Two more LITTLE words of BIG leadership

a little over a month ago I was sitting in my office with my Student Ministry leadership team and we were listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley.  In that podcast he talked about two words that are huge for leaders… and everyone around the circle agreed that those two words make all the difference.  Andy said that these two words were even more important than giving someone a paycheck.  What are these two words?


Wait… WHAT?  That’s it?

Yes.  But those two words express HUGE leadership.  Especially when they are spoken to people who are doing what they are SUPPOSED TO DO.

I’ve seen people give more, and serve longer and harder because someone took the time to say “Thank you” to them.

How would your leadership grow if you just learned the art of saying “thank you” more often?

One LITTLE word that makes leadership BIGGER.

When I was a younger leader (because 36 is still pretty young in my opinion) I remember being full of great ideas and thinking “All of my ideas are awesome… in fact, they aren’t just A way to do things… they are THE way to do things.”  I would often think that senior leaders over me didn’t really know what was going on or that their ideas were old and out of touch with the future.  I know… I was young and naive and I was full of ideas and idealism.  I was also, though I would have never said it back then, full of pride.  I never would have said it because I didn’t recognize what I was doing or feeling as pride.  I just chalked it up to being full of the best ideas and being a leader.  I was wrong.  Here was my discovery.  I learned that one little word would take my leadership and GROW IT.  One little word, over time, would end up maturing me.  This little two-letter word has power both when you learn how to say it… and when you learn how to hear it.


Now, I know much has been written on the power of learning to say NO that will grow your leadership.  I think that is true and important, but that isn’t what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about learning to HEAR the word “NO” and accepting the word “NO.”


Early on, the word “NO” was a shot to my ego, reputation and leadership.  When I would talk about my ideas or present my idea to a senior leader and they would say “NO” or would choose to go in a different direction, I would get mad, upset, and feel like they weren’t seeing it or that they didn’t trust me. (see… pride)  I would sit around with other younger leaders and talk about how my ideas were still better in hopes to gain support or rally them to my side or cause.  (that proves to be damaging and divisive, by the way… and shows a real character problem.)   But I slowly have learned over time that the best thing I could have ever done was to present an idea, only to hear “NO.” Why?  Because it taught me that, although my idea may have been good, my ideas aren’t always what is best for everyone. (see, the attitude of “my ideas are always the best and will always be what we default to… that’s PRIDE)  It taught me to hold loosely to my ideas and LISTEN to the BEST IDEAS in the room.  Leadership isn’t about WHO has the BEST ideas… it’s about who HEARS the best ideas and promotes that person.  It’s having enough humility to not be so insecure to think that it has to be YOUR way or NO way.  Now, sometimes the leader has to step in and make an unpopular call because an idea, even if it is good, will end up hurting the organization… and I have had to do that from time to time, but BIG leadership isn’t about being a dictator.  Leadership is about helping people move from point A to point B.  Sometimes it’s our ideas that get them there… often times it is recognizing other’s ideas and boosting them as the best.

So when you have an idea… no matter how great it is, hold it loosely and welcome a “NO.”  Fight for your idea, but at the end of the day, be open to the fact that your idea, although good, may not be what is truly BEST for your team or your organization.


It’s a LITTLE word that can have a BIG impact on our maturing leadership.

Thinking “STEPS” in Ministry [part 2]

Yesterday I wrote part one of this 2 part blog series on “Thinking STEPS in ministry.”  If you haven’t read it yet… go back here and read that one first.  If you have read it, here we go with the PRACTICAL “how to” side of thinking STEPS and not just programs for your ministry.


Before you start identifying a cute strategy with words that all start with the same letter, have some kind of slick diagram that looks like a baseball diamond or spells the name of your ministry (don’t think you weren’t coming up with something like that… I know our type too well 🙂 )… the FIRST THING we have to do is identify the OBJECTIVE.  We need to know what we are trying to accomplish before we try to accomplish it.  What if the inventors of Baseball never came up with the concept of scoring runs?  What if they created this awesome game where you got on base and then moved from base to base… only to just keep moving from base to base.  I can just imagine that conversation:

“so, after they get to third base, then what?”

“Well… they go to home plate.”

“Then what?”

“um, go to first base?”

“So when do they finally stop going around the bases?”

“When the other team gets three outs.”

“So how do you WIN?”

“um… great question.”

Thank God they came up with scoring runs… or baseball would be a very confusing and boring sport to watch (I know… some of you already think it is).

So when we think about our students in our ministries… we need to ask “What is the end goal?  What does a RUN look like for a student?”  When I first started asking this question… it was very difficult to answer because we are never truly FINISHED as a follower of Jesus while we are still living.  We are ALWAYS progressing towards becoming more and more like Jesus.  (Sanctification, for you theology nerds)

I finally figured out that I don’t have to think about what a completed Christian is supposed to be like… I just need to think about what JESUS wants for an adult disciple.  I thought about the answer to the question, “What kind of Followers of Jesus do I want to graduate from my ministry?”  And then it clicked.  I want students to be fully in love with Jesus, ready to give everything they have to follow Him and want to share their story with as many people as possible.  If I could graduate those kinds of students… then I would feel like I did what I was supposed to as a youth pastor.  So that became my objective.  That is why I said yesterday that I no longer became impressed with how many students attended my program… because that was not my end goal.  That was not my objective.  My goal was to ask how many students look like that profile I just described when they graduate from High School?  That changed HOW I do ministry.  I moved from Programs to STEPS.


The model I use now is very different than where it started 10 years ago.  Why?  I’ve learned over the years how to think about it in a better way.  I now use 4 words that describe the steps I think it takes for students to be fully in love with Jesus, ready to give everything they have to follow Him and want to share their story with as many people as possible.


GATHER – students need to have a place where they can gather together to have fun, be with friends, sing about God in a way that makes sense to them, and hear about what God wants for their lives in a meaningful way.  It’s a place where students who are far from God will hear about Jesus and the incredible life he has in store for them… and how he wants to have a deep, meaningful relationship with them and wants to forgive them of their sins.  This is where our youth group program fits.  And notice… this is not the THE GOAL… but it is STEP 1 in a process.

GROW – Programs don’t grow disciples.  Sure, students will grow under the teaching of the word of God and under giving of themselves in worship… but we believe that people grow BEST in the context of friends and mentors sitting in circles doing life together.  This is where our small group ministry is HUGE.  And we value our small groups in such a huge way, that they are a BIG PART of our YOUTH GROUP PROGRAM.  That’s right… we cut out a huge chunk of our time that we could be entertaining, singing or teaching from the STAGE to teach through sitting in a circle with mentors.  WHY do this then?  Why not create a separate ministry or program to do this?  2 reasons: 1) we don’t think in the context of programs :-), and 2) our youth group time is the time where all of our students are already there… so why wouldn’t we take advantage of that vs. asking them for another time commitment out of their week? That’s why.   A small group is where a student will be cared for, loved, prayed for, encouraged, challenged, and heard.  Big time discipleship happens in small groups. (or at least it should)  A part of our Small Groups this year that will continue the GROW aspect is something I am calling “The First Five.”  It is a devotional sheet that goes home with the student that has the bottom line for the week on it, the memory verse for the month on the topic we are teaching on, and 5 days worth of devotions for the student to develop a consistent quiet time with.  It’s called “The First Five” because we want our students to spend “The First Five” minutes of their day with God.  The more time they spend with God and the more time they spend with meaningful  friends and mentors, the more they will grow to be like Jesus.

SERVE – Someone once said that “we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving.”  If that is true, then serving needs to be a BIG STEP for a student progressing toward the goal of being fully in love with Jesus, ready to give everything they have to follow Him and want to share their story with as many people as possible. We need to be intentional to not only PROVIDE areas for students to serve, but to TEACH them to look for ways to SERVE OTHERS ON THEIR OWN.  We want our students serving both INSIDE the walls of our church doing MINISTRY, and OUTSIDE the walls of our church doing OUTREACH.

SHARE – The final STEP in our process is SHARE.  We want our students to be fully equipped to SHARE their story of who Jesus is in their lives with as many people as possible.  We teach on it, mentor it, and try to demonstrate it whenever possible.  For me, this is where I go “THEY GET IT BIG TIME!”

The tricky thing about these four words is that, unlike baseball, you aren’t done with one step when you move on to the next.  I know a student is hitting the goal when ALL FOUR words are present in their life.

So what is the goal for your students?  And what are the steps they need to take to reach that goal?  I think it is time that we start Thinking STEPS in Ministry.



Thinking “STEPS” in Ministry

Around 10 years ago (that seems impossible as I write it… but it is true) I read a book that revolutionized the way I look at ministry.  It was “The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry” by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones.  It is an awesome book.  If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up here.  One of the practices that they highlight is “Think STEPS not Programs.”

It’s easy to think of ministry in terms of programs.  Just pull off a youth group night once a week and make it awesome and get a bunch of kids to show up… that’s good student ministry, right?  WRONG.  That’s a good program.  But one of the things that every youth pastor knows for sure is that your program is not going to disciple your students.  That’s why they wrote the chapter “Think STEPS not Programs”… because your students need to take next steps in their faith.   Without a well thought out strategy of how to move students from one step to the next… they will get stuck in PROGRAM mode and, as they grow older, will be forever unsatisfied with their faith thinking that the 1 hour a week on a Sunday is supposed to be the magic sauce that will make them grow.  So they will hop from church to church looking for that SECRET INGREDIENT… and eventually give up on the local church for “not meeting their needs.” It’s sad.. but it’s true.   Our programs need to be a PART of our strategy… but not the whole strategy.

I played a lot of baseball growing up.  Now I coach my kid’s baseball teams.  One of my favorite things about baseball is the fact that it is easy to determine how successful you are… YOU WIN or LOSE… that’s it.  And the way you win is to SCORE MORE RUNS than your opponent.  And the way you score runs is simple… you move your players from base to base until they cross home plate. (it doesn’t matter how fast either… they can walk, hit, steal… as long as they don’t get out) And they can’t skip a base (even if they hit a home run… they still have to touch all the bases).  You can’t win without going through all the steps.  This is the way people work too… they function in steps.  And in order to be successful… they need to move from step 1 to 2 to 3 and then to 4, etc…  But in most churches (probably an unfair statement, but I’ll say it anyway) it seems like the goal is to get people to the plate (sunday mornings).  The more people we can get to step up to the plate… the more successful we are.  WRONG.  Success isn’t measured by how many at bats your team has… but by how many of those at bats turn into RUNS (And I’m going to go for it here… RUNS aren’t SALVATIONS.  That is a step.  That’s like first base).  But a lot of us are so focused on the numbers game (how many at bats our team has) that we neglect how to get them on base and get them around the bases to cross the plate and score runs (true discipleship).  And, if we were brutally honest, we probably would have to admit that we haven’t even identified what those bases are and what it looks like to score runs.  But hey… a big team LOOKS impressive, right?  The illusion of success is what our culture loves to praise.

But what if we ditched that way of thinking… and actually sat down and asked “What does it look like to score runs?”  What does it look like to really DISCIPLE someone?  I bet you’d have to change the the main thing you focus on.  I know I did.  I no longer became impressed with how many students attended my gatherings.  Why?  Because I started looking at home plate from the other side.  I started asking myself “How many of those students are out in the world, after high school, making more disciples?”  OUCH!!!  The truth is brutal sometimes.  When you think of steps and not programs… it begins to change your approach.  It begins to change what you focus on.  It begins to change what you prioritize.  It also begins to change what impresses you.

So what does it look like to think steps and not programs?  How do you integrate your program into a STEPS model?

I’ll cover that in a post tomorrow. (I hate it when people do this… set you up but not deliver… but I’m tired of writing for today and this next part needs its own post)

Prepare To Launch [part three]

A few days ago I posted parts one and two to this three part series that I taught to our church staff at Hopevale Church called “Prepare To Launch.”  This was a staff devotion to help prepare us to walk into the fall ministry season ready to lead well.  It actually came from a quiet time of reflection and journaling, where God was working on ME as a leader… but, as is often the case with most things God wants to work on me with… it was too good to just keep it to myself.  I had to share it.

Part One was all about Adopting the Right Attitude to lead.

Part Two was all about Planning with Purpose.

In Part Three I want to talk about…

3. Leading from the Inside Out.

Everything that we do as leaders in ministry should flow out of who we are in Christ.  Our quiet times should affect our public times.  God should be at work in us WAY before we ever expect that He should be at work in our ministries.  There were actually three major passages of scripture that came to mind when I thought about leading from the INSIDE out.

  • Proverbs 4:23“above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

The writer of this proverb (most likely Solomon) highlights something for us that, I think, we know to a certain degree… yet I wonder how often I take it seriously?  YOUR HEART AFFECTS EVERYTHING.  What you allow your heart to experience… what you allow your heart to attach itself to… what you keep FROM your heart, ultimately will affect who you are and what you do.  Your heart (the seat of your emotions in the Old Testament) is the WELLSPRING of your life.  It will overflow into what you do.  So it is imperative that you guard it, protect it, nurture it, allow God to fill it, and then lead from it.

  • Acts 2:42-47 – the account of the first church.

Go and read these verses in Acts.  Don’t worry… I’ll wait 🙂 ……………………………………..

Okay… so that is pretty amazing, right?  (did you really read it?  If so… you should be amazed)  The first church was marked by several things that I think we, as church leaders, need to be marked by:  Amazement and wonder at what God is doing, worship, fellowship, discipleship, sacrificial giving, taking care of each other’s needs, enjoying the favor of our communities, etc…  And I loved how this account concludes about this first church… that “daily people were being added to their church and following Jesus.”  And as amazing as all of that is… it all starts with one thing… WORSHIP!  Their Worship of the Messiah caused them to do the Work of the Ministry.  YOUR WORSHIP SHOULD AFFECT YOUR WORK.  But I think a lot of us begin with WORK and then get to WORSHIP later.  This lends itself to doing something that Jesus warned us about…

  • Matthew 23:23-28 – Jesus warns the Pharisees about hypocrisy.

YUCK!  I hate that word.  HYPOCRISY.  I hate it because I know what it is like to BE it.  And I bet you do too.  This instance, however, was a very special kind of hypocrisy… it was the hypocrisy of LEADING FROM NOTHING.  When we neglect WORSHIP in our life… or when we worship the wrong things… we WORK FROM EMPTY.  There is nothing on the inside that overflows to the outside… so the external is a made up version of what we pretend is on the inside.  Jesus called that a cup with a clean exterior but filthy interior… USELESS.  He also called it a beautifully painted TOMB.  Sure, the outside looks great.. but the inside is still DEAD.  JESUS WARNS US ABOUT LEADING FROM EMPTY.  In fact, that was his MAJOR beef with the pharisees… and he had run ins with them A LOT.  But when we start with our own lives… when we WORSHIP… then work, we begin to lead from the inside out.  And that is when people find our ministries irresistible… not because we are anything… but because Jesus is EVERYTHING… and he is overflowing from the inside of us out to everyone we come in contact with.


Prepare To Launch [part two]

Two days ago I wrote PART ONE of a series of posts that I am calling “Prepare To Launch”.  This was a devotional that I taught to our staff at Hopevale Church at our monthly staff chapel as we prepare to enter the fall launch season.  Part One was all about adopting the right attitude as a ministry leader.

Today, in PART TWO I want to turn the focus to…


Being a leader means that you have to, at some point, LEAD.  And if we are going to lead our ministries well, we need to put some careful planning into them.  I’m not going to tell you HOW to plan your ministry… because every ministry is different.  I will, however, talk about a few things that EVERY leader must do to lead well that are a part of the planning process.

  • Catch & Cast God’s vision for your ministry – Genesis 41:33-40

So as Joseph stood in front of Pharaoh and interpreted his dreams for him… Joseph then did something very interesting:  He cast vision for what God wanted Pharaoh to do about it.  Leaders catch God’s vision for what needs to happen… and then they don’t just wait for someone else to figure it out.  They cast the vision.  Even if they are not the one at the top of the org chart.  Joseph didn’t say, “So, Pharaoh, what do you think we should do?  I mean, you’re the boss.”  Every leader knows that feeling , that burden that beats within you, that you MUST act… you MUST speak… you MUST cast vision.  And when you’re not the one at the top… this is a delicate dance of respect.  But as you read the story further… you realize that Pharaoh APPRECIATES Joseph’s leadership abilities.  Leaders recognize other leaders… they are not intimidated by them.  In the world of athletics: Game recognizes game.  So DREAM, PLAN, CATCH that vision, & CAST that vision no matter where you find yourself on the org chart.

  • “Nothing is impossible with God.” – Matthew 19:26

When you catch God’s vision for your ministry, there will likely be a part of it that scares you… that seems impossible.  Don’t freak out!  Pastor Steven Furtick says it like this:

“If the size of your vision for your life isn’t intimidating to you, there’s a good chance it’s insulting to God.”

“If you’re not daring to believe God for the impossible, you’re sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life.”

“If your problem is too big for you, it’s just the right size for God.”

Our vision for our ministry should scare us a little… otherwise we would be able to do it all by ourselves and not need God at all.  Impossible keeps us dependent on God.  And that is right where we need to be.  Jesus said this:  “with man this is impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.”

So dream big.  Pray hard.  Trust God.

  • Lead from where you are… not where you are not. 

Authenticity is HUGE as a leader.  If you do not lead from an authentic place, you will compromise your integrity… and your integrity, as a leader, affects everything and everyone you lead.

BE who God created you to be.  Don’t play the comparison game.  Don’t try to become someone else because you think that the way they do it is effective.  Odds are, they are effective because they are being who God created them to be.

And lead from where you are positionally.  Don’t buy into the lie that you’ll be a better leader once you get to the top of the org chart.  If you can’t lead from the middle of the org chart, you won’t lead from the top of it.  John Maxwell said it like this in his book 360 Leader:

“99% of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization.”

So plan, prepare, and lead well!!!

Prepare to Launch [part one]

One of my responsibilities, as Next Gen Pastor at my church, is to lead our staff devotional time once every 4 months or so at our monthly all-staff chapels.  So today was one of those staff chapels… and it was my turn to lead.  I was digging around for what to talk about, because leading other staff members in this way is very different than speaking to either the adults of the church or to the teenagers.  So I figured, with the fall launch of a lot of our ministry programs about a month away… this would be the perfect time to talk about preparing ourselves as leaders for that busy season right around the corner.

A lot of what I taught actually came straight out of my journal… so I was literally going through this preparation myself, first.  So I am going to write down all of what I covered today in a 3 part blog series entitled “Prepare to Launch.”  My hope and prayer is that someone out there would be able to use this to help prepare themselves also for the upcoming ministry season.

In this first post, I want to highlight…

1. Adopting the RIGHT ATTITUDE.

Attitude is HUGE in ministry.  If I, as a pastor, don’t have the RIGHT attitude walking into a new year… I am already setting myself up for failure.  In my journal I wrote down 5 areas where I needed to start adopting the right attitude for myself:

  • A Heart of a Servant – Matthew 20: 25-28

Jesus’ disciples are fighting over who is the greatest disciple.  We might think that is a ridiculous thing to bicker over… but to them, this was a big deal.  In their culture, position was EVERYTHING.  But Jesus calls them all together and says… “NOT SO WITH YOU.  If you want to be GREAT… learn to SERVE.” [my paraphrase of course]  Jesus set the tone from the beginning that his kingdom was going to be an upside down kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last and the great will be those who serve.  This is the heart that the ministry leader must have.  Christ is the head of the church and our perfect example of how we should live and lead… and he came, not to be served, but to serve.

  • Humility – Philippians 2:1-8

I’m never going to have the heart of a servant unless I learn to be humble.  Humility is this:  “Having a CORRECT view of who I am in light of who God is and who others are around me.”  Humility is not having a LOW view of yourself… or even having a lofty view of others.  It is simply having the RIGHT view.  When I see God for who HE REALLY IS… and when I see myself for who I really am… and when I see others for who THEY REALLY ARE… it gives me the right perspective to be able to love and serve others better.  Jesus showed us that a humble heart leads to a serving heart.

  • Honor God First – Genesis 41:15-16; John 3:30

Joseph, from the Old Testament, had quite a life.  As he stood in front of Pharaoh towards the end part of his story… he was asked a question… “Can you interpret these dreams I have had.”  Joseph had come a long way.  He was the boy with the coat who was loved by his dad but hated by his brothers.  He was the boy who had 2 dreams that God gave him as well.  He was sold, bought, betrayed, imprisoned, and then he met these two guys who also had dreams, who just so happened to work for the pharaoh.  So he interpreted their dreams and said “don’t forget me.”  He forgot him.  Then Pharaoh had dreams… Enter Joseph.  Pharaoh says to him, “your reputation says you can figure this out… can you?”  In this moment Joseph has a decision to make.  He can look back over his life, see all that he has done and accomplished, remember that he is awesome at this dream stuff… and take full credit for it.  OR… he can tell Pharaoh the truth.  He chooses the latter.  He says “I can’t… but God can.”

John the Baptist famously [and rightly, might I add] said this about Jesus, “He must increase… and I must decrease.”

These are huge statements that we, as ministry leaders, need to remember:  “I can’t, but God can.”  and “He must increase, I must decrease.”  When we put God in his rightful place [out of humility]… we begin to see that it is God who is at work in us and through us.  Warren Wiersbe writes in his book, “On Being a Servant of God” that we are merely channels of God’s mighty resources… opening a way for them to be distributed to others.  When we view ourselves that way, we see that it is God who is awesome… and we are just the means to allow God to work through us to show others HIS AWESOMENESS.

  • Continually Be In Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:6-7

If you are anything like me, then you struggle in your prayer life. [just being honest]  I can’t tell you how many prayer journals I have started but not finished.  Or prayer plans that I “PLANNED” on executing… but eventually neglected.  I tell myself excuses like “I get too busy to stop and pray” or the classic “Well… God knows my heart and mind already… so it’s like I’m praying, right?”  No… no it’s not.  I’ll just be my own counselor for a second. :-/  One of the things that I KNOW I need to get better at is praying for those whom I lead (staff and volunteer) and those whom I minister to (students and adults).  Plans are great… but prayer is better.  I know I need to work on praying continually.

  • Lead Expectantly – Philippians 4:12-13 & 19

The Apostle Paul, sitting in house arrest, begins to pen down the words of a letter that he is writing to a church that he absolutely fell in love with on one of his missions trips.  It was not an easy church… in fact, maybe the reality of being in prison caused him to remember this church… because when he visited there, he was also thrown in prison with his friend Silas.  But he loved this church.  This church was humble.  This church understood the Gospel deeply.  This church was sacrificially generous toward him.  So he writes at the end of this letter the secret he has found in being content in his life:  That He can face any obstacle that life throws his way because of the strength that Christ gives him.  So he is confident in Christ.  He is also confident that God is up to something big with this church… and that God will supply their needs because of their generosity.

When we lead… we must do so with expectancy.  We must lead by saying and believing that GOD is going to show up big!  Why?  Because we have already discussed “We can’t do it, but God can!”  We need to have a holy expectation that God is going to show up in HUGE ways in our churches this year!

Adopting the RIGHT ATTITUDE is the first step in preparing to launch a new ministry season.  Tomorrow we will look at how to Plan with Purpose.