Ali-150x150Inside the ring it’s a sport, outside the ring it’s a crime. You guessed it, I’m referring to professional boxing. I’ll return to the absurdity of this sport and how it relates to leadership in a moment but let me say if you want a good laugh simply google “boxing quotes” and enjoy yourself. Here are a few I came across:

Bob Hope: “I was called “Rembrandt” Hope in my boxing days, because I spent so much time on the canvas.

Muhammad Ali, on an upcoming fight with Floyd Patterson: “I’ll beat him so bad he’ll need a shoehorn to put his hat on.”

Randall “Tex” Cobb: “When I got up I stuck to my plan — stumbling forward and getting hit in the face.”

Max Baer, when asked for his definition of fear: “Standing across the ring from Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

Muhammad Ali: “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

I think it’s this last quote from Ali that sums up how ridiculous boxing seems to me…we’ve sanctioned a job the purpose of which is to beat someone up. But what does this have to do with leadership? Be selective with who or what you’re willing to climb into the ring for. Choose your fights wisely.

A college professor once said, “Some things are worth fighting for and some things are worth dying for. And most things aren’t worth either.” Sometimes leaders can make issues of things that really aren’t that important. We need to ask ourselves, “Is this something I need to get in the ring over?”

Are you in the ring right now with someone? Is it really worth it? Could someone else get in the ring in your place? Will letting the issue go be all that bad? Never underestimate your ability to think something is really important…when it’s not. In the past I’ve made issues of things that looking back I can now see weren’t as important as I thought they were. There have been things I thought were problems that were not and my thinking they were ended up making them a problem…a different problem, a bigger problem.

When in doubt get advice from someone objective and disassociated from the situation. Don’t get in the ring unless you really need to.

You can follow me on twitter @thinkmonk

imagesWhenever Ellen and I have an opportunity to visit another church we like to play the “Friendly Game.” What we do is stand in the back of the meeting room and look confused, which comes more easily for me than it does for Ellen. We then keep track how many times someone says hi to us. Greeters don’t count because that’s their job. The “Stand up and greet someone.” times only barely counts because you’ve been told to do it. The pastor or the pastor’s spouse don’t count because they get paid to be friendly.
I’m amazed at how many churches fail the Friendly Game. I also find it interesting how many pastors say their church is really, really friendly but when we visit it’s the Sunday when all the friendly ones stayed home. There are a number of reasons why Christians aren’t friendly to visitors or newcomers on Sunday, for example:
Some are more interested in talking to their friends, which is not altogether a bad or unreasonable thing.
Some people are just not friendly people. They’re not picking on church visitors, they’re not friendly to anyone.
Some people are shy.
Some don’t know what to say after, “Hi, name is Dave.”

Visitors don’t expect a lot. It doesn’t take much for a guest to feel like they’ve been warmly welcomed. Here is a simple script that anyone, even if you are a shy one, can follow when approaching a visitor.
“Hi, my name is Dave. What’s your name?”

“How did you hear about our church?”

“What do you do for a living.”

“I hope your enjoy today and I hope to see you again next week.”
If you are really brave you can pull a friend over and introduce them to the visitor.
If guests don’t feel the church was very friendly there is a good chance they will not return. This Sunday if you see two people in the back looking confused, it could be me and Ellen.
What are your thoughts?

imagesMatthew Wolfe had an article published in Newsweek entitled, Reaching My Goal of Having No Life Plan. It caught my eye. Matthew has earned two degrees in music and has a Ph.D. in literature. In his past he was a “goals junkie” who lectured on the value of long-term planning. Matthew even began writing a book that he hoped would be the definitive word on the subject. But then he was converted…converted from making long-term goals which he says are, “…an exercise in futility.”

What stood out to me about Matthew’s article had little to do with whether or not setting goals is good or bad, but the things Matthew said about our fast paced lives, which he claimed is fueled, by goals. “The world of goals is about fast-tracking your life. It’s about getting from point A to Z, ASAP. Do not linger over a cup of J. There is no time to smell the R. Just go! Go! Go!” This secular thinker made me think. “We’d all be more receptive to life’s opportunities if we weren’t trying to look so far ahead.” he said.

There is a lot said these days about our need to set goals for our church…two year goals, five year plan, etc. I’m not saying this is bad it’s just that when you detail your plan and then it doesn’t work out it can be discouraging. Or have you ever heard stories of new church planters who go from 20 to 200 in 12 months? Have you ever wondered why your church doesn’t grow like that? What do they know that I don’t know? Maybe they’re better at planning than I am?

It’s so easy to get depressed when your ministry goals don’t speed along like you hoped they would. But is it possible that in our push to go from A to Z, ASAP that we might be missing things that are far more important than the growth of our church? “When I tell people I no longer make long-term plans, more than a few hint that I am a slacker or even a failure. I think it depends on how you define success. Am I right? Hardly. Famous? Nope. Climbing the professional ladder? I’m not even sure where it is anymore. Am I happy? Yes. Life may be a highway, but I’ve tossed my maps and GPS. If something neat turns up along the way, I’m stopping to take pictures.” says Matthew. Maybe we can learn something from this “failure” with a Ph.D.

I’m not suggesting that we quit making plans. But I am suggesting that our obsession with growing our church is more an indoctrination from a culture that values success over significance and rewards size more than substance. I am suggesting you invest more in your soul than your church. I am suggesting you discover what you could cut out of your calendar which would make more time for quiet, solitude, time for thinking, reading, praying, playing. Matthew Wolfe found a way to slow down and enjoy the more important things. In so doing, he was able to say, “I’m happy.” Are you happy?

images4-150x150Back in my Bible College days, senior year students had to complete an internship in a local church before they could graduate. The idea behind this was that the hands-on experience of ministering in a church would bring a balance to the academic instruction in the classroom. The student saw this as an exciting opportunity to “show what they got” in a real ministry environment. For the Pastor agreeing to take on an intern it was viewed as “cheap labor.” The larger churches in the area would pay their interns (though as little as they could get away with), which made these “paying gigs” the first choice of those looking for an internship.

Years later, after I had left college and was pastoring, a young, talented ministry student approached me for an internship. I explained I could not pay him with anything other than direct contact with me. We set up a plan and he seemed genuinely excited about having an opportunity to be mentored and trained. A couple days later I got a call from him explaining that he had decided to take an internship somewhere else. When I pressed him as to why, he finally admitted that this other large church offered him money.

An internship is a chance for someone to receive hands-on training, mentoring, and experience in a church setting. Small church pastors often think they can’t offer internships either because they are small or because they can’t pay. But you can do internships without shelling out one dime. You can do internships even though you pastor a small church. You can do internships even though you don’t live near a Christian College that has young ministry students. But first, answer this question: Do you have any of the following type of people in your church:

Older Christians who are retired and have some free time?
Christians who are currently unemployed or in-between jobs and have some free time?
Mothers with children in school who have some free time?
College-age Christians who are interested in ministry and have flexibility and some free time?

I bet you have some of these in your congregation. All of these might be interested in doing an internship. Some will have more time on their hands and some less. Some, especially those in-between jobs, might have to stop the internship mid-way. That’s ok.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Are you crazy…how am I going to find the time to offer an internship? I wouldn’t know where to start.” I understand, but if you are interested I can help. If I did it, and I did, then you can too. Contact me and let’s explore offering internships in your church. Internships fulfill our mandate to make disciples, raise up leaders, and delegate ministry. In the long run you might just be saving yourself time and expanding your ministry without spending one cent.

UnknownIf you’re a pastor it’s probably been a while since you’ve been a visitor in someone else’s church. I mean a visitor in the sense of one looking for a new church home. After Ellen and I moved to Southern Oregon it took us a couple months to decide on a church to join. Moving put us in that unfamiliar place of looking for a church. Just think, for 28 years I’ve never gone church shopping. Ellen and I have always started our own churches and had people visit us, not the other way around. It’s a very interesting experience, i.e. looking at a church through the eyes of a visitor.

They say (I’m not sure who “they” are and I’ve never seen the study that is supposed to back this up, but it makes a great point whether true or not.) that first-time visitors decide if they are going to return to your church a second time within the first seven minutes they walk through your doors. Even if this is nothing more than a “church” urban legend, I would probably agree…give or take a few minutes.

The point is, you will become blind to how your church looks to first-timers in direct proportion to how old your church is. The longer you’ve been open for business the less likely it is that you can tell what comes off as strange, confusing, or weird to those who are visiting. In order to remedy this you might need to plant a spy. There are two ways you might do this.

First, find someone in your church who you feel can be truly objective and understands what it is you are trying to accomplish. The following Sunday (or whenever it is that you have your pubic meeting) have them come a few minutes late and take notes of everything that stands out to them that might be a turn-off to a guest. Their challenge is to see your service through the eyes of a guest…whether they be a Christian guest looking for a new church home, or an unbeliever checking your church out for whatever reason. Or…

Second, and this is probably the best way to get some truly unbiased feedback, pay some unchurched non-believer to help you out. Have them visit your church, fill out a questionnaire, and meet with you afterwards for a debriefing. Pay them, say…$25 – $50. It will be worth it.

If we want to attract the unchurched we must learn to see our meetings through their eyes. An attempt needs to be made to remove any obstacles that might keep them from returning…within reason of course. One of the best ways of identifying and removing said obstacles is to plant a spy.

imagesIt’s hard to come up with a sermon topic. Sometimes we pick topics that are of interest to us but might not be a topic our audience will find helpful. It takes time to pray and think and evaluate your current context in order to select a subject that will be timely. It’s much easier to pick the first solid thing that pops into your mind and then convince yourself that it was the Spirit.

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself before or after you have chosen a topic:

1. What can I bring to this audience or subject that is unique?

Now truth is truth and I don’t think we need to feel obligated to come up with something new every time we speak. However, you are a unique individual with a perspective and life-experiences that are especially yours. What can you give your listeners? What can you give to the topic that will be unique?

2. What do I think these people need to hear?

This takes time to determine. Ask your spouse. Ask your leaders what they think the congregation needs to hear. Ask members of your congregation what they think the need is. After you come up with a topic try to be as objective as you can and ask…

3. Why do I think they need to hear this?

Let’s say you determine that the church needs to be taught on love. Why do you think that? “Well because of this…I’m going to speak on that.” You may be misinterpreting the “this.” The “this” could be a symptom of a greater need. Or…are you choosing the topic because one individual complained to you about something they think you need to address? Not good enough.

4. What are the most important elements of this subject that I need to deal with?

Don’t feel like you’ve got to say all that can be said on your particular topic. I’ve heard speakers say, “Well there’s so much I could say about this I didn’t know what to leave out.” You’d better get good at knowing what to leave out or your people will check out. You’ve got a lifetime to teach…pace yourself.

5. If I had to reduce this message down to one sentence, what would it be?

Determine the “it” and then let that be your guiding light. What do you want them to take home with them? Keep it simple, clear, obvious.

6. Is it possible that there is a topic that could be more timely and appropriate?

One of your most effective tools for influence is your gift of teaching. Take the time to think through the topics you speak on. Use the questions I’ve suggested to help you pick topics that will be the right message at the right time for the right people.

7. And last, but certainly not least, because of prayer and waiting upon God, did you have any sense of what He wants you to preach on? Go here first and then you can start with question #1.

Have you ever used a preaching coach? In case you didn’t know, I am one. Find out more here.

You can follow me on twitter @thinkmonk

imagesA a number of years ago I did something I never dreamed possible. I donated all of my commentaries and bible study helps to my alma mater. There were a few really old or rare volumes that I kept for sentimental reasons or in hopes of impressing someone in the future who might see my personal library, but other than that, I boxed them up and dropped them off. I must admit, as I walked away I had mixed feelings. I felt like a parent abandoning their child on someone’s doorstep.

There were two reasons why I gave a big portion of my library away. First, online bible study helps were becoming so abundant that I hardly needed to open “real” books anymore. And second, I discovered that I so seldom needed to turn to commentaries in order to put together a good sermon that they didn’t justify the space they were taking up on my bookshelves. On those rare occasions that I needed to look something up I could do so online. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order, I have about commentaries and the place they play in sermon preparation.

If you spend more than an hour a week reading commentaries you’re probably spending too much time reading commentaries.

If you already have a Bachelors or Masters in Bible & Theology, or something similar, you’ve probably been exposed to an adequate amount of bible and theology classes and hours of commentary reading will probably not result in you discovering anything new, i.e. “new” from a scholarly, commentary, academic point of view. If you do learn something new (and there’s always something new) the practicality of it will probably not be so great as to justify the time spent.

Assuming that you have some type of formal training in Bible and Theology, the only time you might want to turn to a commentary is if you are dealing with a controversial or difficult passage and you feel a need for some other opinions on the passage.

If you have no formal training in Bible and Theology then go to the local Christian book store and find a few commentaries designed for laymen. These volumes are easier to understand, typically make the application for you, contain all the important stuff, and are less expensive than the larger more scholarly commentaries.

When you need input from commentaries then take advantage of the free tools online, you’ll save time and money.

Discover which website is good for what. For example, one site might be good for commentaries and another good for concordance. One might be strong if you’re looking for a parallel bible while another one excels in Greek and Hebrew. One might have a better selection of word study helps or Bible dictionaries than another. Once you’ve discovered the strengths of each website create a link to each one, change their names to reflect what you’ll use them for, i.e. commentaries, bible dictionaries, Greek, etc., and put them all in a folder on your desktop. And there you have it, your own custom library.

images-1Pressure and decision-making seldom mix well. Pastoring means pressure. Pastoring means making important decisions. So…pastoring + pressure + decision-making = trouble.

Be careful about making decisions while under stress or pressure. If you personally are in a “bad place”, i.e. stressed, burned out, angry, etc., hold off on making any important decisions. If someone in your church comes up to you with some problem and demands that you act immediately on it…hold off, don’t be pressured into action because something seems urgent. When we make decisions under pressure or stress the “mistake factor” rises significantly.

Five rules for decision-making:

1. Never make an important decision alone.

2. Never make an important decision without seeking objective counsel.

3. Never make an important decision without including your spouse.

4. Never make an important decision when under stress or pressure.

5. Most problems are not as urgent as they might seem. Therefore, you can wait to make most decisions.

What other “rules to live by” do you live by when it comes to making important decisions?

I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “tyranny of the urgent” but I bet it was a pastor. Don’t be bullied, Don’t be pressured by situations that seem to demand that you act immediately. If you are under stress or feeling pressured…wait.

images-2I was on the phone with a new pastor who wanted my opinion. Apparently he had been experimenting on Sunday mornings with allowing time for people to “share” scripture verses, prayer, ideas they thought were from God that the church would benefit from, etc. This isn’t an easy thing to manage. You get good sharing and bad sharing. Some stuff is from God and some from… who knows where. Allowing a time like this and making it work can be like herding cats. Anyways…one individual in his church contacted him to let him know that he did not like this new change in the program. “This is weird. It’s out of control. This will turn off visitors,” said the squeaky wheel. The pastor told me, “Dave, maybe I should go back to the way we did things before. Maybe this guy is right.” And then, without even thinking, I said, “Remember this principle…never change your direction or practices because of one or two people.”

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep everyone happy. I’m not suggesting we try to make people unhappy, but you can’t please everyone. I remember one wise old pastor who told me, “You can’t avoid offending people. You’re going to offend. You might as well decide who you’re going to offend and offend them. They’ll leave, but they probably would have left anyway.” I wasn’t sure how I felt about his wisdom but it made me laugh, and maybe he’s not too far from the truth.

I don’t know how many times I changed something just because a squeaky wheel I didn’t want to offend didn’t like something we were doing. Eight times out of ten that person left anyway. Never change your direction, practices or policies just because one or two people squeak. Chances are a year from now they won’t even be in your church.

I’m not saying we don’t listen to people. I’m not promoting being head-strong and plowing forward no matter what others say. God can speak to us through our people. They will, at times, have good ideas and suggestions we need to hear. Having said all that, they can also misdirect us. So remember, never change your direction, practices or policies just because of one or two people. Don’t grease the squeaky wheel.

Have you had a similar experience?

imagesI have to admit that there does seem to be more talk these days about church health than church growth. However, sometimes church health is secretly the focus one employs to achieve what they are really after…church growth. The easy way to spot this is if you hear the person promoting church health make some comment like, “Church health will lead to church growth. A healthy church will be a growing church.” Sometimes this is true, but not always. You can have a healthy church that is not growing and you can have a growing church that is not healthy. Numbers are not necessarily an indication of health or lack thereof. How then can we measure church health? Percentages.

A church is healthy if there is a growing percentage of it’s members involved in things like small groups, serving in ministries, personal evangelism, personal devotions, tithing, etc. For example, a church with an attendance of 100 that has 35% of it’s members participating in outreach activities would be healthier (at least in the area of outreach) than a church of 1000 that only has 20% involvement. A church of 200 with 40% involvement in small groups and a church of 3000 with 40% involvement would be equally healthy in the area of small groups.

Pareto Principle

“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparseness) states that, for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes. Business management thinker Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population. It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.” (

If the Pareto principle is true in business it is certainly true in most churches. Doesn’t it seem like 80% of your giving comes from 20% of your people? Don’t 20% of your people do 80% of the work? Therefore, 20% involvement in personal devotions would be normal (not necessarily good, but normal) and anything above that is movement up the church health scale.

Leadership Team Project.

Want an interesting and helpful activity for you and your leaders? At your next leadership team meeting:

1. Draw up a list of things you would hope your members would participate in, things that you think are healthy for Christians, i.e. small groups, serving in ministries, etc.

2. Figure out what percentage of your adult members are participating in each of the areas you identified.

3. Determine a way to track these percentages so that six months from now you can see if the percentages have grown, remained the same, or declined.

4. Score each area based on the Pareto principle. Below 20% is below normal. 20% is normal. Above 20% is better than normal. The higher the percentage shows the higher health.

Sometimes smaller churches are healthier than they realize. We must discover ways to determine health, ways other than merely looking at attendance. “Percentages” is an objective and accurate way to measure the health of your church.

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