Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Rest and Whitespace

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  - Isaiah 30:15 New International Version (NIV) During the season of Lent we spend time doing repentance. Repentance literally means to turn around and go in a new direction. We begin Lent on Ash Wednesday with a smudge of ash in the form of a cross. This ashen cross reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Repentance gets real when we have ash on our foreheads. We tend to take death seriously when it stares back at us in the mirror. What about rest? Is that a part of your Lenten discipline? The Lord says, repentance and rest is your salvation. Sometimes, repentance is our main focus during Lent. When was the last time you focused on rest during Lent?  I don’t do rest very well. How about you? Do you rest faithfully? Do you sit in quietness? Do you trust that God will be faithful? I know God is speaking to me, when God says in Isaiah 30:15, “you would have none of this rest and quietness stuff”. Is God speaking to you too? Is God waiting for us to notice our need for rest and quiet? Do you need to practice rest this Lent? Do you need to be intentional about quiet time with God? Rest in God and quiet intimacy with God leads to salvation and strength. I want these things in my life, and I would guess that you do too. Would you consider more whitespace in your life? If you’re tired of being tired, if you’re exhausted from being exhausted, then you need the strength that rest and quietness with God can offer you. I know what it means to work long hours. I know that when I lose whitespace, I am not resting in God. We often believe that whitespace is just blank space. But in art, whitespace is an important element of design. It enables the objects in a composition to exist. Whitespace breathes beauty. God is the Artist and Architect of your soul. God is using spiritual whitespace in our lives to reawaken our souls with rest and quietness. When we make room for spiritual whitespace, we step into the journey of letting go to discover what’s really worth holding on to. We need to slow down, to savor moments, to enjoy conversations and renew intimacy. When we step into whitespace, we are no longer holding onto our old ways of coping, managing and doing. We only hold on to Jesus. In the whitespaces, our soul reawakens to rest with God. I need whitespace. I need rest with God. I need quiet to hear God’s whispers. I need God’s strength to keep living. Will you seek quiet and practice rest this Lent? Is your life in need of God’s quiet whispers of trust and strength? Join me this Lent as we look for whitespace, for strength, for salvation, for rest and quiet in God. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” - Augustine of Hippo (354–430), in Confessions

video update 3 8 17

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Paradox of Our Time

Ignite Worship: February 26th @ Zion Lutheran

Luther Hymn Festival @ Zion Lutheran

Inside the Strange Head of A Leader: 5 Mood Swings Any Leader Can Relate To

By Carey Nieuwhof | February 23, 2017

Ever feel like you’re two people? Or three?

Sometimes when I reflect on who I am, I think I just swing from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.

I’m not talking about struggling with mental health issues or being bi-polar. I have friends who are bi-polar and who struggle with mental health issues on an ongoing basis. I feel for them and I pray for them. And although I burned out at one point in ministry, for the most part, I don’t have any ongoing mental health issues. And that subject—an important one—is a very different topic.

But sometimes if you get into the head of most leaders, it can feel a little strange and moody. This post is about the daily ups and downs and mood swings we all go through as leaders, and in particular, ministry leaders.

Been there?

One my favorite quips from Kara Powell is what she told me in this podcast interview: “Balance is something you achieve as you swing from one extreme to another.”

I still smile every time I think of that quote. So true isn’t it?

Knowing the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership can help you manage the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership.

If you don’t understand the swings involved in leadership, you’ll be tempted to quit before you should. And you’ll likely be unnecessarily confused by the challenges of ministry.

So with all that in mind, here are 5 mood swings I’ve experienced in ministry leadership:

1. I’m doing an awesome job <——-> I’m doing an awful job

I realized early on in leadership that I’m really not the best judge of how I’m doing. For that reason, I’ve sought out feedback early and often.

And yet I realize that as a leader, you’re often the last to know how you’re really doing. And your self-perception can be off.

Left unchecked, I will often drift toward thinking I’m doing a better job than I am… or a worse job than I am. Neither is helpful for the team I lead.

If I think I’m doing better than I am, I ignore problems I need to deal with.

If I think I’m doing worse than I actually am, my discouragement can negatively impact the team.

To stay somewhere in the middle is ideal. Getting formal and informal feedback from people who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth is the best way to do this.

So the question is… are you getting that kind of honest, real-time feedback? If not, what could you do to solicit it?

The reality is that you’re not nearly as good as your best day or nearly as bad as your worst.

2. I’m completely overwhelmed <——-> I’m so bored

Leadership can be overwhelming.

I have a fairly high capacity for work, but I still find myself signing up for more projects and work than I can handle in some seasons. I’m not prone to panic, but every once in a while I get that “What on earth was I thinking??” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Then… this almost always happens.. .once I get to the other side of all that work, I feel a letdown and I get bored, wondering whether I’m actually doing everything I should be doing.

I think many A type leaders can relate.

The key, of course, is to keep the challenges in balance… to load up with a healthy amount of challenge and then keep it steady.

Easier said than done. But most days… I’m not bored.

3. Things are going great personally <——–> I’m in the ditch

Of all the journeys in ministry, the emotional journey has been the most surprising and the most challenging personally.

It’s hard not to take ministry personally. Unless you really work at establishing accurate boundaries, when people leave your church, it can feel like they’re leaving you. When people criticize your message or your leadership, it can feel like they’re criticizing you. 

Add to that my drive to take on big challenges, and sometimes keeping emotional balance is a weekly… if not a daily… task. After burning out 11 years ago, I’m more sensitive to it than ever.

If you struggle to keep your personal journey healthy, I wrote this post about how to get off the emotional roller coaster of ministry. Hope it helps!

4. I love the church <——–> I’m so frustrated with the church

I really love the local church. Seriously, I love it.

I hear from the critics all the time (anyone who blogs does.), but they can’t deter my passion for the local church.

And I love the church I serve too. Deeply. Most days, I’m thrilled with it.

If you’re leading a church through change, or if your church needs to change, chances are you’ll spend more than a little time feeling frustrated by your church, and about your church. That’s understandable. Keep loving it, though.

If you’ve led for a while and you’re still frustrated by your church, you might discover what I’ve discovered. That I’m not frustrated with the church nearly as much as I’m frustrated with myself.

Why? Because I’m the leader. And somehow I contributed to the problem I can’t figure out how to solve.

Frustrated by your church? Change what’s frustrating you and others.

Frustrated by your church after you’ve led it for a long time? Then change yourself… you’re the one with whom you’re probably most frustrated.

5. Micromanagement <———-> Abdication

Of all the pendulums that swing in my leadership, this is the one I have to manage most actively.

Our church is too big for me to manage everything. Frankly, if your church is even 50 people, it should be too big for you to manage everything.

And I can be a micromanager, especially in areas in which I’m passionate. I also happen to notice every little detail. Not so much in the things I create, but in the things other people create (I need other people to spot the typos in everything I write).

If I decide not to micromanage, I can run to the other side of the spectrum and abdicate completely, a big sign that I’m losing interest.

It’s a horribly perfect storm to create a demotivating work environment.

So I check this every day. I try to make sure I micromanage less in areas of my passion and abdicate less in areas where I really have no natural passion. That makes for a much better culture: a leader who is engaged, but not controlling. Passionate, but not constantly interfering.

And yes, it’s a work in progress.

5 Unfair Criticisms People Levy at Strategic Church Leaders

By Carey Nieuwhof | February 20, 2017 |

If you’re a church leader who thinks strategically, you’re probably going to get criticized. Maybe even more than you ever dreamed.

For some reason, being strategic is often viewed as being unspiritual in the church. Why?

I mean, if you want the church to flounder, be unstrategic. Never use your mind, only use your heart. Never think, only feel.

Saying the church should never be strategic is like saying God wasn’t strategic when he designed the universe or even when he designed you. Everything was just random or emotional; God never invoked what we best understand as rational thought.

The truth is God showed incredible precision and unfathomable accuracy and detail when creating the galaxies.

If God created us to think, why do people criticize leaders who use their minds when leading?

It’s a real question. Talk to many Christians, and you’d think logic and strategy are the enemies of the faith. (Just read the comments scattered throughout the blog… you’ll see the mindset there.)

You know who pays the price for this?  Among others, the church. Because so often, churches are poorly led as a result.

To be fair, we’ve all probably met a few church leaders who were strategic but who showed little evidence of a profound and personal relationship with Jesus. That’s just wrong, and that’s not what this post is justifying.

You can be strategic and deeply devoted to Jesus. You can think and be faithful.

However, if you’re a strategic leader, get ready.

As soon as the conversation gets specific and detailed, some people start criticizing. Here’s what you need to be prepared to hear.

Just because these phrases sound spiritual doesn’t mean they’re always helpful. And just because they’re true doesn’t mean they should shut down intelligent, prayerful discussion.

But too often, they do, and the church pays a horrible price.

1. You’re not trusting God enough

So…  because I’m planning and thinking, I must not be trusting God?

Trusting God doesn’t mean “my half-baked idea is good enough for God.”

It doesn’t mean “let’s just do some ill-considered thing and hope it works out.”

Trust and strategy can be and should be inherently linked.

Trust isn’t blind, and strategy isn’t bullet-proof.

When they work together (like when Paul built the early church), incredible things can happen.

Will God do more than your strategy suggests he will? Absolutely.

When I look at everything God has done in my life and leadership, he’s out-delivered my strategy a thousand times over.  I’ve seen God work in me, through me and in spite of me again and again.

But I often find that leaders who have a (faithful, well-thought-out) strategy tend to do greater things in the Kingdom than leaders who don’t.

2. Just get back to the Gospel

Often when the conversation becomes highly strategic, someone around the table will say something like “Just get back to the Gospel.”

Should you get back to the Gospel?

Of course. In fact, root everything you do deeply in the Gospel and be faithful to it.

Strategy—when done well—is what gives flesh to the Gospel in your context.

I can hear the critics now… The Gospel doesn’t need flesh. It doesn’t need help. It doesn’t need anything. 

I get that…. but what are the critics really railing against?

I don’t think most can answer that.

And notice this: often the critics who speak the loudest are accomplishing little for the Gospel in their lives.

They’re not leading anyone. They may leave critical comments on a blog or write angry emails to church leaders, but who’s following them? (Other than maybe five people who write letters/leave comments with them?)

Who are they leading to Christ?

What are they building?

What seeds are they sowing other than seeds of dissension?

The spiritual gift of criticism is not a spiritual gift.

Do we need to get back to the Gospel? Absolutely. But the Gospel is as much about moving forward as it as about moving back.

So keep moving forward.

3. The scripture says….

Ah… scripture wars.

These are so hard.

When I was a young leader, I tried to justify all my actions with scripture.

But you know what? Often that’s exactly what people try to do when they keep quoting scripture verses: justify their actions.

And when you try to explain your position using a series of scripture verses, guess what someone who disagrees with you will do? The same thing.

And you end up with a scripture war.

I’m not sure that’s why God gave us the scriptures.

Again, every strategy you propose or adopt should be entirely consistent with Scripture and genuinely biblical, but too often Christians will try to use scriptural principles to attack preferences with which they disagree.

Often, strategy comes down to preference.

One person likes this kind of music; another prefers a different style.

Someone likes a more traditional architecture; someone else prefers something far more modern.

One group likes a church with programs running five nights a week; another prefers a simpler model.

I’m not sure scripture should be used to justify our preferences. Biblically, there is freedom on certain issues. And biblically, there is always love.

Sadly, too many strategic conversations go down in the flames of Scripture wars.

And when we do that, don’t we play right into the enemy’s hands? As shocking as it sounds, the scripture sometimes gets used as a weapon against God. (Satan tried this with Jesus.)

All we do as Christian leaders should be deeply biblical and scripturally sound.

It isn’t wise or helpful to use the Bible to beat each other up or shut down needed discussions.

4. The church is not a business, you know

You’re not a CEO, you know. And the church is not a business.

I’ve heard this many times.

Critics who say this are quite right—and very wrong.

The sentiment underneath this criticism suggests the church has nothing to learn from the business world.

Again, without getting into the scripture wars outlined above, you don’t have to read the scriptures very deeply before you encounter organizational leadership in the life of Moses (who couldn’t handle millions of people by himself), or David’s skillful building of a nation, or Jesus’ organization of his followers into a group of 70, 12, 3 and 1, or the early church’s reorganization after explosive initial growth.

As much as it makes some people wince, historical Christianity has always been about corporate strategy because it has always been corporate (from the Latin corpus as in body).  

Anyone who cares about people has to care about organizing people, reaching people and caring for people.

Sadly, the business world has become better at it in many cases than the church. Companies use advanced strategies to make something as shallow and fleeting as profit.

What if the church used that level of strategic thinking to reach people and make disciples?

Think about strategy when it comes to tackling one of the biggest obstacles facing churches today: breaking the 200 attendance mark. (I wrote about why 80% of churches never break that barrier here.)

Most churches fail to break the 200 attendance barrier but it has nothing to do with their…

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

You know why most churches don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything. Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the director of marketing? He’s at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.

But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There is a produce manager and there are people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

That’s just one tiny example of how better thinking (things we can learn from the wider world) can transform the church’s mission today.

To say you don’t want to organize the body of Christ well is to say you don’t care about Christ’s body.

5. Just pray about it

We should absolutely pray about all of the decisions we make, organizationally and personally. I am full on for prayer.

But often in the context of a meeting, ‘just pray about it’ becomes the ultimate shut-down move.

“Just pray about it” translates to “let’s not make a decision.”

Or it means “let’s defer that… forever.”

Or, even worse, ‘just pray about it’ suggests that if you actually prayed about it, you would realize like all the spiritual people do that God would not approve.

Really? Just because something sounds spiritual doesn’t mean it’s from God. In fact, sometimes that’s the best way to shut down the mission of the church: make it sound spiritual, and then kill all forward momentum.

Should you pray about your decision? Absolutely.

But when you pray, remember that prayer and thought are not mutually incompatible.

In fact, they should go hand in hand. The best prayers bring your heart and your mind before God. They bring all of you and everything you’re dealing with before Christ.

So… by all means, pray about it. Pray about it deeply. Bring all of your plans before God.

But then act.

Don’t let people who say ‘just pray about it’ kill the mission of the very church God created.

Zion Youth Spring Hill Weekend 2017