here (You are Not Okay), get some help and see a counsellor or a psychologist.  Don’t delay and care for yourself as we enter this new year.  Again, turning the page will not erase the hard words and difficult storyline of the previous chapter.

Preparing for the Long Haul

With the talk of a vaccine, there is a sense that things will go back to “normal” and, therefore, there isn’t a need to make the changes required for the long road ahead.  This is short-sighted and dangerous.  The road ahead will be longer than we hope, and we need to be prepared.  Even if I am wrong, and I hope I am, be prepared mentally and practically for the road ahead.  Good leaders don’t lead with blinders, they lead with clarity and the bravery to look ahead with courage and truth (for more on this, see my previous post).

Normalize Change

As you lead into 2021, it is vital that you normalize change.  After a season that jarred you out of the rut of the past, you will be tempted, even long, to go back.  Ignore the urge to go back to old systems that didn’t work (even if our rose-coloured memories tell us they did) and old structures that were outdated.  The innovation of the last year is the innovation posture needed for the future ahead.  Don’t let your foot off the pedal of change but rather get used to driving at the speed of invention.  This is the posture needed for any effective organization or ministry in the future.  Develop a posture of innovation and embrace the normalcy of change in 2021.

Empowering Young Leaders

In the last year, you may have reduced your reliance on younger leaders and stopped listening to emerging voices.  The desire for a steady and seasoned voice was understandable but the future will demand that we attune our ears to the young voices in our organizations and teams.  Promote young people, give responsibility to younger leaders and take some leadership risks with them in the coming year.  If you are a seasoned and older leader and you (re)build your organization, ministry and team around your desires and your preferences, you have missed the mark and have sacrificed your organization’s future for your present comfort.  The best leaders will empower young leaders in the coming season and give them room to experiment, develop and grow.

The Promise Ahead

2021 holds so much promise but that promise can be easily buried by our short memories and desire for comfort.  If we accept the temptation of comfort, we reject the vital opportunities before it.  Look ahead with realism and walk forward in hope.  God is doing a new thing and asking us to join.