Creating An Intentional Self Leadership Rhythm in Your Day and WHY it Matters

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I don’t know about you, but over the years I have really struggled at being consistent with having times of quiet thought, reflection, reading, learning, listening or just BEING.  The sad thing is that it doesn’t matter if it is in prayer, meditation over scripture or life, or reading about bettering and improving myself as a person or as a leader… It has always been a struggle… IF I AM NOT INTENTIONAL.

I am not a natural reader or journal-er.  Those things don’t come easy to me.  I was never an “Academic” person, and I’m pretty sure that I have some form of ADD/ADHD that has not been diagnosed.  (And I don’t say that lightly or as a self-deprecating joke… I have a child who has ADHD… and I relate to him on an hourly basis… so I am pretty sure it is a real thing.)   I am also NOT a morning person, so even finding minutes in my day that are focused, quiet and distraction free are almost never there.  So all of this is naturally fighting against any kind of “easy” rhythm in my day to spend some time leading myself. But just because it isn’t “natural” doesn’t mean it isn’t NECESSARY.

LEADERS ARE LEARNERS.

It is that plain and that simple.  Leaders have to be learners because the more you learn.. the easier it is to lead those around you to that new learning.  If I am not learning… I am not leading.  It’s more like coasting.  If I am going to be a learner, and if the best moments of learning are done in those quiet moments, and if those moments are not NATURAL to me… I need to learn how to INTENTIONALLY figure out how to make it a valuable part of the rhythm of my day.

So how did I do this?  Well…

1) I Recognized that WHERE I spent that time was VERY IMPORTANT.

I can’t do this in my office at Hopevale.  It just won’t happen there.  My office reeks of meetings and activity and sermon prep and strategic moments and thinking about work.  There are too many screens to look at and too many people that pull at my attention.  So I have to be somewhere else.  I decided that the best place for me to spend that time is in my recliner in the corner of my living room.  It is a relaxing place that faces the window and doesn’t have too many distractions around it.  It has become a significant place for me.

2) I Recognized that WHEN I spent that time was VERY IMPORTANT.

Like I already said, my day is pretty chaotic and filled with one thing after another.  So I made a very difficult decision… I turned myself into a morning person.  I have to wake up my kids at 6:30am to get them to school on time anyway… so I decided to make an extra sacrifice and wake up at 5:30am to spend an hour before the day really gets going on self leadership.  This was BRUTAL at first… because 1) I hate mornings, 2) I value my sleeping in, & 3) I go to bed at an insanely late time most nights.  The more I forced myself to do it, however, the easier it has become.  I made a best friend also… Me and COFFEE are TIGHT now.

3) I Recognized that WHAT I spent that time DOING was VERY IMPORTANT.

Can I just be candid for a second… the right content to read and meditate on is difficult to figure out.  I have started so many “Bible reading plans” over the course of my life that end up getting 1/4 of the way done and then forgotten.  I think it is because (and here is why I said “candid” earlier) most of these plans were not written for “normal” people… they were written for people with an amazing attention span. (anyone want to raise their hand?  Not me!)  But for spiritual content lately… the Bible App on my smartphone has been GOLD.  If you don’t have it yet… download it ASAP!  There are so many valuable PLANS on there to keep you devotionally connected.  And the best part?  It walks you through setting up reminders on your phone so that you can’t “FORGET” about it.  You have to purposefully ignore it to not do it.   This has been AWESOME for my spiritual growth and accountability.

I also decided on a formula for how I would go about learning on the leadership side of my life as well.  I picked 4 books for personal spiritual growth, 4 books for personal leadership growth, and 4 books for ministry growth back in January.  My goal is to read them all on a rotation by category throughout this year.  I am not being militant with it, however, because I realize that some books will take longer to digest than others.  So if I get through all 12… GREAT!  If I make it through 3 or 4… GREAT!  I am still taking the time to learn in an undistracted way.

I also decided to spend the last 10-20 minutes or so journaling and praying. (I wrote that line like it was a throw away… but it is not!)

So that was what I did and why I did it.  And I have to tell you, I have grown a lot in the past 5 months and have been MORE CONSISTENT with this in my life than I EVER have been.  Intentionality is an amazing thing.  

So what would I tell someone who asked me, “Sam, how can I be intentional about creating a self leadership rhythm in my day?”  I would tell them this:

1) Get a PLACE

2) Get a TIME

3) Get a PLAN

…and STICK TO IT.  If you don’t intentionally create GOOD HABITS as a rhythm of your day… you’ll fall into BAD HABITS… and those are really hard to break (from experience).  

I think what did it for me was to imagine what I wanted my preferred future to look like when it comes to this area of my life… and then work my way backward from that vision to reality and ask “What is it going to take to get there?”

So, “Where do you want your life to go in this area… and what will it take for you to get there?”

Sermon Prep Storyboarding

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Part of my job as a Next Gen Pastor… actually, about 60% of my job… has to do with prepping and delivering sermons.  I teach to both middle school and high school students and to adults, but no matter who I am speaking to, it takes a significant amount of preparation.  Early on in my ministry career, the process of sermon prepping became very daunting and time consuming.  I began finding that the model of sermon prep that I learned in classroom environments in college really did not lead me to speaking and communicating well to real life people.  So I began a quest to find out how to prep sermons in a way that was 1) easier and less time consuming & 2) fit me and my style best.

I tried just about everything.  One of the major shifts I had in my communication style was after watching Andy Stanley teach on how he communicates  and organizes his sermons at a DRIVE conference years ago.  His ME, WE, GOD, YOU, WE roadmap approach to preaching was very intriguing to me.  It still is.  In fact, it is basically how I organize my sermons to this day.  (I’ve tweaked the main headers to fit me and my language and style a little bit better, but it is pretty much the same gist of things) .  A few years back, though, I began to realize that just putting those 5 headers on a paper and trying to fill them in was still VERY time consuming and difficult.  That is when I came up with my storyboard idea.  I would break my white board in my office into 6 components… the sixth being my BOTTOM LINE IDEA in the very center, with everything else wrapped around it.  I then started adding different components to each box to help me think through how to fill them in.  Things like: Personal Story, Cultural Story, Hook, Burden, Transition Statements, Critical Questions, etc…  The more I used this approach, the easier it was for me to fill in the blanks and make sense of my messages.  This process has actually cut my sermon prep time in half.

IMG_1681   [example of storyboard for a message]

So I thought that I would share with you my storyboard.  Maybe this concept will help you if you are prepping and delivering sermons.  What I have also discovered is this:  Even if you don’t deliver “sermons” this storyboard can help you prep any type of speech that you will have to give.  In fact, I used this approach with my 10 year old son to help him organize a “book talk” that he had to do for his 4th grade class at school.  I’m all about keeping things simple and well organized… so hopefully this will help you do that as well!

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Start Something That Matters – Book Review

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I first heard the TOMS shoes story from Blake at the Orange Conference in 2007.  I think that this was when TOMS had just become very popular with the general public.  I was struck with how passionate Blake was about shoes for people who didn’t have any.  I thought to myself, “Now this is an organization that is making a big difference in our world.”

Exactly 10 years later, I found myself picking up this book off of my shelf (I’ve had it for a few years) and deciding to read it.  The TOMS story is so inspirational.  In short, Blake was an entrepreneur who had many startups.  On a backpacking trip to Argentina, he discovered that everyone seemed to be wearing these shoes (alpargatas) and that they were SUPER COMFORTABLE.  He then visited Buenos Aires and discovered that many of the children were running around without shoes.  To live without shoes is a rough life.  your feet crack, and then everything that you step on gets into those cracks and you can get very sick because of it.  Blake decided he wanted to make a company that 1) profited off of a redesign of the alpargata and 2) gave a pair of shoes to a child who needed them for every one that was purchased.  And the rest is history…

I loved reading this book, not only because of the TOMS story, but because of Blake sharing his passion about WHY he started the company and the principles that govern how TOMS shoes works.  He gave Six Traits of Starting Something That Matters:

  1. Find Your Story
  2. Face Your Fears
  3. Be Resourceful without Resources
  4. Keep It Simple
  5. Build Trust
  6. Giving is Good Business

Now, I won’t go into detail on those six traits… because I want you to read the book.  It was an awesome read! (It was also a pretty quick read… it only took me a week or so to read)   I highly recommend this book if you are looking to start something that matters and makes a difference in our world.

So go here and grab the book… and then go here and grab yourself a pair of TOMS shoes (you won’t regret that decision… they are SUPER COMFORTABLE and your putting shoes on the feet of a kid who doesn’t have any) and BE THE DIFFERENCE!

Creating a Family Partnered Next Gen Ministry

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One of my main responsibilities as a Next Gen Pastor is to champion the partnership of church and family.  The main reason we do this is because we believe that Two influences paired together are GREATER than those influences working by themselves in the life of a kid.  At Hopevale, we have adopted the Orange strategy that dictates our philosophy.  Now… it’s really easy to say that we are all about partnering with the family to create greater influence, but how can you practically begin to do this?  Let me give you a few things that we have done to begin this process:

1. Plan WAY Ahead.

If you are going to partner with families… you need to get ahead of their schedules.  Last minute doesn’t work for families.  How do I know?  I have a family of Elementary aged kids… trust me, last minute is the kiss of death for anything with us.  If it isn’t on the calendar early and often, it usually isn’t happening.

2. Communicate Often & Clearly

Partnering with families means you have to become an excellent communicator.  Any time you work with someone else toward a common goal, communication is the KEY.

3. Find Ways to Get Them Involved

There are plenty of areas where you can involve parents and families in your ministries.  The more you involve them, the more invested they become in the life of the ministry and in the life of their kid.

4. Plan Family-Oriented Events

We decided that we needed a few nights out of our year where we invited the whole family to come experience a ministry event together.  This speaks VOLUMES to our families that we care about them as a whole… not just the kids.

5. Provide Materials for Family Growth

Our kids ministry directors are awesome at this.  They retweet, post, copy, photocopy, handout, and any other way they can do it, material that is great for families to be reading both about how to do family better and how to follow Jesus better.  It has been GOLD for our families.

6. Offer Training Opportunities for Families

This is one of the things that we have been talking about a lot in our Next Gen world at Hopevale.  “How can we help get parents and families some specific training that would help them take the next step together?”  Identify a few things that are “Hot Topics” for your families, and then figure out how you can address them.

Hope these can help your church become more Family oriented!

Learning to Multi-Sensory Listen

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Okay.  I’m about to write about something that I struggle with.  It might be because of undiagnosed adult ADHD, or it might be because I’m selfish.  Either way, can I admit something?  I’m not good at listening.  In fact, this post feels to me a lot like that picture above… I talk to you about listening but keep my hand in your face like I don’t want to listen.  So just know, what I am about to write comes from a personal place of learning for me (just ask my wife).

A while back I was reading either a blog post or a book (I can’t remember… I seriously think it’s ADHD) and I came across some valuable information about multi-sensory listening.  This information was SOOOOO good.  It became even more valuable the more I engaged with married couples and soon to be married couples.  Heck, the more I talk with parents and kids… the more this information becomes crucial.  So I want to share with you the gist of what I read.  It was and continues to be so challenging to me and how I relate to others.

The bottom line is that we listen with more than our ears.  That when we learn to Multi-Sensory Listen… we communicate to others 1) I am listening to you & 2) I CARE!

1. LISTEN WITH YOUR EARS

OK.  This one is the no brainer, right?  You cannot listen to what people are saying without hearing them.  But listening with your ears is the most basic form of listening.  The big challenge with listening with your ears is to move from “I heard you and can repeat what you said” to “I am truly LISTENING to you.”  And the way you can communicate that to them is by asking follow up questions.

critical question: “Do they KNOW you care?”

2. LISTEN WITH YOUR EYES

I have to admit, I have been in the middle of conversations with people and “appear” as if I was listening… but I was really looking at something else or paying attention to something else (again… I’m more than positive it is ADHD).  Or even worse… had tuned them out and allowed the “glossed over” look to take place.  People want to see in your eyes that you care about what they are saying and who they are.  Eye contact is a valuable listening tool.

critical question: “Can they SEE you care?”

3. LISTEN WITH YOUR FACE

Expression shows you are listening and that you care.  Panface means your mind is elsewhere and that you couldn’t care less about who is talking to you.  You can say you are listening until you are blue in the face… but the proof is if your face actually turns blue!  The other side of this is to show TOO MUCH expression… It’s just down right creepy.

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Show appropriate expression to display you are listening.

critical question: “Do they BELIEVE you care?”

4. LISTEN WITH YOUR HANDS

When you use APPROPRIATE touch, it communicates to someone that you care about them.  When it is appropriate to give a hug, high five, pat on the shoulder, etc… we should.  Now, we need to read the situation and show extreme care and caution that we are not overstepping a boundary… but APPROPRIATE touch, when used carefully, can be a powerful way to communicate to someone that you not only heard them but are truly listening to them.

critical question: “Can they SENSE you care?”

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…”  James 1:19

Training Ministry Volunteers

Volunteers.  They are the backbone of every ministry.  In my experience, my volunteers are just as important to our ministry as I am.  They are the ones on the front lines and in the trenches DOING a lot of the work of ministry with people.  Over the years, I learned a very valuable lesson:  my job as a “pastor” or “ministry leader” should be viewed as a “player/coach” role.  I needed to pour time, energy, and resources into my volunteers.  It’s a leadership thing.  It’s also a stewardship thing. [Luke 19:11-27]  So here are a few ways that pastors and ministry leaders can invest in and train their volunteers:

1. Provide All-Volunteer Training Days

One or two times a year we try to provide a multiple-hour training day for our volunteers.  This is great for several reasons: a) great team building time, b) you can dispense a large amount of information in a limited amount of time to the majority of your team, c) you can use these as a catalyst for team momentum.

2. One-On-One Mentoring Opportunities

These usually take place over lunch for me.  This is a great opportunity to “shepherd” your volunteers/leaders.  You can find out how they are doing individually, what they are concerned about, what is going well, and what specific issues you can help them address.  Dave Ferguson, in his book Exponential, gives a great formula for this: RPM’S – which stands for Relational, Physical, Mental, & Spiritual.  Learning to check in with your leaders in One-On-One moments can also be a great way to cast individual vision.

3. Web Resources

I don’t know about you, but I come across some GREAT content for ministry and leadership via the internet.  It helps me become a better pastor and ministry leader.  Now think about how great your team could be if they got that content too?  Share with your team what you are discovering through the internet about ministry and leadership.  The positive to this is that it doesn’t consume as much time as a meeting would… and they are still getting valuable information.  Use social media as a platform to share this, because most of your team is on it.

4. Model Leadership to your Volunteers

Your volunteers need to see you LIVING what you are teaching.  Remember the old saying: “More is Caught than Taught?”  Andy Stanley calls this on his team “Wear It.”  When you “Wear” what you want to be true in your ministry… your volunteers will start to catch it and wear it too.

5. Find “Teachable Moments”

There are always times when things happen and we can pause with our volunteers “in the moment” to help them lead better.  These are great times to ask questions that help both you and your volunteers learn from experience.

6. Make Resources Available

We read books, magazine articles, scripture that speak to us about ministry and leadership.  Why not build a library of resources that your volunteers can have access to?  A well resourced team is a better equipped team.

** the bottom line is to do whatever it takes to help your volunteers be the absolute BEST volunteers they can be.  It is a part of our job description as a pastor or ministry leader: “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.  Their responsibility is to EQUIP God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”  Ephesians 4:11-12

Strategic and Visionary Planning 2.0

A while back (almost 6 years ago) I wrote this post (click here for post) about strategic planning.  Over the past 6 years, it has been one of the most shared and looked at post on my blog, and I think the reason is that people want a simple way to do strategic planning.  When you google search “strategic planning charts” the image base is a limitless amount of charts… but none of them make any sense to people like me who like things simple and focused.  Well, over the past month or so, I have been refining my own thoughts on the strategic planning process and have come up with a new chart that I believe makes even more sense.  Here it is:

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MISSION: every organization has a mission that they are going after.  It is what drives your organization to exist and, at the end of the day, it tells you whether or not you are successful.  It is your GOAL.

VISION: your vision is what propels you toward your goal.  Your vision is the picture of your preferred future that you dream to be true.  It is the thing that keeps pushing you to keep on going after your mission.

VALUES: values are like the guardrails of your organization.  They keep you from driving off the road and going in a direction that is away from your mission.  Your values are what keep you focused on the goal.

INITIATIVES: Initiatives are the things you hope to accomplish in the near future that will make your vision a reality.  Your vision usually can be broken down into statements [“I see…” ].  In order for those statements to become more than vision, though, they need strategies behind them.   vision statement + realistic strategy = strategic initiative.  I would also encourage this:  you may end up with SEVERAL vision statements from your vision.  That’s OK.  In fact, that is AWESOME because that shows you are an organization with BIG VISION.  The reality, though, is that you cannot go after all of them effectively.  So I would suggest trying to tackle 2-3 initiatives in a given year.  1) It will keep you focused, and 2) you will have enough bandwidth to put excellence into them.

My hope is that this will help you and your organization plan more effectively and efficiently.