DecisiveI had considered reading and reviewing this book some time ago, but I couldn’t make up my mind whether to or not! Dad joke—well it is father’s day. Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work by Chip and Dan Heath offers helpful advice for improving our ability to make decisions. It describes how we can focus on what lies in front of us and ignore many of the background factors that may, in fact, be even more important to the choices. It takes us beyond trusting our gut, on the one hand, and careful analysis, on the other. It helps us to understand some of the hindrances that get in the way of good decision-making, so that we can overcome them and choose wisely.

Decisive identifies four ‘villains’ of decision-making:

Narrow framing
Confirmation bias
Short-term emotion

The nature of each villain leads to suggesting a process that will overcome its impact. It’s described as the WRAP process, and is generally sequential. The four steps to better decision-making are:

Widen your options—helps avoid narrow framing.

Reality-test your assumptions—helps get information you can trust.

Attain distance before deciding—helps overcome short-term emotion.

Prepare to be wrong—helps avoid being suckered by overconfidence.

1. Widen your options

Avoid a narrow frame
It’s not uncommon for people and organisations to only consider one option. This is the whether or not alternative. Most often this frame is to narrow. Good decisions may require us to look at multiple options. One way to do this is to consider the ‘opportunity cost’—what would we miss out on if we make this decision? Another way is to run the ‘vanishing options’ test—assuming that our current options have vanished forces us to consider new alternatives, that may be better than what’s in front of us.

This option involves considering more than one option simultaneously. It’s about getting our minds out of set grooves and generating multiple options. There’s an inefficiency about it because it means people or teams working in parallel and ideas being wasted, but it frequently leads to better outcomes. It assists with finding options that minimise harm and maximise opportunities.

Find someone who’s solved your problem
Whatever decisions we’re facing, it’s almost certain that someone has faced them before. There may be someone close to us who has handled the decision well, or there may already be recognised wisdom on the matter. We should look around for ideas and be willing to learn from others—their mistakes and successes.

2. Reality-test your assumptions

Consider the opposite
It’s very easy to seek out information that confirms our biases and not to notice things that don’t. The Heaths recommend sparking constructive disagreement to unearth alternatives and see our options more clearly. This can lead to unwelcome conflict, so people should be encouraged towards a common commitment to discovering the best option for the organisation. They highlight a couple of questions that show how this can be done:

What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer? (p99)

What if our least favorite option was actually the best one? What data might convince us of that? (p100)

It’s also important to force ourselves to consider the opposite of our desires. We can be our own worst enemies by our failure to recognise that there are options before us if only we’d take off our blinkers.

Zoom out, zoom in
The outside view concerns the averages—how do things normally turn out in situations like these. The inside view concerns our evaluation—our impressions and gut instincts. The reality is that we tend toward the inside view when the outside tens to be more accurate. Trusting the law of averages leads towards humility, yet it’s so easy to think we can beat the odds; that we’re better than that. This is not to say we should always play it safe, but we should recognise that it might be considerably harder if we choose to buck the trend. Zooming out and then zooming in gives us a more realistic perspective on our choices.

Ooching involves running small experiments to test our theories. It provides a way to discover reality rather than trying to predict it. Entrepreneurs tend to ooch naturally. Instead of trying to forecast the future, they go out and try things. This approach has particular implications for hiring staff. We tend to try and predict how people will perform in a job from interviews. The reality is that interviews often give us little more information than how someone performs in an interview. The Heaths recommend we ooch instead—take people for a test-drive to see how they perform in areas relevant to the job they’re seeking.

3. Attain distance before deciding

Overcome short-term emotion
There are always emotions involved in decision-making, but they don’t always lead us to the best decisions. A short-term emotion can lead us to decisions that are bad in the long term. To over come this Decisive recommends adopting the approach of Suzy Welch in her book 10/10/10. This involves asking how this decision will impact us in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years. Conducting a 10/10/10 analysis doesn’t presuppose that the long-term perspective is the right one. It simply ensures that short-term emotion isn’t the only voice at the table. (p163) We can also attain distance by looking at the situation from an outside observer’s perspective or by asking ‘What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?’

Honour your core priorities

Difficult decisions can indicate a conflict among our priorities. Recognising and sticking to our values, beliefs, goals, aspirations and priorities make it easier to resolve dilemmas. This will often necessitate letting go of lesser priorities. We don’t have time to do everything, so we might need to develop a ‘Not to do’ list as well as a ‘to do’ list.

4. Prepare to be wrong

Bookend the future
We are advised to consider what the future may hold, considering both best and worst case scenarios. We can consider the worst case by doing a ‘premortem’ and asking how likely is it and what would the consequences be? This stops us from focusing on a single, and most likely optimistic, guess about what the future might be like. We recognise the impact of uncertainty and avoid overconfidence. We should also consider the best possible outcome and  run a ‘preparade’. This gets us asking what we would need to be doing if our decision was a raving success. To prepare for what can’t be foreseen the authors recommend building in a ‘safety factor’. Anticipating problems will help us avoid them and cope with them, should they arise.

Set a tripwire
It’s so easy to live life on autopilot, doing the same things the same way we’ve always done them. For example, we always peel bananas from the top. But there is a YouTube video with millions of viewers that shows it’s easier to peel a banana from the bottom. Try it—I did and it’s right! We can drift along failing to see the opportunity or necessity of making new decisions. One solution is to create ‘tripwires’ that snap us awake and get us to reevaluate a decision or make a new one. They work like the low fuel warning light in a car— a signal that we need to do something. One of the most common tripwires is a deadline. Tripwires can also create a safe place for risk taking by capping the risk and quieting our minds until the wire is tripped.

And a few thoughts…

I’m looking forward to thinking more thoroughly through how I make my decisions. I can see a tendency in myself to view options as either/or than than one among many. It would help me to ask about my natural inclinations and bias as I look to decide what to do. This approach can also contribute to better outcomes in resolving conflict with others. There is often more than your way or my way—there are a multitude of ‘other’ ways.

I’ve had to make many decisions about staff roles and hiring people over the years, and the tendency has been to put a lot of store in interviews to gain information. I’ve recognised that interviews have only limited value. More significant are references and evidence of previous experience. Having read Decisive, I can also see the advantages of ooching. If we want someone to preach regularly, then give them a passage of the Bible or a topic and get them to do it. If we want them to counsel others, then create a role play and have them counsel. If we want them to manage our website, then get them to design a page or solve a problem. It might not be as efficient in the short-term, but it could save a lot of grief in the long-term.

Some time back I read Suzy Welch’s book 10/10/10 and found it helpful to look at the impact of decisions from a variety of reference points. However, I decided that the book didn’t go far enough. I recommended that it needed to be 10/10/10/10 and that we should consider the impact of our decisions well beyond ten years hence. What will be the significance of our choices in ten thousand years time? What are the eternal consequences of making these choices? This is what I need to consider to honour my core priorities.

Delegation & Supervision

DelegationBrian Tracy is a big name in the world of leadership and management. I first came across his writings when a friend recommended his book on time management, called Eat that Frog. I picked up one of his recent books, Delegation & Supervision at the airport last week, because I needed something short and punchy to read on my flight. It’s a pocket book, literally fitting into my jacket pocket, but fundamentally because it’s a summary of important ideas that have all been developed in more detail elsewhere. Delegation and supervision are essential responsibilities for any effective team leader. This book is a useful primer for anyone who works with other people, and especially for those who lead them.

Delegation & Supervision is built on the premise that delegation is a skill that can be learned, and must be learned, if we are going to become effective leaders in our organisations. The more we practice it, the easier it gets.

I work in an organisation (a church) where the lion’s share of our budget goes on paying people. Under God, people are our focus and our most valuable resource. The role of the lead pastor is to develop his staff. The role of the pastoral staff is to develop the people in the teams who work with them. The role of these teams is… and so it continues. We need to be committed to growing people and this will involve delegation.

Tracy challenges us to overthrow the myths that block effective delegation. My guess is we’ve heard most of them, if not propagated them ourselves. These myths are:

  1. There is not enough time to delegate.
    The reality is that if we don’t delegate there will never be enough time for anything.
  2. The staff is not competent enough.
    People are often more competent than we realise. They need the opportunity to try things, to make mistakes, and to learn from them.
  3. If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.
    Failure to delegate means others don’t become equipped and we become the bottleneck to things getting done.
  4. People will think you’re not on top of things if you delegate to others.
    This reveals an ego problem, and it’s simply not true.
  5. When you are good at something, you should do it yourself.
    Equipping others to do what we are good at, frees us to develop other areas, and expands the capacity of the organisation.

The starting point of delegation is to think. Take the time to work out what will be involved in the project or area of responsibility. Seek to match the tasks to people who are well suited to do them. They probably won’t be experts, but they should be able to perform the task at least 70% optimally. Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. One of the keys to effective delegation is getting the right person to do the right job. Tracy quotes Jim Collins in Good to Great, in saying that top managers are those who get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus. (p23)

Clarity is essential to good delegation. People need to know 1) what it is we need them to do; 2) when we need it; and 3) the level of quality we expect. Clarity is a powerful motivator of people, but when expectations are unclear, people lose motivation and become unhappy, stressed, and aggravated. Clarity should ideally be achieved upwards and downwards in the organisation. We need to understand what our supervisors consider to be the priorities and we need to be clear about our priorities when we delegate.

Good delegation requires clarity about goals and objectives. This is best achieved by the manager taking the time to discuss them with the employee prior to delegation. It’s important to agree on what is to be accomplished, when, how, and also how results will be checked. Once this is done, the task is ready to be handed over—but not before.

Good delegation should involve handing over responsibility for decision making. People need to be encouraged and empowered to think through decisions for themselves and make good choices in the interests of the organisation. If decisions keep being handed back to the one doing the delegating, then the benefits of delegation will be lost. He suggests that if people come back to us with a decision to be made or a problem to be solved, that they should first be required to complete a four step problem solving process:

  1. Write it down. Clearly define the problem or decision that needs to be made.
  2. Determine the causes. Work out how and why the problem occurred.
  3. Identify the solution. Come up with as many options as possible.
  4. Make the decision.

Once these steps have been taken, people can then come back to us—most likely having already solved the problem, if not made the decision themselves.

Tracy distills many of the best ideas about delegation into seven key skills. These are:

  1. Match the person to the job
  2. Delegate gradually
  3. Delegate the whole task
  4. Delegate specific results
  5. Encourage participation and discussion
  6. Delegate authority and responsibility
  7. Leave the person alone

I’ve picked up a number of good ideas from this book. Sometimes it has simply given a name to something I’ve already been practising, such as managing by exception (MBE). This is the idea that if the job is proceeding according to the guidelines and goals, not going over budget or the time allocated, then no regular reporting is needed. Maybe just the occasional update to keep me in the loop on how things are going. I also loved the idea of managing by wandering around (MBWA). Stay in touch with people, show an interest in what they’re doing, by visiting them ‘on site’ to see how they are going. This removes some of the formality of check-ins and reports.

Tracy quotes Ken Blanchard in saying that feedback is the breakfast of champions! (p68) Feedback is essential, and should be offered in a manner that makes it appreciated. We should avoid judgmental feedback that puts people on the defensive. We need to allow for honest mistakes and make charitable assumptions about why things have gone badly. Yet, we should always keep our expectations of others high, and encourage them to rise to our expectations.

Tracy discusses the benefits of understanding different personality types as we are seeking to encourage the best in people. Tools such as the DISC profile offer valuable insights on people, their communication and work styles, preferences, how they engage with others, what they find difficult, and more. Every person added to a team multiplies the complexity of relationships. As we engage more and more people in our work, and delegate more responsibilities to others, having good awareness of how people tick is essential in making wise choices.

I appreciated the chapter on avoiding reverse delegation. This is helpful advice for parents of teenagers too! The key here is to assist people to solve their own problems, force them to think, and keep them responsible for their own areas—rather than allowing them to hand things back when they run into difficulty. When things are effectively handed back, even if a small part of the whole, then effective delegation has been sabotaged.

The book closes with five keys to effective delegation and supervision. I will quote some extracts:

First, accept complete responsibility and accountability for yourself and your staff, and for everything they do or do not do. Accept 100 per cent responsibility for delegating the right tasks, for supervising, and for getting the job done through others.

Second, view your staff as younger family members, almost like your children. Realise that, just like children, they need a continuous flow of feedback, accurate direction, teaching, guidance, help , and clear performance standards.

Third, practice the friendship factor … as a result they will be more committed and dedicated to doing an excellent job.

Fourth, treat your staff the way you would like to be treated by your boss. Delegate the way you would like to be delegated to. Give feedback the way you would like to receive feedback.

Fifth and finally, remember that human resources are the most valuable assets that the company has. (p98-99)

Delegation and supervision are essential responsibilities of managers and leaders in most field of work. I found this book resonated with my experiences—successes and failures—as a pastor of a growing church, with a dozen staff, and hundreds of voluntary workers. It is so easy to become a bottleneck in our organisations precisely because we haven’t engaged seriously with the importance of delegation. Sometimes we confuse delegation with abdication and fail to supervise. This book briefly, simply, and clearly expounds the key aspects of both. It’s an excellent tool and I wish I’d read it years ago (except it was only published in 2013)!


Connect-SearcyOver recent months I’ve been involved in a number of conversations about how to encourage people in voluntary ministry. How do we excite people about the possibilities? How do we place the right people in the right positions? What motivates people to keep on serving once the initial enthusiasm has dropped off? Should we pay people to do certain jobs? Should we replace the idea of rosters with teams? What is the role of a ‘Serve’ or ‘Ministry’ Coordinator at church? Is it reasonable to expect every person at church to have an identifiable area of service? How do you remove people when they’re not paid, but they’re not really doing the job? Should voluntary ministries have contracts? How do you develop a mindset of multiplying the number of people in ministry? These are some of the questions we’ve been considering.

Connect: How to double your number of volunteers by Nelson Searcy caught my attention. Perhaps it would fill the gaps in my reading about voluntary ministry. Does this book have all the answers? In short—’no’! Is it helpful—’yes’! The strength of this book is its practical advice on mobilising and supporting people in voluntary ministry. Its weakness is that it’s not sufficiently explicitly grounded in the gospel.

Searcy has identified that churches with high levels of volunteers participating in ministry have good quality ministry systems operating. The ministry system is the mechanism or pathway that enables people to get into service and develop in their area of service. He argues that people are keen to get involved, but in some churches they simply don’t know how. It’s not clear what they need to do, who they need to talk with, what’s expected, or pretty much anything else. Good systems enable things to keep happening regularly so that the pastoral staff aren’t always starting from scratch. We don’t always notice when a system is working well because it doesn’t draw attention to itself, but it’s not hard to pick when the system is broken or non-existent. If we want to get people volunteering and serving in a range of ministries in the church then we need a strong system that helps mobilise them and sustain them in service.

Connect suggests four steps to creating an effective ministry system:

  1. Clarify your theology of ministry
  2. Create first-serve opportunities
  3. Cultivate a ministry ladder
  4. Celebrate and reproduce servants

Clarifying your theology of ministry

A strong theology of ministry will build ministry in the church, whereas a weak theology of ministry will limit it. It is more important and more powerful to call people to serve out of their response to God, than to the request of the Sunday School superintendent. This isn’t about manipulating people. It’s about giving people the opportunity to express their worship of God and to use the gifts that God has given them. Inviting people to serve is a way of encouraging their growth in Christ rather than a means of finding cheap labour.

Searcy’s church has built its theology of ministry around eight theological foundations. He doesn’t call us to follow them, but to determine our own. Their foundations are:

1) Ministry means to serve
2) Serving is an act of putting the needs of others before our own needs
3) The goal of the ministry system is to help people become more like Jesus
4) You cannot become more like Jesus Christ unless you learn to be a servant
5) Serving opens people’s hearts to God and therefore is part of worship
6) If people aren’t serving, they aren’t truly worshiping and growing in their faith
7) Mobilizing people for ministry is part of discipleship
8) The role of the pastor is to equip people for ministry

Searcy uses serving as a measurement for assessing the health of the church. He uses a 30/50/20 rule. He wants 30% of the church to be sitting on the sidelines, not serving. They are the pre-servers. He wants 50% of the church to be serving at least one hour per week. Perhaps leading a small group, on the music team, serving as a welcomer, etc. And he wants 20% of the church involved in some kind of evangelism or outreach ministry. He says we should feel free to adopt something else for the last 20%. To be honest I found this rule to be somewhat strange and arbitrary. I get the idea of people waiting to get into service, and I get the idea of some people’s ministry being external to the church’s ministry systems, but I think we should be working toward everyone contributing to the building of the body of Christ.

A first step into service

Connect suggests mobilising new servers into first-time service opportunities in two ways. The first way involves increasing the number of new people in existing ministry positions. The second involves recruiting people into new ministry positions.

There are various ways to create serve opportunities in existing areas:

  • Put a time limit on serving. If you don’t provide time limits volunteers will burn out and you fail to create spaces for new volunteers. When leaders take time off it allows new leaders to get involved.
  • Divide existing ministry areas into quarters. Work out how to turn existing ministry positions into four positions. This creates three new spaces for service and creates more teamwork.
  • Create A-B-C teams for each ministry area. Get teams rotating, rather than serving weekly. They can rotate weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever works. By rotating teams you open spots for people to step into and give people a regular rest. If you don’t think you can fill all these positions, Searcy challenges you to let go of the scarcity mentality. He believes people are out there looking for opportunities to serve.
  • Plan a shadow day. Invite people who are currently serving to bring a friend to shadow them in their ministry for a day. This will give people a taste and many will want to do it again.
  • Put on a ministry/volunteer fair. Make sure the details of every ministry position are clear, and provide a simple sign-up process.
  • Use special events to encourage people to serve. Some people will be nervous about signing up long term, but willing to commit to a special event. This will get them started.
  • Potential volunteers could be sitting on the sidelines out of fear. They’re hesitant to get involved because they don’t know exactly what they’re being asked to commit to. Make it clear.

The power of new beginnings

Getting new people involved in existing ministry positions is only approach. The second way to introduce people into ministry is to create first-serve opportunities by creating new ministry positions in which people can serve.

Firstly, identify needs in the church that aren’t being served. Work out how to address a need that isn’t being met. Consider who will be needed to meet this need. Work out how to present this in a compelling way.

Clarity is critical. What needs to be done? How many people are needed and for how long? If you are not explicitly clear then volunteers will quickly get disillusioned through lack of direction. This will also make it harder to mobilise people the next time round.

Here are two things to do when mobilizing people for a specific need:

  1. Create a one-time opportunity to meet that need. You don’t need to begin by mapping out a whole new ministry.
  2. Personally recruit people to serve. This doesn’t mean an announcement at church, a note on the church bulletin, an email to the church, or even an ad in the positions vacant section of the church website. It is specific and personal.

Once the need is established, the one-time opportunity is worked out, and people are personally recruited to serve, the next step is to cast the vision for continuing the new ministry. Once people have a taste of doing it, and enjoying what they do, and seeing its significance for the Kingdom of God, they are more likely to invest in its continuation.

Once the vision for the ongoing ministry is communicated, you can engage more ongoing  volunteers for a specific length of term.

Searcy wisely suggests getting rid of the word ‘need’. It communicates we are unprepared, disorganised, or that the ministry is an area that people don’t want to serve in. It’s much better to speak of the ‘opportunity’ to serve.

He also addresses the issue of whether to allow people who aren’t Christian to serve in the church. His answer is definitely ‘yes’. He believes that many need to feel that they belong in the community before they come to believe what the community believes. He encourages churches to find or create ways that unbelievers can serve in the church that are okay. This won’t be in leadership, but people could be helping with food, making coffee, greeting people, and so on.

Igniting involvement

Preach about ministry and serving. Keep it on the agenda. Show what the Bible teaches about these areas. Give biblical motivation for involvement. Do this every year and at key times in the year. Before most ministries kick off for the year might be a good time. So might a few weeks prior to recruiting people into new areas for the year to come.

He also suggests attaching serving to membership and to participation in small groups, and holding people accountable. This means only people in small groups are entitled to serve in particular areas. Only church members are entitled to serve in others.

Make it easy for people to get involved. Remove all the stumbling blocks in the way of people wanting to serve. Signing up should be a simple and clear. Too often we make it vague or complicated. Involvement in children’s ministry will require more thorough screening processes and training.

He says to ask ‘How many can we mobilise?’ rather than ‘How few do we need?’. Get rid of the scarcity mentality.

Don’t turn away volunteers. If people have a couple hours to serve, then find something for them to do. The pastor’s job is to mobilise and equip people for service.

Lake and ladders

Rick Warren wrote in The Purpose-Driven Church that “Most churches say ‘discover your spiritual gift and then you’ll know what ministry you are supposed to have.’ Searcy believes the exact opposite—start experimenting with different ministries and then you will discover your gifts! Until you start serving, you won’t know what you’re good at.

Connect describes the idea of a ministry ladder. It helps to organise thinking about volunteers, different positions, and levels of volunteer engagement. When someone starts volunteering—no matter what ministry area—the next step is to help them identify and climb the right ministry ladder.

So with small groups, the lowest rung on the ladder is group member. The next rung involves them taking responsibility within the group. The next rung could involve them becoming a core member or an apprentice leader. Then becoming a leader. Then a mentor of leaders. Then a coach of mentors. Each rung brings more responsibility, more accountability, and more connection to the church. We might not like the idea of ‘climbing’ and ‘promotion’ implicit in the image of the ladder, but it helps people to see a pathway for ministry involvement. Clarity is the key.

We should also make sure people are climbing the right ladder. If they need to switch ladders, then let them. They need to discover how God has gifted them to serve most effectively.

Lessons learned the hard way

  • Clearly define the ladder of a ministry before you let people start climbing.
  • Have some positions on the ladder that people who aren’t Christians can fill.
  • Create a clear position description that defines each rung of the ladder. Expectations must be clearly defined and agreed upon. Agreements prevent disagreements.
  • Hold people accountable for their level.
  • Be wary of people who want to climb the rungs of the ladder but don’t want to meet the requirements.
  • Let people know it’s okay to switch ladders.
  • Don’t let people climb to the higher rungs of more than one ladder. You don’t want them burning out.
  • Challenge people to move to the next level. Yet at some point people will find what they’re best at—allow them to keep doing what they do well.
  • Consider compensating High Capacity Volunteers. Perhaps pay them.
  • Celebrate and reward each step taken.

Calling out the called

Consider how to encourage some people to consider vocational Christian ministry. I recommend reading Michael Bennett’s book—Do you feel called by God?for a more biblical understanding of this area.

Ongoing recruitment and reproduction

Searcy has developed a formula for creating a steady flow of new volunteers at church:

GE + TL + CTR + AM + GN = Constant flow of new volunteers

Every step in the formula matters.

Good Experience (GE)
Making sure your volunteers have a good experience when they serve is important if you want to keep reproducing volunteers.

Timeline (TL)
Define the time of commitment.

Challenge to Reproduce (CTR)
Regularly challenge people to keep growing their ministry area. Get them thinking of building teams and reproducing themselves.

Accountability and Motivation (AM)
Hold people accountable for the job they’ve agreed to do. Keep encouraging them in their service.

Good Network (GN)
Continually refill and build your network by following up on people who indicate an interest in serving. Build a list of potential servers. Take every opportunity to encourage people to serve.

Creating a culture of celebration

Searcy believes we don’t celebrate enough in church and suggests six occasions worth celebrating:

  1. When a volunteer serves for the first time.
  2. When a volunteer reaches a service milestone
  3. When a volunteer moves to the next level
  4. During the weekend service—praise people; pray for them; have someone share how they have grown through serving.
  5. When a volunteer is not expecting it. Surprise!
  6. Anytime!


Where to begin? Clarify your theology of ministry. Get a ministry system clearly worked out and put into place. Begin encouraging people into service. Celebrate from the beginning!

My conclusions

To be honest, I have been a little biased against reading books by Nelson Searcy. I read an ebook previously that seemed to be an infomercial for about 8 different DVD courses. But I’m glad I put that aside and looked at Connect.

I do have a gripe. I’ve believe that any good approach to engaging people in ministry, must begin clearly and explicitly at the cross. People need to recognise that Jesus came to serve us, before they can appreciate what it means to serve him. This must not be assumed, otherwise it will be forgotten. So I recommend reading this book alongside or after John Hindley’s excellent book, Serving without sinking.

Secondly, my appreciation. This book is full of tried and tested practical suggestions for working with people in ministry. My experience has revealed that some people have given up trying to serve in church because they don’t know how to get involved. It is not clear. The leaders have not developed obvious systems for recruiting, equipping, encouraging and sustaining people in service. I’ve heard of people who have given up offering to help because their pastor does nothing to help them engage in service. This is sad news. I recommend we do an audit of our ministry systems. How visible and clear are they? Is one person the bottleneck to involvement? Are expectations spelt out carefully? Are there support structures in place? And you think of your own questions.

I was intrigued by the suggestion of breaking down ministries into different parts to offer more opportunities for involvement. At first read it sounded silly. Surely we should get volunteers taking up responsibilities that aren’t being filled. But it’s grown on me. Teamwork is so helpful in building ministry and sustaining volunteers. Sometimes people burn out because the task is either too big or too lonely. Developing teams can change this.

I certainly wouldn’t adopt everything I read in this book, but I appreciated the way that it got me thinking practically and particularly about engaging people in ministry. This is the pastor’s job description and I recommend we devote particular time and effort to thinking through how we build the church through its many members serving one another.


marginMargin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives by Richard Swenson is an important book for anyone who is living in the red zone. If hearing the word ‘stress’ makes you stressed; if hearing the word ‘workaholic’ makes you defensive; if you’re worried about burnout; if you’re always on edge; if you’d prefer to hide in a corner than talk with people; if your credit card never gets paid off; if your children’s sporting and social calendar controls your life; if you’re never on top of what needs to get done and everything seems to be getting more and more out of control; if you never have enough time… then you should probably make time to read Margin.

Swenson argues that overload is a modern western epidemic. People are exhausted, hurt, anxious, and fatigued. Our bodies and our relationships are suffering. We can’t keep up with the demands of life. He describes this as losing our margin—the space that exists between ourselves and our limits. Margin is what we desperately need to regain.

The pain of progress, stress, and overload

Progress is normality for twenty first century Westerners. And we work on the assumption that progress is by definition good. We’re often blinded to the negative personal, relational, and environmental consequences of progress. So often progress sabotages margin, leads to increased stress, has unforeseen negative consequences, and overlooks areas of life that we should value more highly.

Most modern progress has been in:

  • the physical environment (wealth, technology, health—the material world)
  • the cognitive environment (knowledge, information, education—the intellectual world)

Most of our pain has been in:

  • the social environment (family, friends, etc)
  • the emotional environment (feelings, attitudes—our psychological world)
  • the spiritual environment (eternal, transcendent, etc)

Human beings have physical, mental, emotional and financial limits. Progress keeps putting us on a collision course with these limits. When we move beyond our limits we move beyond our margin into overload. We need to live with an awareness of our limits. If we live within our limits, then we create margins that help us to function in healthy and sustainable ways.

Change in my lifetime has been exponential, and continues to be so. This leads to unprecedented levels of stress. If we’re overstressed then we have two options: stress reduction and stress management. Stress reduction takes courage. It may require rearranging our lives: changing jobs, living on smaller incomes, learning to say no. Stress management is about learning how to handle our responses to stressors by taking a dose of margin.

Many of us live in the world of overload. Activity overload, change overload, choice overload, commitment overload, debt overload, decision overload, expectation overload, fatigue overload, hurry overload, information overload, media overload, noise overload, people overload, possession overload, technology overload, traffic overload, work overload (using the word ‘overload overload!). We tend to believe ‘one more thing won’t hurt’—until it does. Chronic overloading has a bad impact on our spiritual, emotional and relational lives. We need to learn what our limits are, and to respect them.


There is an African saying about those from the West. They say: ‘You have watches—we have time!’ They enjoy margin. Life for many is lived at a slower pace. Things are more deliberate. There’s more time for friends and family and neighbours. Progress has taken this kind of margin away from us. 

While agreeing that margin is a good thing, many would say it’s a luxury or unrealistic. Overload is the new normal and it takes too much work to change it. Swenson writes that to be healthy we need margin in at least four areas: emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. Emotionally, we have rarely been so stressed, so alone, exhausted in spirit. Physically, we are over-fed, under-active, and sleep-deprived. Time-wise, we are busy and worn-out. Financially, with live beyond our means in times of extraordinary widespread personal debt.

Margin in emotional energy

Of the four areas we need margin, margin in emotional energy is paramount.

Emotional overload saps our strength, paralyzes our resolve, and maximizes our vulnerability, leaving the door open for even further margin erosion.  (p79)

When we are emotionally resilient, we can deal with much that comes our way. When it’s lacking, it makes everything else more difficult. So if we find our emotional energy has evaporated, how can we get it back? Dr Swenson offers fourteen prescriptions:

  1. Cultivate social supports
    Good friends are good medicine. We should intentionally seek out relationships that refresh, with people who care for and understand us.
  2. Pet a surrogate
    Pets are capable of bonding, are loyal, and often affectionate. Except for cats—just saying!
  3. Reconcile relationships
    Broken relationships are a razor across the artery of the spirit.
    (p87) Reconciliation is powerful and health enhancing.
  4. Serve one another
    If you do regular volunteer work then you will increase your life expectancy, as well as your joy in life.
  5. Rest
    Escape. Relax. Sleep in. Take a nap. Unplug (turn off) the phone. Try setting aside time regularly for quiet and rest.
  6. Laugh
    Apparently people who laugh often heal faster. I’ll have to try it!
  7. Cry
    If you laugh hard enough you will! Crying contributes to emotional restoration.
  8. Create appropriate boundaries
    Learn to say ‘no’.
  9. Envision a better future
    We all must have a purpose bigger than ourselves that we can live for. We must have something we can believe in, something we can give ourselves to. (p91)
  10. Offer thanks
    We all have much to be thankful for. Grumbling drains. Gratitude fills.
  11. Grant grace
    Stop judging people. You’re adding burdens to your back. Lighten both your loads.
  12. Be rich in faith
    The most vital ingredient of resilience is faith. (p93)
  13. Hold fast to hope
    Hope fosters physical and emotional health. Real hope is not naive optimism.
  14. Above all, love
    Receive it and then give it away.

Margin in physical energy

Australia has become the nation of obesity. The book speaks about Americans, but Aussies have a greater problem. We’re overweight, lacking in energy, and addicted to the wrong things. Our bodies only work properly when cared for, fuelled properly, rested regularly, and serviced occasionally. We’re more vulnerable to the effects of stress when our energy reserves are low. The keys to physical margin are sleep, exercise, and nutrition.

Prescriptions for restoring margin in physical energy:

  1. Take personal responsibility
    Changing habits is difficult, but necessary to create margin. Surround yourself with others who will help you to break out of the old patterns of thinking and living.
  2. Value sleep
    Develop healthy sleeping patterns. Don’t push on having less than you know you need and don’t oversleep. Try to develop good routines. Take naps occasionally if you need to. If you eat and exercise better, then you’ll likely sleep better too.
  3. Eat well
    Cut the junk food, eat healthy, and drink plenty of water.
  4. Exercise
    Exercise your heart. Build your muscles. Increase your stamina. Improve your flexibility. Do it regularly, but don’t overdo it.

Margin in Time

We live busy lives. We speak of having no time, losing time, borrowing time, being out of time, and trying to find the time. We’re constantly filling all our time and need to create margins.

With smart phones, laptop computers and wireless internet, some people are always in work time and need to learn how to margin time to rest. In creating a margin of time we must allow time for ourselves, our families, our friendships, and God. Again this means learning to say ‘no’, to make priorities and honour them. Some things need to drop out of our lives—we can just keep adding.

We need to relearn the value of simplicity and contentment instead of continuously desiring the latest and greatest. We should probably turn the television off and find other things to do. Maybe surfing the internet isn’t the best alternative. We should stop living in the frantic and urgent, and devote more to the long-term and important. We should focus less on how much we do and evaluate what is best to do. Let’s stop and reflect, enjoy what we do, and learn from it.

Create buffer zones, plan free time. Ask yourself—do you have time for the unplanned and unexpected? Stop being so busy and plan to make yourself available.

Margin in Finances

Our world is in economic crisis. We can’t keep on living beyond our means and expect things to keep getting better and better. This is true globally, nationally, and personally. Creating financial margin has obvious benefits. Lowering expenses below our incomes decreases stress and pressure. Having margin gives us opportunity to contribute to the needs of others.

Some people are in deep trouble financially. Swenson offers some suggestions for restoring financial margin, and here is my summary:

  1. Don’t allow economics to be your primary measure in life
  2. Be willing to part with the culture in its quest for more and more things
  3. Live within your means
  4. Discipline your desires and redefine your needs
  5. Decrease spending and increase saving
  6. Make a budget
  7. Cut up your credit cards
  8. Limit your mortgage
  9. Resist impulse buying
  10. Depreciate things and appreciate people
  11. Learn to lend and give away your things
  12. Forget fashion
  13. Do without
  14. Remember what you have belongs to God

Increasing my margin

Creating margin is a helpful way of describing how to ‘underload’ our overloaded lives. We need to create margin. Margin for people, margin for ourselves, margin to think and plan, margin to refresh, margin to stay out of debt, and more. My problem is I’ve so often closed that margin.

I remember looking at my timetable one day and realising that I’d booked meetings back to back all day. There was no time to plan before meetings, reflect after meetings, or travel between meetings. As the day went on I’d get further behind and I’d finish the day exhausted. No doubt the latter meetings weren’t as helpful as the earlier ones. So I began slotting in longer times for my meetings to allow time to catch my breath, think over what was coming up, jot notes afterwards, pray about what I was doing, and to allow for travel from one meeting to another.

This afternoon I attended a farewell event for a fellow pastor in Canberra. It was a wonderful tribute to the work of God in and through this man and his family. One thing stood out among the many praises showered on this man—he always has time for people. Ministers are infamous for putting out the vibe of busyness, so it was exciting to hear of a friend who has broken the mould. Would that this be me and many others I know.

Busyness is not cool. It’s not a virtue. It’s not a sign of how important, indispensable or valuable we are. It’s more often an indicator that we haven’t managed to effectively prioritise or manage our time. It probably means we’re dominated by the urgent rather than the important. And it certainly means we need to create margin in our lives.

Leading growth groups

swiss_army_knifeLeading God’s people in any area is a significant responsibility. This is true for church pastors and elders, but also for growth group leaders. We see growth group leaders as little ‘p’ pastors. They’re accountable for how they handle the Bible in their groups each week. God calls us all to handle his word with care and skill. We expect that our leaders will devote themselves to understanding, applying and teaching God’s word faithfully.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  (2 Timothy 2:15)

In particular, we expect them to apply God’s word in leading people, overseeing and caring for God’s little flock—his small group of sheep that meet in a lounge room or coffee shop each week! This is a limited, yet important responsibility. Leaders do this as a part of the larger church, under the authority of pastors, who have broader responsibility for the whole bunch of sheep under their care.


Growth groups need leaders who will apply themselves to servant leadership in the body of Christ—leaders who have Christ-like character, who are competent to lead others, and who have clear biblical convictions being worked out in their lives. 1 Timothy 3 provides descriptions of people suitable to lead and serve the church. It’s helpful to consider these words carefully in relation to growth group leaders and potential leaders.

Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.  (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

While these words are specifically outlining the qualifications for an overseer, they give us relevant criteria to apply to growth group leaders. Leaders need to be above reproach, well respected inside and outside the Christian community. They must be faithful in their relationships. If someone is unfaithful to their wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, housemates, or work colleagues, then they cannot be trusted to lead a group in following Jesus.

Leaders should display godly character of life. There’s an emphasis on self-control—especially in the areas of temper, alcohol, money, and relationships generally. Notice that the primary qualifications aren’t based on skill, but on godliness of life. They don’t emphasize charismatic personality, confidence, education, training or influence. Godliness, shaped by the gospel (v16), is what counts most.

In the midst of discussion about godliness, Paul says they must be able to teach. This will involve the gift, skill, and ability to understand, articulate and apply the Scriptures. But in Paul’s mind, teaching is far more than imparting information. Able to teach is a character of life thing—what you are teaching is character of life—if you don’t have it then you can’t teach it.

People need opportunity to grow and mature before they are thrust  into leadership. We shouldn’t push young Christians, or people who are new to church, into positions of leadership too quickly. There is no given time frame, and maybe sometimes we can be too slow, but it’s wise to allow time to understand what people believe and see how they live and treat others. We shouldn’t be making people leaders so as to give them a job or encourage them to get more involved with church.  Leadership is not a right or a church career path—it’s not a matter of doing your time and then being promoted. It’s about sacrificial humble service.

These verses, in 1 Timothy 3, show that godliness lies at the heart of Christian leadership. They also point to the importance of both church and growth groups being marked by Christ-like lives and gospel-shaped doctrine. Truth and godliness must never be compromised. Our personal lives, and our church and growth groups, are to reflect God’s truth and love in words and actions.

Attitude in action

Growth group leaders as little ‘p’ pastors are to model the same attitude as Christ Jesus, who led through humble service. The Apostle Peter taught this to the other leaders of the early church:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  (1 Peter 5:1-4)

The church and its growth groups belong to God. They’re not mine, or yours, or ours—they’re God’s. Our groups, more importantly, the people in them should matter to us because they matter firstly to God. How we treat the people in our groups matters to God. What we do in church and growth group matters. Our use or abuse of money, sex, power, and privilege matters. There are no excuses for mistreating what’s precious to God. Our hearts need to be changed so that we see things as God sees them, so that we love people as God loves them.

The Apostle Peter encourages his fellow pastors to have pastors’ hearts, and he describes what this will look like. We can apply this to growth group leaders:

not overseeing out of compulsion but freely,
according to God’s will

The leader is called to oversee God’s people voluntarily. He’s to do it because he’s willing, not because he must. It shouldn’t be the position, the obligation, or the demands of the pastor, that motivates the leader to serve. The leader is called to serve freely, willingly, voluntarily, of his own accord, not because he has to, but because wants to. Just as God loves cheerful givers when it comes to our money (2 Corinthians 9:7) so he loves cheerful givers when it comes to Christian leadership. This is pleasing to our Father in heaven.

But what about when ministry becomes a chore, a drudgery, a ball and chain? What about when the only thing that gets us up for the group each week is our sense of obligation, duty, and responsibility? Then it’s time to pray. It’s time to remind ourselves of the gospel. It’s time to dwell again on the grace of God who has given us everything we need to serve him. It’s time to ask God to fill us with his Spirit, so that we rediscover the mindset of Jesus Christ who delighted in serving others. It’s time to draw on the strength of God who delights in working through our weakness and frailty.

not for the money but eagerly

The Bible makes it clear that we can’t serve both God and money. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Greed is idolatry and it’s a slippery path to destruction. But we don’t pay growth group leaders, so how does this apply?

Peter calls us to banish greed from our hearts. Ministry is not about earthly rewards. It’s not about making ourselves comfortable. It’s not about what we can get, but what we can give. If we have the opportunity to lead God’s people in our growth groups then we should remember what a privilege it is to be entrusted with something so precious to God and give of ourselves eagerly.

It’s so tempting to put our own needs first. Our world tells us to do this all the time. We’re urged to make sure we get all we can and to protect all we’ve got. Looking out for our own interests is simply ‘normal’ behaviour, isn’t it? No. Not for people who have already been given everything from God. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have already received so much. We have every spiritual blessing in Christ. We’ve been adopted into God’s family. He’s our Heavenly Father, who knows all our needs, and promises to watch over us.

The implications of this are profound. Because God has promised to take care of our needs, we don’t need to spend our time worrying about them. We don’t need to protect our own interests. We’re liberated to look to the needs of others. We’re freed to serve God and serve others eagerly.

not lording it over those entrusted to you,
but being examples to the flock

The Apostle is passing on a lesson that he received directly from Jesus…

42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’  (Mark 10:42-45)

Now Peter passes this on to his fellow pastors. The leader is to be the servant. Authority is to be exercised with humility. The supreme example of this is Jesus himself. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross. Jesus wasn’t in it for himself. He didn’t stand on his rights. Jesus made no claims to position or prestige, even though he had every right to do so. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, offers us the ultimate example of what a pastor should be like.

Humility flows from following the example of Jesus, but it doesn’t happen without a profound change of heart. Let’s pray that God will liberate us from our selfishness, our controlling desires, and our quests for recognition. Let’s ask him to remind us daily of his generosity and grace towards us. Let’s dig deep into God’s Word and read again of God’s amazing love for his enemies. Let’s ask God to help us forget ourselves and to focus on serving those around us.

Let’s ask God to remind us that it’s not about our service of Jesus, but his service of us. This is the good news. He loves us and has sacrificially given everything to us. Let this be the motivation to serve our groups.

And remember

when the chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

We live, breathe, think, act and speak in the light of eternityLeaders, here is your reward. As you live and even suffer for Jesus now, so you will one day share in his glory. This isn’t something we deserve, we don’t earn it, and we can’t demand it. It’s not payment for services rendered. It comes freely from God to the undeserving.

Let our hearts be satisfied in Jesus. Let’s fill our minds with the things of Jesus. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s trust him, serve him, seek to honour him, proclaim him, model our lives upon him, and point others toward him. For this is the love of Christ in the life of the leader.

Serving without sinking

serving_sinkingOver the past year or so, I’ve read and reread a great many books on Christian leadership and service. This new book is seriously one of the most important books I’ve read. It is deeply, simply, and accurately theological. This makes it rich indeed. It’s not about technique or skill. It’s not about looking after yourself, so you last the distance without burning out. Serving without Sinking by John Hindley is liberating and empowering because it points above all to God’s grace in Jesus. It honours Christ by focusing on him, rather than you and I. It’s a thoroughly Biblical mindset that critiques and reshapes our whole perspective on Christian service. Instead of beginning with our service of Christ, it reminds us of these important words in Mark 10:45 that Jesus came first to serve us:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If we’re finding Christian service a burden, if we’re miserable and joyless, then Hindley suggests we examine our motives for service.

It could be we have a wrong view of God. If we’re serving Jesus so as to be good enough for him, or to get something from him, or to repay Jesus in some way, then we have forgotten the heart of the good news. Jesus came to serve us. This is his free gift to us. We don’t have to measure up, earn our way, or repay the debt. Relationship with God through Jesus is a free gift to be received joyfully.

We might also have a wrong view of people. Perhaps we’re serving to impress others, to receive their thanks or praise, or so that we feel like we are accepted and belong.

Joyless service could also stem from a wrong view of ourselves. Maybe we feel we are indispensable, that somehow Jesus needs us if he is going to be able to accomplish his purposes. Alternatively, we might be feeling like we don’t need Jesus. We’ve become activists who do things on our own, rather than praying for God to be at work in and through us.

Serving without Sinking shifts the attention away from us and puts it back on Jesus.

The counter-intuitive truth I’ve come to realise—the truth that prompted me to write this book—is that the only way to get our service of Jesus right is to realise that supremely, we don’t serve him. He serves us. (p45)

The truth that Jesus came to serve us, to give his life to ransom us for God, means we’ve been given free access to God. It doesn’t depend on our performance and because of this we are liberated to serve in joyful response.

The truth that we have been reconciled to Jesus leads us to serve him, not because we have to or need to, but because we are his friends. This is not about duty, or obligation, or simply obedience—it’s about relationship.

The truth that we have been united with Christ as his bride, draws us into the intimacy of relationship with him. He has sacrificed everything for us and is preparing us for eternity. Jesus is working through our service of him to get us ready for that great day when we will be fully joined with him.

The truth that we’ve been adopted into God’s family as sons, with full inheritance rights, to join in the family business, means we have the privilege of working with God. He doesn’t need us to help him, but he loves us doing so.

Grasping these truths refocuses our Christian service. It opens the door to rediscovering the joy and freedom that come through the gospel. It takes the heat off us. If the Christian life is reduced to our service of God then we will fail miserably. But if we take hold of God’s promises then we cannot fail. Jesus has done it all.

Moreover, Jesus continues to serve us. He intercedes for us today. Because Jesus prays for us, we don’t have to!

So prayer, like other ways of serving, is not something we need to do—it is something we are able to do; an opportunity to enjoy, not a chore to endure. (p84)

Jesus has also served us by sending us the Holy Spirit to enable us to serve him. This is the best gift he has to give, and he gives the Spirit to each one of his followers. Through the Spirit he equips us to serve by giving us gifts. Serving is not jobs that have to be done, but gifts to be unwrapped. These gifts are not for our sake, but gifts to be enjoyed by the church body.

The Spirit of God enables us to serve God with love. Loving God is not something I will do naturally, but something God’s Spirit grows in me. We can mistakenly think that if we simply obey God, then we will love him. However, it doesn’t work this way. Love will lead to service, but not the other way round. Love makes service joyful and free. If our service of Christ has become a burden, or stopped happening, we don’t need to try to obey more. We should ask your God to send his Spirit to work in our heart so that we are captured again by his love and service of us.

Serving without Sinking is a breath of fresh air. I pray that it will reignite our desire to love God leading to joyful service of God and others. If you’re feeling despondent, battle weary, or disillusioned in Christian service—take the time to read this book. If you’re worried that your brothers or sisters are becoming like this, then grab them a copy and talk about it together. If you’re a pastor, looking for ways to thank and encourage your leaders, then invest in multiple copies of this book.

One quick word to the author:

You’ve done a good job of helping women to see how they are included in the category of ‘sons’ of God. I think you need to do something similar to help men to appreciate how they can be part of the ‘bride’ of Christ. Maybe in the second edition!

Outreach and the artist

outreach_artistI’m not an artist. I don’t play a musical instrument, my paintings haven’t progressed from primary school, I’m not much into acting, and no one would pay to hear me sing. But the author Con Campbell is an artist. More importantly he loves artists, and that’s what this book is about. Outreach and the artist expresses two of Con’s passions: (1) a desire for Christians to use the arts to reach out to others; and (2) a desire for Christians to engage with artist subcultures largely isolated from Christian faith. Con writes as a practitioner on both fronts. He is a highly acclaimed jazz saxophonist who has uses his craft to help communicate with others about Jesus and he keeps well connected with other artists, seeking to persuade them to take Jesus seriously.

This book is well written and easy to read. I read most of it yesterday while walking into town and back (while trying to avoid the pedestrian casualty list). There are many strengths to this book that I appreciate. Firstly, Con explains very clearly the content of the good news and how people actually become followers of Jesus. There is no watering down of the Christian message to make it more palatable for an edgy post-modern audience. He is clear that one only becomes a Christian by putting their trust in Jesus and that this is a non-negotiable. He doesn’t claim more for his or others’ art forms than they are able to deliver. No one is going to understand the good news of Jesus simply by being amazed by a painting or swept up in a beautiful piece of music. This may be an experience that God uses to stimulate their interest in  the creative God. It might lead them to enquire about the faith of the artist. It may provide a hearing for the artist to explain what they believe. But art, in and of itself, is not going to save people.

Secondly, Con is able to straddle the divide between the church and the arts. He is a highly gifted Bible scholar, teacher, theologian, writer and ministry practitioner. He is also respected as an artistic performer in the field of jazz. He knows how churches think and fail to think, and he understands the world in which the performing artist lives. Con has sought to bridge the divide in a number of ways.

He has performed over 250 jazz gigs with churches and Christian groups, with the aim of creating a relaxed and comfortable context for speaking about Jesus. I’ve witnessed a number of these gigs and love the way Con moves from introducing us to the forms of jazz to sharing his enthusiasm about Jesus. The freedom of the jazz musician to express himself within the groove, leads to Con explaining how Jesus is the groove that gives us real freedom to live.

He also helps churches to consider how their often rigid and judgmental attitudes serve to alienate many alternative types from their midst. The lifestyle of the artist is very different to the 9 to 5 office worker. Days or weeks can be spent just seeking inspiration, or reworking an idea. Productivity may seem non-existent. Thousands of hours can be ‘wasted’ or spent ‘indulging’ in practise, with little to show for it. Con challenges us to see things afresh. If we appreciate the craft of an elite artist, musician, or athlete, then we must also appreciate how many years of effort go into getting there. Most musicians work late nights and weekends. They recover by sleeping in. This doesn’t mean they are lazy. Churches are urged to think more empathetically about connecting with people who have very different lifestyles.

Thirdly, having been one who lived for the god of music, Con understands first hand many of the barriers to artists coming to trust in Jesus. He saw the idolatry in his own heart. He’d taken God’s good gift of creativity and ignored the Creator who gave it to him. Con understands the difficulties for artists whose life and being has been tied up with their craft. There is much for them to lose, but far more to be gained. Con shares how he recognised that he must give up his jazz to worship God instead, but then how God opened more doors than he could ever imagine to enjoy jazz and use it to serve God.

This book also contains a number of interviews with Christian artists. There are musicians, painters, actors. They speak of their appreciation of the arts, what they love, how they’ve struggled as Christians in this subculture, the various ministries they’ve been able to be involved in as artists, and what each believes to be the biggest barriers for artists coming to trust in Jesus.

I really loved this little book. For mine it’s an excellent example of living out the attitude we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

I would highly recommend this book to all Christian artists. I think it will help them to reflect on how they can appreciate the gifts and blessings that God has given them, and encourage them to use their opportunities to honour God.

I would also encourage pastors and leaders in church to read this book. It helps us to think about what’s needed to connect with people we’re just not reaching. It also contains some excellent advice on utilising the arts to make Christ known.

Thanks Con.


drive_coverI was introduced to Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by watching his TED talk on ‘motivation’.

Pink discusses strategies for motivating human behaviour. Survival is the most basic motivator. A secondary motivator is the desire to seek reward and avoid punishment. Pink calls this second motivator: Motivation 2.0. People and organisations have built their existence on the assumption that the way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence, is to reward the good and punish the bad. However, this approach is unreliable. It doesn’t always work.

Pink draws our attention to open-source software created by volunteers who receive no financial return. Firefox, Linux, and Apache occupy huge shares of the market and they are not driven by the promise of financial rewards. Microsoft pulled their expensive encyclopedia, Encarta, once it became clear that the volunteer-driven Wikipedia had totally blown it away. Open-source endeavours rely on intrinsic motivation. This is what Pink calls Motivation 3.0. One study of volunteers who participated in open-source endeavours found “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest driver.” (p23) Motivation 2.0 has little room for these sorts of impulses.

While economists might assume that our primary goal is to maximize wealth. The reality is that our behaviour is more complex. People leave lucrative jobs to take positions with a clearer sense of purpose (such as ministry or unpaid voluntary work). People practice musical instruments without ever expecting any financial return. They work on puzzles for the satisfaction of completing them. There is much more to human motivation that external rewards and punishments.

Jobs are becoming more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed. Routine work, doing much the same thing over and over still exists, but there are more and more creative work options available. Motivation 2.0 (the proverbial carrot and stick) works well for routine tasks, but not for more heuristic ones. It assumes that work is not enjoyable, so we need to use external rewards and punishments to motivate people. However, this can actually demotivate people instead.

Studies have shown that rewards often have a short-term benefit, but lead to a loss of interest in the long-term. Extrinsic rewards can have a negative effect on creativity. Sometimes offering a financial reward eliminates the potential for altruism and the desire to do something good, and so reduces people’s incentive to be involved.

Extrinsic rewards sometimes contribute to unethical behaviour, such as taking short-cuts, cheating, or taking unwise risks. Working to get a reward can also become addictive. Once a reward is given, it becomes expected, and people no longer volunteer to do it for free. And you’ll probably have to increase the payment to keep getting the job done.

There are some circumstances where ‘carrot and stick’ motivation does work. When work is routine and doesn’t require creative thinking, rewards can provide some increased motivation. Rewards don’t undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for boring tasks because there isn’t much anyway.

Drive argues that intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than reward motivated people. Neither dismiss money or recognition, but not everyone is motivated by the opportunity to get more. Intrinsic motivations can reward people with higher self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships, and increased general well-being.

Such behaviour depends on three nutrients: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It’s self-directed, devoted to becoming better and better at something that matters, and directed to a larger purpose.


Autonomy is different from independence. It’s about acting with choice. One study demonstrated that…

It promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being. (p91)

People value autonomy over four aspects of their work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom they do it. Their task, their time, their technique, and their team.

Google is known for encouraging engineers to spend a day a week working on a side project of their choice. Most use this 20% discretionary time to develop something entirely new. More than half of Google’s new products have been created during this period of pure autonomy.

Some workers, such as lawyers, are required to keep detailed accounts of their work time. Their focus is less on the output of their work (solving a client’s problem) and more on the input (billing as many hours as possible).

Contrast this with a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). In a ROWE work environment people don’t have schedules. They aren’t required to be at work at specific times. They’re just required to get their work done. Some workplaces have demonstrated significant increases in productivity after moving to ROWE.

In a Motivation 3.0 environment workers have autonomy over technique. They have to achieve quality results, but how they do this is up to them.
Productivity, job satisfaction, and staff retention is increased.

Open source is an example in which teams self-assemble to pursue a new project. At W.L. Gore and Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX fabric, people seeking promotion must be able to assemble people willing to work with them.

Some workers will desire more autonomy over their tasks, others their time, their techniques, or their teams. Organisations will achieve better outcomes if they seek to work with, rather than resist, these motivators. Some will baulk at these ‘progressive’ ideas, but it’s important to understand that…

…encouraging autonomy doesn’t mean discouraging accountability. People must be accountable for their work, but there are different ways to approach that end. Motivation 2.0 assumed that if people had freedom, they would shirk – and that having autonomy was a way of bypassing accountability. Motivation 3.0 begins with a different assumption. It presumes that people want to be accountable – and making sure they have control over their task, their time, their technique, and their team is a pathway to that destination. (p106-107)


Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. Motivation 2.0 – the carrot and stick – will never engage people with this pursuit. It must come from an inner motivation.

A study of 11,000 industrial engineers and scientists found that the desire for intellectual challenge was the best predictor of productivity. Scientists motivated by intrinsic desire filed many more patents than those whose main motivation was money. Good organisations create opportunities for their workers to increase their mastery.

Mastery is a mindset. It’s a way of approaching life. It’s also a pain. It hurts, and often isn’t much fun. Mastery of sports, music, business requires effort over many years. Mastery is also an asymptote (a straight line that a curve approaches but never reaches). You can approach mastery, you can get really close, but you will never touch it. The joy is in the pursuit more than the achievement.


Purpose provides a context for autonomy and mastery. The most deeply motivated people attach their desires to a much larger cause. Motivation 2.0 focused on profit maximization. Motivation 3.0 doesn’t dismiss profits, but it also focuses on purpose maximization.

People attaining purpose goals, and not simply profit goals, report higher levels of satisfaction and well-being, and low levels of anxiety and depression. Reaching meaningful goals helps people to feel good in their circumstances.

People who reported achieving only profit goals weren’t any happier. More money didn’t solve their issues. They showed increases in anxiety, depression, and other negative indicators even though they received plenty of money. It’s not that profit doesn’t matter in organisations, but it’s not the most important motive. History’s greatest achievements, from the printing press to finding cures for diseases, had more to do with purpose than profit.

What can we learn?

This book pushes me to think more about how we seek to motivate people. Working as a pastor means that I’m keen to be encouraging people to serve, to join ministry teams, to contribute to the life of the church, to reach out to others, to support the church financially and prayerfully. My temptation is sometimes to work from the assumption that people don’t want to do these things and that they need to be pushed hard to get involved. We can fall into the trap of using ‘guilt’ as the stick and ‘earning God’s favour’ as the carrot. This is a form of legalism.

Instead, we would do well to remember that people who are trusting in Christ and who have received God’s Spirit will be inclined to love, serve, give, and contribute. We will motivate them more effectively by reminding them of the wonder of the gospel, the freedom they have to live for God and others, and the rich purpose of working for things of eternal value.

A regular motivator in churches is to plead with people to fill rosters, to give more money, to work harder at being ‘good Christians’. This is short-sighted, ineffective, and ungodly motivation. Far better to inspire people to use the gifts God has given them, to work at developing these gifts, to strive together in the common cause of the gospel, and to seek God’s honour rather than our own. We do well to paint a vision of a life well-lived for Christ.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose can be entirely selfish drivers. They can be all about me. ‘Let me have the independence to do things my way.’ ‘Let me try to become the best I can be.’ ‘Let me determine what purpose or value I ascribe to things.’ Pink’s categories don’t guarantee any better motivation than those seeking to gain rewards or avoid punishments. However, when they are shaped by God’s word they can. They can inspire leaders to motivate people to take initiative in growing their gifts to serve God for his glory.

When leaders focus on their own autonomy and mastery, it can sometimes reinforce their tendency to be control freaks. We don’t want people doing things independently. We prevent people doing things because we believe that we can do it better. We’ve mastered the task and they haven’t. We love the opportunity to innovate, contribute, and grow our skills, yet we sometimes deny the same opportunities to others. This is all too common in churches and very short-sighted and selfish.

This book has pushed me to examine the issues of what inspires and motivates people to work. Not just paid employment, but voluntary work, and especially Christian service. I need to audit the strategies and methods that I tend to employ to determine how I can be a better motivator of others.

I don’t think this book is all that profound, but it does challenge the typical default strategies for getting people to work. It inspires me to reflect on my default strategies and to be more creative. It pushes me to work through Scripture again, asking how God motivates people, and how New Testament Christian leaders motivated people, and to think about how I can better motivate people in the future. One part of the Bible has motivated me for more that thirty years:

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 my emphasis)

A sense of urgency

kotter_urgencyJohn Kotter is the organisational change guru. His book Leading Change continues to be one of most influential books on the topic. Many leaders and organisations implement Kotter’s eight step process for managing positive change. His more recent book, A Sense of Urgency, examines the factors that help or hinder change. He digs more deeply into what he believes to be the most significant factor in managing change – creating a sense of urgency.

At the beginning of any effort to make changes of any magnitude, if a sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult.  (ix)

It all starts with a sense of urgency

Complacency is a serious problem. When people are content to maintain the status quo, they fail to see the wonderful opportunities and dangerous threats before them. The best solution to the complacency problem is not to get frantically busy, but to create a true sense of urgency.

Urgency doesn’t mean frenetic activity. It’s not about getting faster or busier. It has to do with recognising things of ‘pressing importance’. It’s about acting on critical issues now, not when it’s convenient.

True urgency doesn’t build up stress levels, because it means sticking by priorities. It requires focus on the main game and not worrying about the trivia and irrelevant tasks that clog up our calendars.

Complacency and false urgency

The first step in creating a true sense of urgency is to deeply understand its opposites: complacency and false urgency.  (p19)

Complacency is very much a feeling and not simply a thought. It’s less about rational analysis and more about unconscious emotion. It’s possible to see problems and yet be complacent because you don’t feel that the problems require changes in your own behaviour.

False urgency is very different from complacency. Complacency leaves things the way they are, whereas false urgency adds more and more activity. While complacency is built on a feeling that everything is okay, false urgency is built on anxiety and anger. This can create activity without productivity. It can also be very destructive.

Increasing true urgency

Business cases tend to use analysis and logic to demonstrate that an issue is important and that a course of action should be taken. They try to reduce complacency by appealing to people’s minds. Yet, when it comes to affecting behaviour, feelings are more influential than thoughts. This is not a recipe for mindless emotional manipulation. The challenge is to fold a rational case directed toward the mind into an experience that is very much aimed at the heart. (p47)

Tactics that aim at the heart, and successfully increase urgency, all seem to have five key characteristics:

  1. They are thoughtfully created human experiences.
  2. Effective experiences work appropriately on all of our senses.
  3. The experiences make change-weary, cynical people believe in a positive future.
  4. The experiences rarely need explanation. The point is clear.
  5. The experiences almost inevitably lead us to raise our sights, to emotionally embrace goals beyond maintaining the status quo.

There are four tactics that get used to increase urgency with heart-head strategies:

Tactic one – bring the outside in

Tactic one is based on the observation that organisations tend to be too internally oriented. There is a disconnect between what insiders see, feel, and think and external opportunities. This reduces an organisation’s sense of urgency.

An inward-focused organisation often misses new opportunities and hazards coming from competitors, customers, and a changing environment. When these opportunities and hazards aren’t seen, the sense of urgency drops and complacency grows.

Organisations need to stay in touch with what’s happening around them. They need to take steps to find this out. When they discover they’re out of touch, this news needs to be shared widely. Sharing information can be a powerful way of increasing urgency. Leaders can increase urgency for change rather than retreating into damage control. Outsiders can be imported into the organisation to bring new perspective that enables people to see things afresh and develop a sense of urgency.

Tactic two – behave with urgency every day

People watch how quickly their leaders move on issues. Tone of voice, body language, and things like whether we start meetings on time, all send a message about urgency. We need to model urgency on a daily basis if we want our organisations to embrace it.

Lots of things hinder a leader’s ability to model urgency. Being too busy with dozens of different and often unrelated activities. Clutter and fatigue undermine true urgency.

We need to eliminate low priority items from our calendars and to do lists. Getting rid of clutter and freeing up space allows us to move faster. It enables us to focus on what’s really important.

Urgency is contagious, but only if it’s visible. Behaving urgently doesn’t mean constantly creating stress for others or getting frustrated when no one else completes every goal tomorrow. It requires ‘urgent patience’, acting every day with a sense of urgency, but having a realistic view of appropriate time frames.

Tactic three – find opportunity in crises

Some people view crises as bad because they can hurt people, disrupt plans, and can cripple organisations and communities. Others see crises as opportunities. They believe the greater danger is complacency, and a crisis may be required in order to confront it.

Turning a crisis to our advantage requires us to be looking for potential opportunities. The big challenge is almost always more a heart problem than a mind problem. We need to act with passion, conviction, optimism, and resolve.

Sometimes a crisis is needed to shake people from their complacency. We might even need to create a crisis. This needs to be done carefully without leading to an angry backlash because people feel manipulated. A crisis, whether natural or created, can be a powerful tool to reduce complacency, but it won’t happen automatically. We need to act wisely.

Tactic four – deal with NoNos

A NoNo is more than a skeptic. He’s always ready with ten reasons why the current situation is fine, why the problems and challenges others see don’t exist, or why you need more data before acting.  (p146)

NoNos are much more dangerous than we might believe, and that’s one of the reasons we make mistakes in dealing with them. People tend to either co-opt them or to isolate and ignore them. Neither strategy is effective. NoNos aren’t open-minded and are usually very intentional about delaying, hindering, or disrupting change. Ignored NoNos can create problems by stirring up trouble with others. They undercut the development of any sense of true urgency for change. A smart NoNo locates weak points in arguments and is expert at creating anxiety and undermining effort to take opportunities and avoid hazards.

There are three effective solutions for dealing with NoNos:

  1. Give them something important or meaningful to do that keeps them occupied but away from a place of influence.
  2. Remove them from the organisation.
  3. Expose their behaviour. Once people identify a person as a ‘NoNo’ their ability to exercise influence becomes extremely limited.

Sustaining urgency

Sustaining urgency over time requires that it not only be created, and created well, but that it be re-created again and again.  (p169)

Natural forces tend to push toward stability and contentment. The basic pattern is simple: urgency leads to success leads to complacency. For this reason, we need to build a culture of urgency, where people value the capacity to grab new opportunities, avoid new hazards, and continually find ways to succeed. We need to work at being constantly alert, focusing externally, moving fast, stopping low-value-added activities that absorb time and effort, and relentlessly pushing for change when it’s needed. Such a culture is rare, but worth seeking to create.

Creating urgent churches

A Sense of Urgency contains an urgent message for many churches. Things can move very slowly in some churches. ‘But we’ve always done it that way’ are too often the words of a dying church. Whether it’s fear of change or attachment to the status quo, many churches remain inert and unable to respond effectively to opportunities or threats.

Leaders need to build a sense of urgency. This shouldn’t be a false urgency that builds stress and over-commitment with everyone running around like headless chooks, achieving nothing of real value. We should seek to rally people to the good opportunities. This requires us to offer a compelling vision for change that captivates people’s hearts.

We also need to awaken people to the dangers of complacency. Too many churches that were once vibrant, energetic, growing, missional congregations, have long since become dormant museums to the glory days. They reminisce about how they used to be as they atrophy and die.

Churches have more reason than other organisations to behave with a healthy sense of urgency. We believe life is short and that people’s lives count. We understand that one day people will stand before God to give an account of their lives. We want people to hear the good news of salvation and to be reconciled to God. It concerns me how slowly we respond to the needs and opportunities around us. We spend too long discussing and often fail to get to doing. Church leaders would do well to read this book and think about how to increase the urgency of our church cultures. It begins with our own attitudes to what we do. Time is a valuable resource. Let’s not waste it.

Seven practices of effective ministry

seven_practices_of_effective_ministrySeven practices of effective ministry describes the philosophy of ministry at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. Andy Stanley, Lane Jones, and Reggie Joiner challenge their readers not to keep adding more and more programs before carefully evaluating the ones they already have. Churches have limited resources and they need to be allocated and used wisely. They have identified seven practices to assist in evaluating existing and proposed programs. These practices aren’t about telling churches what they should or shouldn’t do. They’re about equipping churches to ask helpful questions to determine what programs to start, what to improve, and what to stop.

#1 Clarify the win

Define what is important at every level of the organization

Clarifying the win means communicating to our team what is really important. This is essential to keep our team from guessing what a win looks like. We don’t want people following the loudest or most persuasive voice, simply because they haven’t been given clarity about what matters most. It doesn’t help if leaders are all defining the win to suit themselves. The church needs to be clear about what it’s doing, what is expected, and why. Clarifying the win helps your team stay on the same page. As the church grows it’s easy for things to get out of alignment. Effective leaders keep holding up a picture of what the church is supposed to be, and calling people back to this picture. This tends to build a positive momentum for ministry. It also helps us to use our limited resources wisely according to what is and what isn’t working.

There are four key steps to clarifying the win.

  1. Sum up the win in a simple phrase.
  2. Keep the win as specific as possible.
  3. Restate the win frequently and creatively.
  4. Meet to clarify the win at every level

#2 Think steps, not programs

Before you start anything, make sure it takes you where you need to go

Many churches adopt or design programs to meet the needs of members, but few develop clear steps to help move people where they want them to go.

  • A program is defined as ‘a system of services, opportunities, or projects, usually designed to meet a social need.’
  • A step is defined as ‘one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal.’

We need to ask ‘Where do we want people to be?’ and then ‘How are we going to get them there?’ These questions help us to focus on growing followers of Jesus. They get us thinking specifically about spiritual growth and the building of relationships in our churches.

Effective steps have three characteristics.

  1. Every step should be easy. If it’s too much of a jump, then people won’t move forward.
  2. Every step has to be obvious. People don’t like stepping into the unknown. They need to understand where to go next. Communicating the steps and their importance is essential.
  3. Every step must be strategic. It needs to lead somewhere. Once we know the specific destination that we want to lead people to, then the steps must clearly move them in that direction.

As we think more about steps and less about programs, synergy grows in our church and ministry teams. People are required to depend on each other, and the silo mentality becomes less of a problem. We’re more likely to see what’s not working and to work together to simplify our processes.

#3 Narrow the focus

Do fewer things in order to make a greater impact

A lot of churches are doing too much, but failing to reach more people. They have A.D.D. Over the years the number of programs grows and grows and effectiveness is diluted.

Here are four reasons churches drift into complexity, making it difficult to simplify their structures.

  1. Some churches have bought into a ministry ‘menu’ philosophy.
  2. Churches feel constant pressure to provide programs on the basis of needs.
  3. Individuals have been allowed to build their identity around a program, not a mission.
  4. Church leaders fear the fallout of eliminating certain programs.

The challenge is to simplify things. We need to learn to say ‘no’ to ideas and ministries that take away from our core focus. Sometimes things that are still working adequately need to be replaced by other things that will potentially work better. We need to design what we do to reach and connect with people effectively. As we narrow the focus of our ministries, relevance increases, people become better connected, quality improves as we try to do less things  better, and we have a stronger impact on our communities.

#4: Teach less for more

Say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it

We all experience information overload. The danger is that our churches just add to the noise. We need to rethink what and how we communicate.

There are four steps to teaching less for more.

  1. Decide what you are going to say
  2. Decide to say one thing at a time
  3. Decide how you are going to say it
  4. Say it over and over again

These ideas are developed more fully in Communicating for a change.

#5: Listen to outsiders

Focus on who you’re trying to reach, not who you’re trying to keep

Some of us have been in church for so long, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to never attend. We have believed what we believe for so long, we don’t know how an unbeliever thinks anymore.  (p142)

Our churches should be on about helping believers grow and reaching unbelievers. The problem is it’s easier to look inside than outside. North Point Community Church developed a strategy to reach people in their community. They called it ‘Invest and Invite’. Every member is encouraged to make a personal investment in someone’s life and invite them to one of the church’s ministry environments. The responsibility of the church is to create the effective environments for their members to bring people.

This has led to members being more attuned to what an outsider would hear and experience when they come to church. They want to create a positive first impression of church and to make people feel at home. They’re keen for the teaching to be clear and understandable.

Billions of dollars are spent by organisations seeking to understand their market. Churches at least need to listen to the people who aren’t there. When we listen to outsiders, we begin to see our church in a whole new light.

#6: Replace yourself

Learn to hand off what you do

If you fail to develop a strategy to replace yourself, you will…

  • force talented individuals to remain in the wings
  • cause potential leaders to exit the organisation
  • stifle needed insight from valuable team members
  • hinder your ability to recruit volunteers
  • limit the growth of your programs and ministries  (p160)

Succession planning is important. We won’t be leaders forever. Now is the time to use our opportunities to influence and shape those who will come after us. Teaching what we know by apprenticing others helps the ongoing transition of people into leadership roles. If leaders set the example of investing in future leaders, this gets modelled through the church. Every area of ministry should be focused on building leaders for the future. This is critical to sustaining and building long term ministry.

Successfully handing off leadership requires three steps.

  1. Break it down into clear and doable steps
  2. Hand it off. You are giving something away. Many thoughts and emotions will be going on inside of you. Let the new person make their own mistakes and their own progress.
  3. Let it go. Move on. Trust the new guy!

#7: Work on it

Take time to evaluate your work and to celebrate your wins

Self-evaluation is an important practice that must be pursued intentionally. We need to examine what is working and what’s not. It’s not likely to happen effectively unless we build evaluation into our calendars on a regular basis. We need to stop, look back, and review. We need to step outside of our work and take a look at it.

They describe this as ‘creating margin’. It can happen on a weekly basis to evaluate regular activities. It can be done less regularly to review the bigger picture.

When we evaluate, we will discover areas that need improvement. This often means people get threatened when their areas are critiqued. It’s essential to build an environment of trust where we commit to these reviews for the sake of our common goals.

It’s also important to celebrate the successes. Saying thank you publicly is very powerful. Sharing stories builds energy and gratitude for what God is doing.


This book is a helpful tool for assessing the organisational health of our churches. It pushes us to seek clarity and simplicity. It urges us to make a priority of encouraging people to grow in their knowledge and love of God, and to understand how they can serve God in this particular church context. 

My experience of church is that everyone tends to be busy. Busyness is not a virtue. We can be very busy doing nothing of value. Churches can be very busy, but unclear where they’re headed or why. This book is a call to identify what things really matter, what our churches must focus upon, and how we are going to do it. Then we can help people to serve God together.

If you feel that your church is chasing its tail and you’re not quite sure why you’re doing what you’re doing, then this book should help you to ask some good questions.

I found the emphasis on steps rather than programs to be particularly useful. Instead of being content with a smorgasbord of unrelated ministries, it’s more important to be clear and intentional on how one thing relates to another. This encourages us to think about where we want people to end up. How do we want people to grow and change? What will assist this to happen? What do we hope for children over the seven years they might spend in Kingdom Kids (Sunday School)? How do we help people find their way into the life of our church, join a growth group, serve in a ministry team? It helps us to build pathways and show the way ahead. We’ve more work to do on this front – but it is happening!

The three signs of a miserable job

3-signs-of-a-miserable-jobThe three signs of a miserable job is another helpful analysis by leadership and teams expert, Patrick Lencioni. A miserable job is the one that’s tough to get out of bed for. You dread going to work and you can’t wait to get home. It’s not about the actual work. Nor is it about the money. An executive on a seven-figure salary can be miserable, while a waitress finds great satisfaction in her work. It can be any type of job, any business, and any time. No one is immune.

There are huge economic and personal costs to this misery. It damages the individual’s physical and psychological health. It spreads through homes, families, marriages, friendships and society.

The three signs of a miserable job

People can’t be fulfilled in their work if they aren’t known. We all need to be understood and appreciated by someone in authority over us. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous are not going to love their jobs.

Everyone needs to know that their job is important to someone else, even if it’s just the boss. Without seeing a sense of connection between the work and satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee will not find fulfilment.

Workers need to be able to gauge for themselves their progress and level of contribution. They won’t be satisfied in their work if success depends on the whims or opinions of others. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

The benefits of managing for job fulfilment

Employees who find their jobs rewarding will work with more enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to quality than those who do not. They’ll develop a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing.

There will be less staff turnover, with employees holding onto fulfilling jobs as long as they can. Fulfilled employees tend to attract other good employees, ultimately resulting in fewer costs to the organisation. The organisation will enjoy greater stability and cohesion. Being known as a satisfying place to work is a valuable point of difference with other organisations.

The obstacles to managing for job fulfilment

Sometimes employees fail to find fulfilment in their work because they put too much emphasis on getting the right amount of money or finding the ideal job. Yet even people who are paid well for doing something they love can be miserable if they feel anonymous, or irrelevant, or they don’t know if they are succeeding or not.

Sometimes the problem is the organisation. The business and its leaders are slow to see their employee dissatisfaction issues and, when they do, they focus on the wrong things. If they don’t notice until people are starting to resign, then it’s too late. Often people will not honestly state why they are leaving and issues of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability are left unaddressed.

In order to be the kind of leader who demonstrates genuine interest in employees and who can help people discover the relevance of their work, a person must have a level of personal confidence and emotional vulnerability. Without it, managers will often feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, about having such simple, behavioural conversations with their employees. They will mistakenly feel more like kindergarten teachers or little league coaches delivering a simple pep talk, even though their employees  – at all levels – are yearning for just such a conversation.  (p228)

Addressing anonymity

If you feel that others on the team know and understand you as an individual, then you’re much less likely to want to leave the team. Leaders must take a personal interest in the members of their team. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you start watching the same TV shows they do or listening to their music. Simply get to know them. Take time to sit down with them and ask them about their lives. Keep it real. It must be a genuine interest. Not once off, but over and over again. Show interest and follow it up.

People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers.  (p231)

Addressing irrelevance

Why are so many athletes, rock stars, and actors living such messed up and unsatisfied lives? Lencioni believes the root cause is a subtle fear of irrelevance. He says this because it’s hard to understand how someone who earns truckloads of money doing something they love, and who gets constant attention from others, can be unhappy. And conversely how low-paid, ‘hiding in the background’ workers can be happy. The answer has to do with being needed and having an impact on the lives of others.

Human beings need to be needed. They need to know that they are helping others, not merely serving themselves. Leaders need to help employees (or volunteers) answer two questions in order to establish relevance in their jobs.

‘Who am I helping?’
For many workers, the answer will be the customers, but some people are in jobs where they don’t have direct contact with customers. It could be other employees, colleagues, or departments within the organisation, or even their own boss. Leaders can be reluctant to speak of how people’s work helps them, but most people get a great deal of satisfaction when their supervisor thanks them for what they’ve done or says how helpful and significant it has been.

How am I helping?
The answer to that question isn’t always obvious. When a room attendant at a hotel brings breakfast to a guest, he isn’t just delivering food. He’s helping a weary traveler feel a little better about having to be on the road, which can have a significant impact on their outlook on life that day.

One of the most important things that managers must do is help employees see why their work matters to someone. Even if this sounds touchy-feely to some, it is a fundamental part of human nature.  (p235)

Addressing immeasurement

Effective job measurement lies in identifying the areas that an employee can directly influence. Leaders need to see the importance of the people on their teams having clear measurement criteria. Some measurements will be behavioural in nature and may be achieved by an informal survey of customers or a by identifying behaviours that indicates satisfaction with their work. If people can’t see any clear link between their daily responsibilities and the metric they are being measured against, they lose interest, feeling unable to control their own destiny. This is why so many salespeople enjoy their jobs. They don’t depend on others to tell them whether they’ve succeeded or failed.

Taking action

How can you go about putting all this into action, depends on who you are.

If you’re a manager…

Anonymity: Do I really know my people, their family situations, their interests, or how they spend their spare time?

Irrelevance: Do they know who their work impacts, and how?

Immeasurement: Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Employee assessments allow people to confirm or deny the accuracy of your answers. Finally, develop a plan to overcome any inadequacies around the three signs. This could be done one on one or in a team session. Make clear what you are trying to do, so that people don’t assume ulterior motives.

If you’re an employee or looking for a job…

You can do some things to increase the odds that your job will be fulfilling. Talk with your boss (or prospective boss) about the three signs and your desire to avoid them. A good leader will take this seriously. If you’re looking for a job, ask how they show interest in employees, how the job you’re discussing has an impact on people, and how you will be measured. If you’re hearing answers that indicate anonymity, irrelevance, or immeasurement, then it might be the job to avoid.

The ministry of management

I have come to the realisation that all managers can – and really should – view their work as a ministry. A service to others.

By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families.  They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry of their own. (p253)

Some further thoughts on working with volunteers

Much of what I do as a church leader involves working with unpaid volunteers. Lencioni’s diagnosis of the signs of a miserable job is valuable for thinking about how to encourage people to serve in a range of voluntary roles. Are our volunteers feeling recognised, valued, appreciated, and purposeful? Do they understand the importance of their contribution to the ministry of the whole church or organisation? Are they able to assess whether they are doing a good job or not? Or are they left constantly wondering if anyone notices or cares?

How do we recruit volunteers to roles within our ministry? In my experience we often stress the gaps that need filling and push people to fill places on rosters. It’s far more helpful to inspire people with the opportunities for valuable ministry. Explain the essential contribution their work will have to the ministry as a whole. Offer examples, case studies, statistics or personal testimonies. Show the outcomes when this is done well. Highlight the potential for people to use their gifts and grow.

Sometimes we equip volunteers for the work we want them to do and then leave them to do it. The team leader’s job doesn’t stop with training. It flows on into encouragement, feedback, support, and celebrations. Keep reminding people of the relevance and value of their contribution. Empower them to recruit others and play a role in training and developing people in their roles. Acknowledge their contribution publicly in the organisation. Help develop clear metrics by which people can assess the success or failure of their contribution.

If we’re experiencing a high turnover or drop out rate among our volunteers, we should take the time to assess the reasons why. It’s highly likely that people are experiencing one or more of these signs of a miserable job. Leaders would do well to put their minds to helping volunteers overcome feelings of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurability. It could help to engage volunteers so as to better understand the factors that contribute to or overcome such feelings. This could be done ad hoc or on a regular basis. It could form the basis of a regular formal review with volunteers and teams.

The effective executive

effective-executiveThe effective executive: The definitive guide to getting the right things done by leadership guru, Peter Drucker, is primarily a book about how to manage yourself. This is the necessary prerequisite for managing other people. If we can’t manage ourselves effectively then how can we possibly manage five, or fifty or five hundred? Effectiveness is not simply about intelligence and hard work, or about having special gifts, aptitudes, or training. It’s about learning some relatively simple things and then practicing them until they become a habit. Effectiveness for an executive is about ‘executing’ the right things.

Know thy time

Many books tell us that effectiveness flows from planning our time well, whereas Drucker says we first need to understand where our time actually goes. Only then can we attempt to manage our time and cut back on unproductive demands. After this we can consolidate our time for it’s most effective use.

Time tends to be our scarcest resource. Leaders are often vague about their actual use of time. How we think we use it and how we actually do are often very different. If we want to know the truth, then we need to record our actual use of time. Drucker recommends running a log of our time for three to four weeks twice a year on a regular schedule. This will ensure we are dealing with reality.

Then we will be able to find the nonproductive time-wasting activities and attempt to get rid of them. Ask questions like, ‘What would happen if this were not done at all?’ If the answer is ‘Nothing’ then it’s a no-brainer. Stop it! Then ask ‘What things on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?’ The only way that we can get to the most important things is by delegating everything that can be done by others. We should also ask how we might be wasting other people’s time and eliminate these things. Ask, ‘What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?’

After getting rid of the things that are wasting time, the leader needs to work out how to create large chunks of discretionary time where they can be productive. Small bits of time here and there are rarely productive. Consolidating time into blocks helps us to get more done.

What can I contribute?

Drucker claims that most executives are occupied with efforts rather than results. By focusing on contribution instead, our attention is shifted from our particular specialty to the performance of the whole organisation.

Organisations need performance in three main areas:

  1. direct results;
  2. building of values and their reaffirmation; and
  3. building and developing people for tomorrow.

It is important for executives to give attention to each of these areas, and if any are neglected the organisation will suffer dramatically.

Productive relationships are developed in organisations where the leaders take their contribution seriously. Communication, teamwork, self-development and the development of others are encouraged and strengthened. Executives who take responsibility for their own contributions gain more respect from their colleagues and subordinates. They have credibility in demanding that others take responsibilities seriously. They can ask questions like, ‘What are the contributions I should hold you accountable for? What should we expect of you?’ Focusing on our own contribution also leads to better communication with colleagues and improved teamwork.

Individual self-development also stems from the focus on contribution. The leader who asks himself, ‘What is the most important contribution I can make to the performance of this organisation?’ is establishing what self-development will be helpful. This will flow on to encouraging others to develop themselves. They set standards that are not personal but grounded in what’s needed to perform their tasks effectively.

Making strength productive

Effective executives focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. When adding staff they look to identify what special things people can do, not what they can’t do. They staff so as to maximise strengths, not minimise weaknesses. Some executives are threatened by the strengths of others and this leads them to build a mediocre team. Such executives end up putting themselves above the needs of the organisation.

When staffing to build strength it’s important to guard against the impossible job that only superman could fulfil. It might look okay on paper, but no one can actually accomplish it. Having said this, jobs should be sufficiently big and challenging. They should bring out the strengths of the one who does the job. People appreciate being stretched to work to their potential.

First things first

The secret of effectiveness is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time. They turn from being busy to achieving results. This takes sustained efforts that require significant chunks of time to bear fruit. Setting aside half days or weeks of really productive time requires self-discipline and saying no to other things.

We might be tempted to think that doing a little bit of everything all the time will get more done. The opposite is true. If we set aside good slabs of time and focus on one thing, then we will get things done much more quickly and effectively. Some people work a great deal harder, but because they don’t invest concentrated time on one thing, they achieve much less. Effective executives know that they have to get lots done well, so they concentrate their time and energy on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first. The hardest thing is to determine what doesn’t get done and who or what to say ‘no’ to. It’s tough, but it has to be done.

The elements of decision making

Effective executives must make effective decisions. They don’t necessarily make a lot of decisions, but they concentrate on the important ones. They focus on what is strategic and generic, rather than being tied up with ‘problem solving’. They assume that a problem is generic, a symptom of a deeper problem, until proven otherwise. It’s important to understand what decisions get made on principle and what decisions are resolved pragmatically. They clarify what objectives a decision needs to reach and the minimum goals it has to attain. These are the boundary conditions that every effective decision needs to satisfy.

Converting the decision into action is a critical element in the decision process. It is often time consuming. Yet a decision will not become effective unless the action commitments have been built into the decision from the start.

In fact, no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility. Until then, there are only good intentions. Converting a decision into action requires answering several questions: Who has to know of this decision? What action has to be taken? Who has to take it?  (p136)

Finally, feedback has to be built into the decision to provide continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decision. Even the best decisions will prove to be wrong or need changing over time.

Effective decisions

A decision is a judgment. It’s a choice between alternatives. It’s rarely a choice between right and wrong. It’s at best a choice between ‘almost right’ and ‘probably wrong’. It’s mostly a choice between two courses of action with no clear, or proven, right choice.

Executives who make effective decisions know that you don’t start with facts, you start with opinions. Effective decision making doesn’t come from a consensus on the facts, but out of the conflict and consideration of divergent opinions. People inevitably start out with an opinion. Asking them to search for the facts first not helpful. They’ll simply look for the facts that fit the conclusion they’ve already reached. Starting with opinions, views and hypotheses means we need to test them.

The first rule in decision-making is that one doesn’t make a decision unless there is disagreement.  (p148)

Disagreements can provide alternatives to a decision and they are meant to stimulate the imagination, which helps develop creative solutions. We should assume people’s opinions are rational, and seek to understand how they see reality that leads them to their options. Many executives start out with the certainty that what they see is the only way to see at all. This leads to stifled decision making with little exploration of options.

Before making decisions it’s important to determine whether, in fact, a decision actually needs to be made at all. Sometimes things will deteriorate if nothing is done. Other times things will take care of themselves if nothing is done, or the reality is that the problem isn’t really important and shouldn’t be wasting our time and attention.

The final thing is to have the courage to make the decision! Don’t put it off, or explore yet another study. It’s probably not more information that’s needed, just a little more fortitude.

What I’ve learned…

  1. It’s helpful to know where all my time is going. Rather than simply planning how I will use my time, I will benefit from reviewing how I have been using my time. This will enable me to make adjustments and reset priorities.
  2. I appreciated the emphasis on blocks of time being crucial to effective completion of tasks. There are so many distractions in our work environment today. We can have the phone on, email open, twitter, Facebook, and Google. At the same time we have people demanding this and that, and we’ve got two or three tasks on the go at once. And nothing gets done! I’ve determined over time that some tasks need to be started and finished in one block or else they will significantly expand the time needed to complete them. You spend the start of the next time period trying to remember where you were up to. When there is insufficient time to complete a task, then it’s useful to break it down into parts and use the time to achieve completion of one or more of the parts. Writing sermons is a task that I like to break up into parts. Weeks before I read and jot down notes with the basic idea. Early in the week before I go over these notes and flesh them out until I have a clear outline. Later in the week I fill out the sermon in the outline. A day or two before the talk, I write out the notes neatly and get the logic clearly into my head, ready to speak. Each part is achieved with separate blocks of time.
    I’ve found it helpful to use Omnifocus project software (for Mac) to get things out of my head, and keep track of what I’ve committed to doing.
  3. The emphasis on encouraging different opinions, disagreement, and creative conflict in order to get good outcomes is scary, but true. It requires a platform of trust that we need to keep working on. Lencioni’s work is also very helpful on this topic. I have a tendency to seek consensus and unity in a way that probably stifles some of this debate. It was helpful to be reminded that people are rational and intelligent and that if they have an opinion different to mine or others, then it means I need to understand how they see things and where they are coming from (rather than assuming they’re simply wrong, stupid, or trying to create problems).
  4. I appreciated Drucker’s reminder that a decision hasn’t been made until the action plan has been fully worked out. We have a tendency in meetings to have good discussions, assume we’ve decided something, not appoint anyone to activate it, and wonder why nothing has happened by the next meeting. Action and communication plans are essential.

The four obsessions of an extraordinary executive

four-obsessionsThe four obsessions of an extraordinary executive is another easy-read, high-return leadership book by Patrick Lencioni. This book describes a competitive advantage available to every organisation. It’s not about technology, strategy, marketing, or money. It’s about organisational health. Extraordinary executives and standout leaders are described as paying attention to the health of the organisation they lead. Healthy organisations put less drain on morale, time, energy, and output. There is less staff turnover and greater work place satisfaction. We all want our organisations to be like this. As a pastor, I want our church to be like this. The book recommends four leadership priorities that will help build such organisations.

#1 Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team

This is the most important discipline because it enables the others. It doesn’t come easily because it commitment from the leader and team. People must grow to trust each other. This means being willing to work through disagreements and issues together. It requires people willing to be vulnerable, and fight over issues often. The fights are not to be personal, but focused on issues and achieving the best outcomes for the organisation. People learn to ask difficult questions and challenge ideas. Others learn to respond without feeling threatened or taking things personally. Working to achieve cohesive teams requires the effort and investment of all the ever but it’s well worth the effort.

Cohesive teams require trust, and an effective way of building trust is what Lencioni calls ‘getting naked’. Don’t worry! He’s not speaking literally. It’s about team members becoming comfortable with their colleagues seeing them for who they really are. There are various tools that can help with this. He suggests teams take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which is a very effective tool for helping people understand each other. He also recommends The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, and his book The Five Temptations of a CEO as good books to help teams identify and address weaknesses and problems.

Sharing personal histories helps people get to know each others backgrounds, family circumstances, personal philosophies, hobbies, and interests. Spending time together is essential. And teams that have been through difficult times together can develop strong levels of trust, but it needs to be maintained by a willingness to address core issues.

#2 Create organisational clarity

Most executives profess to understand the importance of creating clarity in their organizations, but ironically, they often fail to achieve it.  (p151)

Organisational clarity isn’t about choosing the right words to describe mission, strategy, or values. It’s about agreeing on the underlying concepts that drive them. This type of clarity provides everyone throughout the organisation with a common vocabulary and set of assumptions about what’s important and what’s not. It builds a sense of unity around everything it does. Resources get aligned around agreed values, goals, and strategies.

These basic questions help the organisation to build clarity:

  • Why does the organisation exist, and what difference does it make in the world?
  • What behavioural values are irreplaceable and fundamental?
  • What business are we in, and against whom do we compete?
  • How does our approach differ from that of our competition?
  • What are our goals this month, this quarter, this year, five years from now?
  • Who has to do what for us to achieve our goals this month, this quarter, this year, next year, five years from now?  (p154-155)

#3 Over-communicate organisational clarity

Organisational clarity must be communicated throughout the organisation. This is the simplest of the disciplines, but a common point of failure. Much of the hard work in achieving clarity gets wasted through poor communication. Over-communication is much better than a failure to communicate. People might get sick of the message, but at least they get the message.

The three most critical practices of effective communication (are) repetition, simple messages, and multiple mediums.  (p168)

Some experts say that people need to hear a message six times before they begin to believe and internalize it. The problem is we don’t like to keep repeating the same message over and over.

We also need to avoid over-complicating important messages. In an age when people are bombarded by useless information, we need to be crystal clear about where our organisation is going and how people can contribute to getting there.

Multiple mediums help to get the message through. Most leaders have a preferred form of communication and stick to it. It could be large groups announcements, special meetings, emails, or communicating through other staff to the relevant areas. We need as many mediums as are required to hit the maximum number of people effectively. We need to tune into people’s preferred means of receiving messages too.

Lencioni believes the most powerful communication strategy in any sized organisation is ‘cascading communication’. After every executive staff meeting, there are usually important decisions that have to be communicated to the organisation. Sometimes people leave meetings with different understandings of what’s been decided and what needs to be communicated. So take a few minutes at the end of the meeting and ask the question, ‘What do we have to communicate to our people?’ This will show up what issues need clarification and which are ready to be communicated.

#4 Reinforce organisational clarity through human systems

Over-communication isn’t enough to maintain clarity in an organisation. Clarity must be reinforces by being built into the processes and systems that drive human behaviour. The challenge is to do this well without getting tied up in red tape.

There are four primary systems in an organization that reinforce clarity:

Hiring profiles
Employ people and appoint leaders who match the values of the organisation. Look at behaviour and seek to objectively evaluate if the applicant aligns with the core values. This is very different from asking ‘Did you like him?’ which tells you next to nothing about how they might fit with your organisation.

Performance management
This is not about filling in endless forms and having endless interviews. The goal is to foster good communication and healthy alignment. The best performance management is an ongoing dialogue, rather than an occasional event. This means managers and leaders need to make a priority of investing their time into other leaders.

Rewards and recognition
This system has to do with how organisations reinforce behaviour. Healthy organisations remove as much subjectivity as possible. They use consistent criteria for paying, recognising, rewarding and promoting staff. Recognition should be more about alignment to the organisation’s values than increased productivity.

Healthy organizations use their values, and other issues related to clarity, to guide their decisions about firing people. This prevents decisions being subjective or arbitrary and limits the costs to the people and the organisation.


The model described here is a holistic one: each discipline is necessary to achieve success. Different organisations will struggle with different aspects of the model. Some teams building trust but fail to put good systems in place. Others love strategy but lose interest in repeatedly communicating their plans.

Successful organisations are healthy organisations and leaders need to keep this their number one priority. Extraordinary executives focus on that above all else. The ability to identify a few simple things and stick to them over time is one of the most powerful tools any leader has. An executive who does this will be extraordinary and will often end up leading an extraordinary organisation.

Some thoughts on how this can impact church leadership teams

The focus on organisational health is important for churches. It’s easy to be swept up in the latest fads, establishing clear vision statements, adopting a special program, engaging new ministries, employing new staff, planting new churches… and fail to notice how unhealthy the church has become. We don’t want to reproduce sick churches. We don’t want to drive ailing churches toward terminal illness. So organisational health is critical. And we need to be biblically clear about what this should look like. A desire for God’s glory, love for one another, care for all, compassion for the hurting, submission to Scripture, humble prayer, passion to see people saved, a willingness to serve, growing leaders, sacrificial service, generous giving, and more.

Pastors and leaders can get so busy and caught up in chasing their tails that they fail to step back and focus on how and where to lead the church. We get so occupied in the ministry that we don’t have time to work on the ministry. If the pastor and leaders cant see the big picture because they are so buried in the detail, then church won’t know where it’s headed. We need to gain perspective. We need to look at the function of our churches as a whole. We need to evaluate our systems and determine what’s working, what needs changing, what needs axing and what needs adding. We need to open our calendars and determine ways to get ahead of the game, so that we’re not always reacting to the latest problem.

Senior pastors and overall leaders need to spend time with their ‘direct reports’. Associate pastors, elders, youth workers, children’s ministry coordinators, and so on. These are key people for creating clarity and alignment for the church. If the lead guy doesn’t do this, then he will soon discover that the church is headed every which way. People will fill the vacuum with their own ideas and priorities. Teamwork will be little more than an idea. The health of the church will suffer.

This Lencioni book is another opportunity to ‘spoil from the Egyptians’, as Augustine put it. Sift through the ideas, apply some uncommon sense, filter it through the message of the Bible, and improve the way you lead your church.

Leading from the second chair

second-chair1Leading from the second chair: Serving your church, fulfilling your, and realizing your dreams by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson is a book I used to recommended to my associate staff. Now that I’m one of them I figured I should look at it more carefully!

A second chair leader is a person in a subordinate role whose influence with others adds value throughout the organization. (p2) They exercise leadership that is not based on the power and authority of a position. Their effectiveness has more to do with influence and relationships. You don’t have to be the number two person to be a second chair leader. Anyone who is not the lead leader can fall into this category.

Leading from the second chair involves three paradoxes: the subordinate/leader paradox; the deep/wide paradox; and the contentment/dreaming paradox. This is the work environment for the second chair leader. They need to focus on how they manage their relationships (subordinate/leader), their work habits (deep/wide), and their emotions (contentment/dreaming).

Most organisations, churches included, have lots more second chair leaders than first chair leaders. They need to be equipped, supported, and allowed to exercise leadership. A lot of second chairs see their current position as a stepping stone towards becoming the first chair. This book is not about how to get promoted. It’s about growing and contributing to the organisation from the second chair.

Determining whether you are a second chair leader is not so much about your title (eg. associate pastor) but your influence. Regardless of your title or position, your influence will grow as you build strong relationships and make wise decisions for the good of the organisation. It can take longer to achieve this influence when you don’t occupy the first chair. It requires patience, persistence, and consistency. It takes commitment to teamwork and cooperation. It requires to to be committed to the whole of the organisation and not just your particular focus of responsibility.


Effectiveness in the second chair is greatly impacted by the quality of relationship with the first chair.

If the relationship is healthy, most second chairs find a sense of freedom and fulfillment in their job, irrespective of the responsibilities assigned to them. But if ongoing tension or detachment characterizes the relationship, it is difficult to feel successful, even while the organization is flourishing. (p27)

The second chair is required to be subordinate. They must accept that they are not the overall leader. They don’t have the final authority or the ultimate responsibility. This requires genuine humility and gladness. It grows out of reverence for God, understanding that God is the ultimate authority. They must remain loyal to the first chair even when things are difficult. They need to be committed to supporting the first chair in his work.

The big test of subordination comes when the first chair does disagrees with the second chair’s advice , criticises the second chair’s actions, or gives a role to someone else that the second chair expected would be theirs. What happens then? There are three options:

  1. Fight: you openly disagree and directly challenge your first chair.
  2. Flight: you walk away wounded and feel like giving up.
  3. Stay involved without confrontation: you accept the decision for what it is but stay engaged in the discussion and accept the first chair’s final decision, whatever it may be. (p33)

Relationship is absolutely critical. The right relationship is more important than the right answer. This can be difficult for a second chair who often has more information available than the first chair. It doesn’t mean you don’t state your views, but relationship must trump getting your own way. The more the relationship grows the more the second chair is likely to influence the decisions being made.

Trust is the foundation for an effective partnership between first and second chair leaders. This requires faithful service and patience over a long period of time. Mutual respect, complementary skills, and common vision and passion are important. As trust builds so does communication, morale and teamwork across the organisation. A warning for first chair leaders: micromanagement is one of the best ways of damaging trust.

Inevitably conflict will arise. It might be caused by personal clashes, unresolved issues from the past, or different visions. Sometimes the second chair crosses over an invisible line. They might be seen as overstepping authority or being insubordinate. It may simply be a matter of taking initiative that is not appreciated by the leader. It’s important to recognise that a line exists. It outlines responsibility and authority and is more than what’s written in a job description. Sometimes the line can be moved, but it takes time and trust before this can happen. If the second chair is in doubt as to where a line is, they are wise to seek clarification. Better to ask, than to appear insubordinate. Sometimes it will happen accidentally, in which case a prompt apology might be all that’s needed.

Work habits

The truth is that adding value throughout the organization is not a function of position; it is a matter of perspective. (p71)

Some second chair leaders love the big picture and get lost in the details. Others are experts in their particular area but have trouble seeing how it relates to the whole. Second chair leaders need to be both deep and wide. They need to develop their systems thinking, to see the interrelationships rather than isolated parts. Systems thinking helps them to grasp that a change in one place creates a ripple effect throughout the organisation. For example, hiring a new kids and youth pastor results in more families coming to church, which means we need more growth groups for parents, which means we need to equip more leaders, and so on. To think systems means asking lots of ‘why’ and ‘what if. questions. It means thinking logically down the line. Know the people, the problems, and the opportunities. The most effective second chair leaders develop a deep/wide perspective that enables them to be effective in their particular area of responsibility and to add value to the whole organization.

Too many second chair leaders think they require formal authority before they can truly have an impact on their organisation. We need to remember that leadership is influence, and if we can’t lead through influence then we shouldn’t be given more authority. Second chairs not only need a healthy relationship with their first chair, they also need to build strong, trust-based relationships with their peers. Effective teams are very important. Such teams are collaborative, mutually dependent, and typically operate by consensus. They can take months or even years to develop working well, but once they do it is good news for the organisation. Roles in teams need to be clear, otherwise people can end up defining their own jobs and having expectations of others that may not be accurate or fair. This requires good communication. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

Being deep and wide requires the second chair to be a generalist, as well as as well as a specialist. There are four practices that can make people deeper and wider as a leader:

Be a pulse taker
Stay in touch with what others are thinking and feeling. Keep your finger on the pulse of the organisation. Often the senior pastor has the worst seat in the house when it comes to pulse taking! Many people just won’t tell him what they’re really thinking. Helping the first chair to stay informed and in touch is very helpful.

Be a vision amplifier
The first chair is the primary vision caster, but the second chair leader can repeat, clarify, and reinforce the vision. In taking the pulse, you also have an opportunity to influence the pulse. In talking with people you can help them to understand the vision.

Be a leader multiplier
Recruiting leaders to the vision should be an ongoing priority. As you amplify the vision, you will discover people who are on board and have leadership potential. We need to make a priority of growing and developing leaders.

Be a gap filler
Many second chair end up filling gaps when suitable leaders can’t be found. They should be prepared to do this. Gap filling can be a function of the first chair’s strengths and weaknesses. If the second chairs fills these gaps it can lead to a stronger and more effective organisation.

A note to first chairs: if you really want your second chairs to be deep and wide, you need to allow them to participate in the big picture. This is more than going to a meeting; it’s involving them in shaping the picture. That means not being a control freak!


The contentment/dreaming paradox captures our internal struggles as leaders. It’s not always easy to serve faithfully and diligently wherever we are. We need to learn to be content.

Contentment in the second chair is your choice to stay and grow and excel, for a season, regardless of current circumstances. (p124)

The most important part of this definition is that contentment is a choice. Contentment is possible if we choose to recognise that something more is always at work, beyond our needs, expectations, and frustrations. Contentment is difficult when society is always telling us that we should be on the lookout for the next opportunity, a better prospect, and that we shouldn’t stay in one place too long. This is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, we need God’s grace to offset and overcome our impatience. We should remember that our identity is found in Christ, not our title or role. Contentment can be encouraged through developing healthy relationships. Celebrating the fruit of our ministry helps us to see how we’re making a difference. Patience is an important character trait to develop. It’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t happen as fast as we want them to, or the way we want them to. But patience is a choice! Don’t imagine that leaving our current ministry situation will solve all the problems we are having in the second chair. The grass isn’t actually always greener somewhere else.

Second chair leaders often think they’re not allowed to dream big dreams. Just as we must pursue contentment, the paradox is that we should also pursue our dreams. It’s good to dream, but we need to check our egos at the door. We mustn’t be arrogant or overconfident. We should always remember that ministry leadership is about serving others.

It can be good to dream with your first chair. It’s not easy, but neither should it be impossible. A first chair’s dream for the organisation is often big and broad, but may not answer all the how questions. The second chair has plenty of room to pursue their vision, so long as it’s in step with the general direction of the first chair. Look for opportunities where our passion and gifts intersects with the first chair’s overall vision.

Moving on

Most second chair leaders leave their positions eventually, but not all leave well. Some leave because they want to take a first chair role, others take a new second chair position, and others retire. Leaving well is important for you and the organisation. It’s helpful to be honest and clear with yourself and others about why you are leaving.

In terms of leaving, you need to think carefully about whether you should move on, and if so whether it’s the right time for you and the organisation. Some people leave too soon and others hang on too long. Sometimes leaving isn’t your choice. You may be asked to move on. This isn’t easy. Whether voluntary or not, the challenge is to leave well. Try to maintain a good relationship with your first chair and others on your team, even if you feel you’ve been treated badly. Don’t badmouth or undermine the first chair or the organisation. It will probably come back to haunt you. Don’t burn your bridges. Seek to leave with the good will of the first chair and the organisation, and offer your good will also.

A very useful book

Leading from the second chair is a unique and important contribution to the literature on leadership. Most books are addressed to the first chair leader, the senior pastor, or the CEO. There seems to be very little written specifically for the team members and subordinate leaders. There is much to be learned about working well with others in this book.

I only half read this book when I was a working as a senior pastor, but I should have given it my full attention. There are specific sections for the first chair to assist them to develop and encourage their second chair leaders. In fact, much of what is written is directly applicable to first chairs also. It’s helpful to be reminded that real leadership is more a matter of influence than positional authority. I recommend senior pastors read this book before they add staff to their teams. If you are about to make your first associate pastor appointment, then consider these ideas very carefully. It could make the difference between a frustrated colleague who moves on quickly, and a long term associate with whom you share some exceptional teamwork.

The five temptations of a CEO

FiveTemptationsofCEOBeing a self-confessed Patrick Lencioni fan, I figured it was time to re-read another of his books. I love reading them because he writes so well, and he begins most of his books with ‘A leadership fable’. He tells a story that illustrates the main points of the book. You get swept along in the story, and the points are obvious once he’s finished. The five temptations of a CEO is a complement to another of his books: The five dysfunctions of a teamThis book isn’t just for CEOs. It’s valuable for leaders everywhere. The temptations that Lencioni identifies are common to leaders in many contexts. My leadership experience has been mainly in churches and Christian organisations, and I can testify that these temptations are very real.

The first temptation: Choosing status over results

Lencioni argues that the most important principle the CEO must embrace is a desire to produce results. Sadly, this is what gets many people into the position but their attention changes to preserving their status. This results in CEOs making decisions to protect their ego and standing. They tend to reward people who support them, rather than who produce the greatest results for the organisation. Contrast two answers to a question presented to a sporting coach: ‘What was the greatest day in your career?’

Answer 1: ‘The day I was hired.’
Answer 2: ‘The day our team won the championship.’

The first answer is about the coach and his position. The second is about the results of the organisation. This is why he is coach. The CEO is responsible, not for maintaining his position or status, but for leading the organisation to achieve results.

The second temptation : Choosing popularity over accountability

We all agree about the importance of holding people accountable, yet we rarely do it. I suspect this is an even bigger issue in many churches than it is in companies. It’s not easy. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. We all want to be liked – I know I do – and it’s a dangerous trait for a leader. We want to develop friendly relationships with our staff and that can make it harder to keep people accountable. Especially if someone we like is consistently not doing what is expected of them.

If the leader doesn’t hold people accountable, this will breed a culture of lack of accountability in the organisation. The irony is that some CEOs will fire people who do not perform, but they are too gutless to walk through processes of accountability with them beforehand, which might have avoided the need to fire them.

Holding people accountable requires that you give them clear targets to shoot for. They need to be very clear about expectations. They also need to understand the consequences if they don’t meet expectations. These are difficult conversations for many leaders, who would rather avoid them than feel awkward. The temptation to be liked can cripple an organisation.

The third temptation: Choosing certainty over clarity

Some CEOs will not make decisions until they are certain that they are correct. This is often impossible because outcomes are affected by so many unknown variables. This can paralyse the leader and the organisation. It often means that leaders are deliberately vague with others as they attempt to gain clarity for themselves. This wastes a lot of time and damages good will from others. The leader can end up frustrating their staff by their failure to make decisions or clarify directions.

What organisations need is clarity, and it is the leader’s job to provide it. Clarity about the goals of the organisation, what it’s aiming to achieve, the roles and responsibilities of the employees and other leaders, and the consequences for success and failure. This has to do with core things like vision, mission, values, and goals. It’s easy to give lip service to these terms, or to waste endless time getting the right words but failing to make any changes.

If the leader is spending his time trying to make sure that he makes every decision correctly, then he won’t offer the clarity the organisation needs. He’s more likely to fudge, just in case he’s wrong. He will remain deliberately vague about matters about which others desperately need clarity.

It’s okay to be wrong. Some would say it’s the CEO’s job to be wrong. If he discovers he’s wrong then he can fix it. If everything stays vague, if decisions don’t get made, then he will never know what needs fixing.

The fourth temptation: Choosing harmony over productive conflict

It’s normal to want peace and harmony, but it can be counterproductive to good decision making. If harmony or consensus is our goal then we will naturally restrict conflict, but Lencioni argues that healthy conflict helps us to create the best outcomes. He’s not talking about interpersonal conflict targeted at people, but healthy exchanges of different opinions on issues. The best decisions are made when all the knowledge and perspectives get aired. And people are more confident in decisions if they’ve had a chance to contribute. Meetings can be a good indicator of problems in this area.

Pleasant meetings – or even worse, boring, meetings ones – are indications that there is not a proper level of overt, constructive, ideological conflict taking place.  (p129)

The fifth temptation: Choosing invulnerability over trust

Even leaders who resist the temptation to protect their status, to be popular with their staff, to make correct decisions, and to create harmony sometimes fail. Why? Because even though they are willing to cultivate productive conflict, their people may not be willing to do so.

temptationsMany leaders are not willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable. They mistakenly believe that they will lose credibility if people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas. No matter how much a leader encourages healthy conflict, it’s only going to happen if people feel safe to engage. Otherwise people will passively line up with what they think the leader expects. It’s about trust. People who trust each other aren’t fearful about offering their opinions. But if you want people to trust you, then you need to trust them, and this means being vulnerable.

Five temptations of a senior pastor

Some time back out staff team spent a couple of days away and we watched a video of Patrick Lencioni teaching about the five dysfunctions of a team. I think we decided that we had all of them in varying degrees. If we’d been assessing the five temptations of a senior pastor, then I suspect the rest of the team would have identified me as giving into all of them in varying degrees too!

If you lead a church or a Christian organisation, then my guess is that this book will diagnose some of your temptations and give you areas to work on. I also suspect that your team will be pleased if you do.

Temptation 1
My temptation was not to measure anything. If you don’t measure then you can’t fail, but nor can you know how you are going. The results for a church will be measured in very different ways to a company or business. We will be focused on the impact on people’s lives, people growing into maturity as believers, people committing to serving one another, people not being tossed around by the latest ideas, people loving one another and reaching out to their neighbours.

Temptation 2
I’ve never been very good at holding others accountable for their work. A desire to avoid unpleasant conversations has led me to let some things slide. This might have been motivated by kindness, but in the end it’s not kind. It hurts the individual and frustrates the people they lead. Sometimes I would let things go until I became exasperated. The danger is that this would sometimes lead to overreacting. If I had my time again, I would establish clearer expectations for the members of my team and hold them more accountable. Regular clarification, update and review meetings would have helped people to perform better and meet expectations.

Temptation 3
Vagueness breeds frustration and can lead to a work environment becoming toxic. If people aren’t clear on their roles and responsibilities, then they will likely step on each other’s toes and annoy one another. Turf wars sometimes result. I’ve seen this in our teams when people do not have clear job descriptions. Ministry trainees working with different staff across different areas can find this especially difficult. Clarity covers over a multitude of sins – or should that be charity?! Maybe both.

Temptation 4
I think I’ve led far too many boring meetings. People have often wondered why they need to be there. I should have read Lencioni on meetings at the start of my ministry leadership. The only trouble was he hadn’t written the book yet! It’s important to encourage constructive conflict in our meetings, but this will only happen from a foundation of trust. People need to know that we’re on the same team and we can disagree together to arrive at the best outcomes for everyone. Leaders need to work hard to create such an environment, otherwise we just end up avoiding conflict so we don’t hurt each other’s feelings.

Temptation 5
Have I been willing to be vulnerable? I think so, but maybe there are blind spots that I haven’t seen. I can remember breaking down in tears during a few staff meetings. I can remember apologising to my team for what I’d done or failed to do. But I can also recall getting very defensive about people criticising my ideas and decisions.

We need to remember that we’re called to lead others by serving them, putting their needs before our own. The greatest example of one who did this is Jesus Christ. My desire is to follow his example, with his help, for the sake of his honour and glory, not my own.

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5)

What got you here won’t get you there

goldsmithWhat got you here won’t get you there: How successful people become even more successful by Marshall Goldsmith is a book that I’ve put off reading for some time. It was recommended by a friend in Christian ministry who I consider to be very successful. I could see how it would be relevant for him. He’s the kind of guy who keeps taking things to the next level. I figured that I needed the prequel – How to get here in the first place – if there was such a book! I was also put off by the emphasis on success in the title. Is this really going to be helpful to people working in the church who view success not in terms of competition and profits, but in terms of service and faithfulness? Now that I’ve read it, I can confess to being rather surprised. There is much to learn from this book.

This book is primarily about blind spots, the problems we have that we can’t see or don’t recognise. It’s our blind spots that often get in the way of our progress. If we’re going to keep moving forward, then it’s likely we’re going to need to understand the things about ourselves that stand in the way. We’ll need to work out how to see these foibles and this will most likely require the humility to let others, who know our failures only too well, tell us what we need to change.

Goldsmith believes that it’s successful people who most need to hear these things. Unsuccessful people are more likely to look at what’s not working, what needs fixing, and how they might be contributing to the problems. Successful people can rest on their previous successes and assume that what got them here will still get them there.

One of the greatest mistakes of successful people is the assumption “I am successful. I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way!” The challenge is to make them see that sometimes they are successful in spite of this behaviour.”  (p21)

Successful people tend to be overly optimistic. They expect success and pursue opportunities with enthusiasm. They can find it hard to say ‘no’ to opportunities. The danger with this is it can lead to staff burnout, high turnover, and a weaker team. Overcommitment then becomes a serious barrier to success.

Successful people believe that they are doing what they choose to do, because they choose to do it. The more successful a person is, the more likely this is to be true. The problem is the more we believe that our behaviour is because of our own choices and commitments, the less likely we are to want to change our behaviour.

The upshot of this is that successful people are less likely to want to change, to see the need for or the desirability of change, or even to be able to make changes. When things get difficult, they are more likely to stay the course, rather than navigate a change. Sticking with what they know, rather than risking a disaster, is the irony of their thinking.

The second section of this book lists The twenty habits that hold you back from the top: in which we identify the most annoying interpersonal issues in the workplace and help you figure out which ones apply to you. (p33) Brace yourself and see whether you can recognise one or two – in you, not in others!

  1. Winning too much: winning at all costs, whether it really matters or not.
  2. Adding too much value: adding our two cents to every discussion.
  3. Passing judgment: the need to rate others according to our standards.
  4. Making destructive comments: needless sarcasm or cutting remarks.
  5. Starting with ‘No,’ ‘But’ or ‘However’: overusing negative qualifiers.
  6. Telling the world how smart we are: boasting about our successes.
  7. Speaking when angry: usually results in saying something you regret later.
  8. Negativity, or ‘Let me explain why that won’t work’: even when we’re not being asked.
  9. Withholding information: in order to gain an advantage over others.
  10. Failing to give proper recognition: inability to praise and reward.
  11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve: almost guarantees resentment from staff or coworkers.
  12. Making excuses: that justify our annoying behaviours forever.
  13. Clinging to the past
  14. Playing favorites
  15. Refusing to express regret: inability to apologise.
  16. Not listening: the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
  17. Failing to express gratitude
  18. Punishing the messenger: attacking those who are usually just trying to help.
  19. Passing the buck: blaming others for our mistakes or failures.
  20. An excessive need to be ‘me’. Exalting our faults as virtues, simply because they’re who we are.

If you recognise that any of the annoying habits belong to you, then you are doing well. Many of us need to ask the people around us to point them out, and this is what the authors suggest we do. They suggest a few approaches to identifying and changing our behavioural problems.

Firstly, seek feedback from the people around you about your annoying habits in the work place. (You could probably benefit from trying this at home with your wife/husband and kids too, if you’re brave enough!) The ideal question is ‘How can I do better?’ It might help if you give people the opportunity to provide confidential feedback.

Pure unadulterated issue-free feedback that makes change possible has to (a) solicit advice rather than criticism, (b) be directed towards the future rather than be obsessed with the negative past, and (c) be couched in a way that suggest you will act on it, that in fact you are trying to do better. (p122)

Goldsmith’s approach takes much much of the negativity and fear out of feedback and encourages the proactive positive contribution of others to helping you do a better job – which, in is exactly what is going to help them. When you get the feedback, treasure it as a gift. Don’t argue or debate it. Just thank people for it.

Secondly, apologise to all those affected by your failings. Do it promptly, clearly, and succinctly. Then everyone can get back to work!

Thirdly, let people know regularly that you are working on improving. It can often be harder to change people’s perceptions of your behaviour than it is to change your actual behaviour. It doesn’t hurt to ask people how you are doing. It will also model the importance of change to others.

Fourthly, listen to what people say without judging or debating it. Goldsmith believes that 80% of our success in learning from others is based on how well we listen. He identifies three things that all good listeners do: they think before they speak; they listen with respect; and they always temper their response by thinking about how it might make the other person feel.

Fifthly, thank people for their feedback and support. Only good will ever come of this.

The sixth step is follow-up. This is the most important step. Roughly once a month you should re-connect with the people who gave you feedback initially to get more input as you go. This helps to keep you focused and will keep your efforts in front of others. Ask ‘How am I doing?’

Lastly, Goldsmith says to pursue feedforward. Feedforward is simply asking people ‘How can I do better?’ Pick the one area you want to focus on and discuss this personally one on one with others. Ask them to help you work on the area. Feedforward helps turn your potential critics into allies who are invested in you making successful changes.

My thoughts

This book was not what I expected. It’s not a bunch of business speak. Nor is it a book that necessarily breeds selfishness. There is much to learn about relating well to others, and especially others we work with. Many of the ideas in this book will be of great value in the workplace, wherever you work. I think it also speaks to how we relate with our families in our homes. There is probably greater potential for blind spots at home than anywhere else.

Goldsmith aims this book at successful people, but I believe that unsuccessful people probably have just as many blind spots, if not more. It might be why they remain unsuccessful. I suggest that the problem is really one of pride, whether we are successful or not. We don’t like having to confront our weaknesses. Failing to acknowledge our weaknesses merely adds another weakness! We would do well to remember the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 and 2 Corinthians:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’  (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As a staff member on a ministry team, I can see the value in reviewing the things I do that might make it difficult for others. This is especially relevant at present, as my role has changed so much. I would do well to ask my colleagues to help me out here. I think our team, like many others, has a fear of feedback and feedforward that we need to overcome.

The idea of feedforward is especially helpful. I’ve used it for years in helping people prepare talks. It seems more helpful to get the talk right before you ‘go live’ than wish you’d changed it afterwards. However, I haven’t applied the ideas of this book to help me focus on changing particular things in my behaviour. I think this would be useful.

What are the areas I most need to change? I can see a few in the list above, but this book reminds me that it’s less what I think and more about what the people around me think. They see things that I can’t. Receiving their feedback will help me tune into my blind spots.

Leading on empty

leading_on_emptyBurnout is a huge issue. It takes a massive toll on individuals, families, organisations and society. Leading experts in stress and burnout have identified church pastors as very high-risk candidates. Most will face these issues in their ministry. Many will face them multiple times. A disturbingly large group have already left their ministries as a result of burnout.

Wayne Cordeiro has written a helpful book on the topic, called Leading on empty: Refilling your tank and renewing your passion. A friend of mine read this book during his stress leave. I’ve since read it a couple of times and passed it on to others facing this issue.

How do you lead when you don’t feel like leading? And how do you sail through the dead waters when the wind has died down and that which was a festival now demands the intentional? When exhilaration turns to perspiration? Like pages torn out of my journal, this book chronicles my collision with burnout and my subsequent journey to a newly defined life.  (p11)

Much of this book details Cordeiro’s experience and what he has found helpful in moving beyond burnout with a renewed passion for ministry. He argues that when the first signs of burnout appear, then it’s time for a break. What are the common signs? Here are a few experienced by Cordeiro:

  • Ministry became more arduous.
  • Daily tasks seemed unending.
  • Decisions—even small ones—seemed to paralyze him.
  • Creativity began to flag and he found it easier to imitate rather than innovate.
  • People he deeply cared about became problems to be avoided.
  • Casting vision no longer stirred his soul.
  • What started as a joy, had become a drain.

His doctor explained what was happening to him physically and emotionally. Cordeiro recounts:

“You have depleted your system. Your serotonin levels are completely exhausted… Serotonin is a chemical like an endorphin. It replenishes during times of rest and then fuels you while you’re working. If, however, you continue to drive yourself without replenishing, your store of serotonin will be depleted. As a substitute your body will be forced to replace serotonin with adrenaline. The problem is that adrenaline is designed for emergency use only.”

“Serotonin can get depleted when you don’t live with a cadence that allows it to be replenished… Depression takes the place of initiative; your indecision and anxiety increases. You begin to feel a greater need for aloneness and isolation.”  (p25-26)

He was told that he needed to replace his serotonin levels. This would need to take place slowly, like trickle charging a battery. He was urged to take off six months to a year, or as long as he could manage. If he didn’t first replenish his system, he was warned to prepare for a crash. He could understand this because his RPMs were above the red line and he was unable to change gears.

Cordeiro needed to learn things the hard way. He was leading a very large, highly ‘successful’ church. His influence was wide and his responsibilities were vast. It wasn’t until he started experiencing anxiety attacks and depression that he woke to the necessity for major change. He was drowning in his feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. His faith and confidence were under attack and he lacked energy and interest in life.

It’s hard to admit to depression when you are a very public leader in ministry. The reality, however, is that it’s widespread and always has been. Such great ones as William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King, all struggled under its dark cloud.

Cordeiro advocates developing an early warning system. If we can see it coming then we have the opportunity to avoid much of the wreckage. Symptoms of depression that he identifies include: a sense of hopelessness; frequent tears; difficulty concentrating; decision making comes hard; irritability; insomnia; lowered activity levels; feeling alone; lack of marital attraction; eating disorders; aches and pains. In another place, he rather humorously suggests the following signs of being in the early stages of burnout or depression:

  1. One year in solitary confinement is sounding more and more like a good option.
  2. Spending time with your mother-in-law begins to be more inviting than going to work.
  3. Your ministry leader calls for the third time wondering where you have been. You consider changing your number and possibly moving.
  4. The site of a ministry volunteer sign-up sheet brings on a severe allergic reaction.
  5. You realize you are in this ministry for life, which is funny, because you feel you no longer have one.  (p65)

Having identified the issues the bulk of the book deals with how to move forward. He needed to take time out and he had to sort through issues. There was no point simply having a break and then jumping headlong into the same chaos and intensity.

A major issue was recognising the difference between a concern and a personal responsibilityConcerns are things we should pray about, and then leave them with God. If we treat them as responsibilities we end up trying to carry the world on our shoulders. Responsibilities are the things that only I can accomplish. They cannot be delegated, ignored, or dumped off onto someone else.

He pushes us to identify the top 5% of life. Cordeiro argues that 85% of what we do, anyone can do. These are the things that don’t require any expertise, and many of them can be easily delegated. 10% of what we do, someone with some training should be able to accomplish. But 5% of what I do, only I can do. This is the most important 5% for me. This 5% will determine the effectiveness of the other 95%. Now we could argue the figures, but the overall point stands. We need to work out what our 5% is, and let this get first priority.

Once we’ve identified the key areas in our 5%, they require a daily investment of our time and heart. The condition of these areas will, to a large extent, determine the state of our life. If these areas are compromised, the consequences will create a domino effect. We often fill our days with the 85% because it’s easy. We then dip into the next 10%. But during the season of burnout, even that becomes draining and we have nothing left for the crucial 5%. Sadly this will often mean that our faith, our marriage, our family, and our health are critical areas that get neglected.

Cordeiro encourages us to do as many things as possible that fill our emotional reservoir. Some activities will fill us more than drain us, and others will drain us more than fill us. We need to know the difference. The danger is the busier we get, the less time we have for activities that replenish us. He didn’t play sports because he had deadlines to meet. He didn’t read books because he had sermons to prepare. He was leading on empty, with more drain than fill.

He encourages us to make a list of the things that drained us and the things that fill us. Include at least six items in each category. Have our spouse do the same, and then share them. Help each other by encouraging each other to do what fills our tanks, and do what we can to remove or change things that drain them.

We probably need to restructure our lives. This is needed if we’re to last for the long haul. This includes changing our behaviours, and most likely also our motivations, habits and subconscious patterns. Cordeiro started making these changes, but he was impatient, and crashed badly. Out of this collapse he draws seven lessons:

Lesson One: Do Not Overproduce
He had to learn that he could say “no” or “come back tomorrow.” He didn’t have to be available 24/7. He could take time to recharge. 

Lesson Two: Steward Your Energy
A leader’s greatest asset is not necessarily time. It is energy and this is not unlimited. A person with energy may be able to accomplish more in four hours than one without energy can in four days.

Lesson Three: Rest Well, My Friend
We are most vulnerable to depression from burnout when we are totally fatigued and overtired. One of the very first steps in reversing depression and regaining a sense of resilience is rest. (p122)
Schedule rests in before your calendar fills up. Rest is not an afterthought; it has to be a primary responsibility. It brings a rhythm back to life and a cadence that makes life sustainable. (p125)
Lead out of a place of rest and you will be able to put your heart into everything God asks of you. Without rest you are leading on empty. (p128)

Cordeiro makes a very helpful suggestion about how we view our days. Think of them beginning the night before. This way you begin each day with rest. Your day starts when you go to sleep. Rest begins your new day, not coffee. (p129)

Lesson Four: Exercise Your Way to Recovery
Exercise is important for both physical and mental health. It can help with recovery from depression. Consistency is more important than how much you do or how hard you work each time.

Lesson Five: Eating Your Way to a Good Life
What you eat is related to how you feel. Dietary changes
can bring psychological as well as physiological changes.

Lesson Six: Recharge Daily
Cordeiro recharges every day during his daily devotions. God’s word and prayer fills his inner tank, so he is able to reserve adequate time and energy for his family and his life.

Lesson Seven: Fight For Your Family
Too many have sacrificed marital harmony and family on the altar of success. It’s not worth it. (p140)

Leading on Empty stresses the importance of living intentionally. The key to living intentionally is to imagine your ideal future and write down. Also write down your most important relationships, that need to remain healthy regardless of how you feel or what happens: your relationship with Christ and your spouse and family. Writing things down gives you something to come back to, and helps keep you from basing your life on how you feel in the moment. It also helps you keep focused on hope for the future.

Living an intentional life requires consistent monitoring and assessment. It requires restructuring our days in order to live intentionally. A healthy life cadence will contribute to being a healthy pastor or leader. Cordeiro suggests a rhythm, or life cadence, that he tries to maintain:

Being at home. He tries to avoid being out three nights in a row, and refuses to be gone four. He also commits to doing some things every day, even if it is a small amount: Devotions, exercise, planning his time, and reading. 

He takes a day off every week, and fills it with things that fill his tank.

He takes a monthly
Personal Retreat Day, to get refocused on God’s agenda. This personal retreat day has proven to be very helpful. It’s a day out of the office where he can get the scattered pieces of his life back in order, and spend some prolonged time with God. It won’t happen if you don’t plan for it and schedule it, so write it down on your calendar! He also makes a priority of renewing relationships by such things as keeping birthdays and holidays special, and celebrating often. 

Seasons of Life
After seven years of ministry, he takes a three month sabbatical to get renewed. Taking a sabbatical, or long service leave, provides the opportunity for a complete break, refreshment, renewal and refocus. The best time to organise this is when you start out and agree to a contract.

The first time I read this book, I needed to. It was just prior to our long service leave and I was feeling the strain of many years in ministry, some tense and difficult times, seeking to mediate and navigate some big tensions between others, working long hours, not looking after my physical health, going without sleep, and more. I found it a breath of fresh air. Interestingly, I caught up with a distant colleague shortly afterwards and discovered that he’d also been reading the same book to help him progress past burnout. This book isn’t the final word on the topic, but I believe it makes a very helpful contribution. Ideally, it will be read early in people’s working lives and ministries, and assist them in establishing good priorities and practises. If not, then it’s not too late to pick it up and read now.

The curse of knowledge

booksIn their book, Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath speak of a major problem with communication. It’s called the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. Once we know something, it becomes difficult to imagine what it was like not to know it. We subconsciously assume our audience know what we know. It makes it harder to share our knowledge effectively with others, because we’re not connecting accurately with our reader or listener’s state of mind.

I was made aware of this recently when I received feedback from my editor on the first few chapters of my book. We are strangers to each other. She had not been reading this blog and knew nothing of my circumstances or background, other than what I’d written in the opening couple of chapters. It must have been like listening to one end of a phone conversation, trying to piece together what the other person was saying. She helped me to see all the assumptions that I’d been making about my audience. I had knowledge, therefore I assumed they did too. This is the curse of knowledge for the communicator.

I had only shown these chapters to two other people. Both of them knew me pretty well. They understood the ‘other side of the phone call’. They could fill in the blanks. One of these people was my father, who knew my circumstances very well. For him my assumptions of knowledge were reasonable, but not for a potential book audience. Changes are needed. Gaps need filling in.

It’s important for preachers and Bible teachers to be aware of the curse of knowledge. The more they study, the more they learn, the more they preach, the more they forget what others don’t know.

How many times have I heard a preacher say things like, ‘You will remember what it was like for the people of God in the wilderness’. The preacher knows what he means and, to be fair, so do most of the people in his congregation. He is referring to the 40 years that Israel spent between being rescued from slavery in Egypt to entering the promised land of Canaan, under the leadership of Moses, as described in the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy.

Imagine someone is at church who has never read or heard of these events. What might they be thinking? Here’s a few possible thoughts…

  • I don’t remember, should I?
  • What was it like? Was it good? Or was it bad?
  • Who were the people of God?
  • When was it?
  • Were these really special religious people?
  • Is he talking about the Tasmanian wilderness or some other one?
  • Surely, wilderness must be a metaphor.
  • I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.
  • There’s an in group here, and I’m not part of it.
  • (Subconscious) Is it worth listening to this guy? I don’t know enough.
  • I wonder what time this finishes?
  • What should I make for dinner?

If we want to engage people, if we want them to connect with our message and stay with us, if we want them to understand and remember what we’re talking about, if we want to see people’s lives transformed, then let’s beware of the curse of knowledge.

Made to Stick

Made_to_StickOver summer some of our tents got damaged. We had a major windstorm blow through the campground, causing trees and branches to come down everywhere. Two major rips in one tent and a dozen minor tears in the shade tarpaulin. Gaff Tape to the rescue! This tape is seriously potent stuff. It fixes the problems and it goes on easily. There’s really only one problem. You can’t get it off! You can pull the tape away, but the sticky residue remains as testimony to the holes it once covered. The stickiness sticks even after the tent has been professionally repaired. If only that were true of all my good ideas, all my sermons, all my visions for the future! Communicate and they stick – at least all the bits that really mattered.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a book for people who want to communicate. Not just say things, but be heard, understood, remembered, and embraced. The authors have written this book for people who want their ideas to change people’s opinions and behaviours – that is, to make their ideas stick. As a pastor, I don’t want to be merely whistling into the wind. I’m keen for people to be excited by the message of God, to remember what’s important, to change how they think and speak and act, and to pass the message on to others. How sticky are my words and ideas? How much is remembered from my sermons? How do I go about seeking to communicate the life giving words of God?

Sadly, I hear some preachers with a love for God’s message, who come across as boring as the paint job on a navy ship. And I hear others, whose messages are largely froth and bubble, a mix of cliches and pop psychology, who get remembered because they manage to communicate in a sticky way. A good message deserves to be communicated in the very best ways possible. This book offers some great ideas, and you’ll find that many of them are pretty sticky!

The authors have identified six common features to sticky ideas. They’ve expressed them by the acronym SUCCESs. A pity they couldn’t think of a seventh – but maybe the lack of a final S makes it even more sticky?! These are the principles they found at work…


1. Simplicity

This is not about creating sound bites or necessarily short messages. It has to do with stripping the idea down to its core. What is its essence?

A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, then when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.”  (p16)

This isn’t about dumbing things down. It’s separating the interesting ideas from the important. It’s separating the important from the most important. It’s distilling the essential out of the most important. Then you’ve got simple.

I see this as a trap for preachers. You’ve been working in a passage of Scripture, soaking yourself in it, picking out gems, discovering new paths, having the occasional ‘aha’ experience. You’ve worked hard in your preparation. There are so many things you want to say. And you do! You have enough different good ideas for a series of sermons and people are left wondering what on earth you said. Occasional preachers and student preachers are especially prone to this. If you only get to say things once every now and then, you’d better make the most of it. Yes! But that doesn’t mean saying everything! It means saying what you most want to say and making it stick.

2. Unexpectedness

The most basic way to get people’s attention is to break a pattern. We tend to be creatures of habit and we get lulled into the security of consistent patterns. Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because they make us pay attention and think. The extra attention sticks the ideas into our memories.

I remember hearing a sermon by a friend, where he began by saying he had two important announcements to make. The first was that someone, let’s call him Tommy, was being kicked out of the church because he’d done a, b, c, f, j, k, m, p, and q. These things were seriously bad and you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium. This was going to be a heavy time for the church. We’d never faced anything this intense before. How would it be handled? The speaker had everyone’s attention. No one would forget this sermon. In fact, they’d be hanging out to get home and recount it to others.

The second announcement was that there was no such person as Tommy. He’d made him up! He wanted to get us thinking what should we do, what would we do, if these things actually happened. You might argue that the intro was ‘gimmickry’, however I’d respond that it moved me quickly and directly to the weight of the issue. This was more than a trick to get my attention. It persuaded me why I needed to listen. I heard it over 20 years ago, and I think it remains one of the stickiest sermons I’ve ever heard. Because he got my attention and held it, I can even remember the main point and the passage of the Bible being taught.

Getting people’s attention is one thing. Keeping it is another. Too many messages start well, and then deteriorate into boredom. We need to maintain people’s interest. The ideal way to do this is to create mystery, to breed curiosity, to show a gap in the audience’s knowledge that they want filled. It’s this gap that holds people’s attention. This is why people will keep watching a B grade movie to the end. They want the gaps filled and the tensions resolved. This means we need to highlight gaps in people’s knowledge that they want filled. Rather than simply filling their minds with facts, we want them to be seeking answers to their own questions.

To make our communication more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”  (p88)

 3. Concreteness

Concrete ideas are stickier than abstract ideas. Aesop authored some of the stickiest stories in history. We remember the message of The Tortoise and the Hare or The Boy who cried Wolf or The Goose that laid the Golden Eggs, far more easily than we could ever remember the abstract messages they portray. Yet because of the concrete story, we also remember the meaning. Here’s an example:

One summer day a Fox was strolling through an orchard. He saw a bunch of grapes high on a grape vine. “Just the thing to quench my thirst,” he said. Backing up a few paces, he took a run and jumped at the grapes, just missing. Turning around again, he ran faster and jumped again. Still a miss. Again and again he jumped, until he gave up out of exhaustion. Walking away with his nose in the air, he said: “I am sure they are sour.” It is easy to despise what you can’t get.  (p98)

If we want our ideas to stick we should err toward concrete ideas rather than abstractions. A V8 engine is concrete, whereas a high performance motor is abstract. A tightrope walker above Niagara Falls is concrete, whereas stepping out in faith is abstract. Engineering drawings are abstract, whereas walking onto the factory floor and showing where the part should go is concrete.

The authors argue that concreteness is the easiest of the six traits to embrace and that it may also be the most effective.

Crafting our ideas in an unexpected way takes a fair amount of effort and applied creativity. But being concrete isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. The barrier is simply forgetfulness – we forget that we’re slipping back into abstract speak. We forget that other people don’t know what we know. We’re the engineers who keep flipping back to our drawings, not noticing that the assemblers just want us to follow them down to the factory floor.  (p129)

4. Credibility

Why do people believe ideas? There’s a multitude of influencing factors. We’re influenced by our parents and friends. We believe because we’ve had experiences that lead us in this direction. Our religious beliefs have an impact. We believe because we trust authorities on the matter. People develop core beliefs that operate like a set of gates allowing them to accept or reject new ideas. If we want to persuade a skeptical audience to believe a new message, then we face an uphill battle against so many other influences.

External authorities, such as an expert or a celebrity, can add weight to a message. The trouble is we don’t always have access to such authorities. At these times it’s important that our ideas have internal credibility. They must be logical and coherent. They need to stand up for themselves.

An important way of establishing credibility is to make a ‘falsifiable claim’. You ask the audience to test the idea for themselves. Can they prove it wrong? Will they check it out to seek if it stacks up to its claim? Testable credentials can provide an enormous credibility boost, since they essentially allow your audience members to “try before they buy.” (p157)

This approach resonates with how I should see communication about God working. The external authority is God himself, but if people don’t recognise his authority, they can at least test the claims. They don’t need to begin with accepting the divine authorship of the Bible, but can ask questions of verification. One area of internal credibility has to do with “does it work?” I want to encourage people to check out Jesus. I argue that he makes a huge difference to people’s life. I explain the difference he has made to mine. And I invite people to check him out for themselves. Does he make a difference?

5. Emotions

Believing credible ideas isn’t enough. People need to care if they are going to act in response. Much of this chapter seems to be about appealing to people’s self-interest. People are motivated if they feel they’re going to get something out of it. Appealing to people’s self-interest gets their attention. An old advertising maxim says you have got to spell out the benefit of the benefit. In other words, people don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures. (p179) This is the WIIFY – what’s in it for you – aspect of advertising. The authors argue that good communication needs to include this aspect. People need to have their needs engaged if they’re going to buy into the idea.

There are principles here that are more than appealing to selfishness. It’s more to do with people understanding their need to engage with the ideas. That it matters. To them. This is more than facts and figures. It’s more than analysis and reason. It’s about making things personal, showing how much they matter.

The authors have identified that people care more about the particular than the pattern. Like Mother Theresa’s comment: If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will. (p203) If we want people to act, then we need to do more than get them to make a rational response. They need to take off their analytical hats. We must show how our ideas connect with something they already care about. We appeal to what they value, who they are, and want they want to become.

All this might appear very manipulative, and it certainly could be used this way. We could simply end up reinforcing people’s selfishness by encouraging them to focus on their own desires. However, I think we should reflect on the emotional component of making ideas sticky. The world I come from tends to be very cerebral and doesn’t give much thought as to what moves people. We are emotional beings. Let’s not overlook this fact. We can be very passionate about things that matter deeply to us. Let’s tap into people’s passions as we communicate.

6. Stories

Good stories are very sticky. They can provide inspiration that moves people to action. They can help rehearse situations that enable people to perform better when they face similar real life circumstances in the future. A bit like a mental flight simulator that prepares people to respond more quickly and effectively.

Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by so doing they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations.  (p18)

Stories help anchor important ideas in reality. They could be used to explain the idea, illustrate the idea, or apply the idea. You don’t always have to create the sticky story idea. Sometimes it’s just a matter of identifying them when they come your way.

The beauty of stories is that they naturally embody most of the SUCCESs framework.

Stories are almost always Concrete. Most of them have Emotional and Unexpected elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure that they’re Simple –  that they reflect your core message.  (p237)


If you’re in the business of communicating ideas that you want to change people’s lives, then read this book. You probably won’t like everything – I didn’t. Some things might clash with your worldview – they did mine. But it’s worth reading. The ideas here are worth considering. Communication is two sided. We can talk and talk, write and write, advertise and advertise, preach and preach… resulting in no visible change. No changed thinking. No resultant action.

There are no guarantees here. You could be the world’s greatest communicator and still no one changes. Isaiah the great prophet from around the eighth century BC had a powerful message to communicate, but he was told that the people would not change. Instead they would be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. (Isaiah 6:9)

We can’t control who will be changed by our message and who won’t, but we must not hide behind poor communication. If the message matters then so does the medium. If you want everyone to read something in the paper, then you write a gripping headline and put it on the cover. You don’t hide it away in small print somewhere toward the back.

In my role as a pastor/teacher I want to apply myself to my message, but also to improving my modes of communication. What will help people to grasp and retain the message? What will help people to understand why it matters so much? What will inspire people to take action? How can I make my sermons stickier? How can I communicate our vision in a stickier way? These are all questions worth asking.

Going the distance

goingthedistanceGoing the distance: How to stay fit for a lifetime of ministry by Peter Brain is an important book for people in pastoral ministry. We should probably read it more than once! I read it years ago, when it was first published. It inspired me to make significant changes to my life and ministry and to encourage others to do the same. I remember inviting Peter to visit Canberra and lead 50 or more local ministers through his. We all found this time very confronting and useful. However, I also need to confess that some things need to be learned over and over. I’ve read this book for a second time over the past couple of days and I’ve kept finding areas where I’ve dropped the ball. Repeated mistakes that I should have dealt with. And fresh ideas to share with others.

Interestingly, I’ve also noticed that much of the encouragement to self-care, aimed at me as a pastor, is equally relevant to self-care for me as a cancer patient! Keeping fit, getting enough sleep, not feeding the adrenaline-stress cycle, investing in my family and friendships, taking time out, working well and relaxing equally well, spending time in God’s word and prayer, recognising the factors that lead to depression, enjoying a healthy sexual relationship with my wife, making holidays count, being willing to say ‘no’ so that my ‘yes’ means more, relying on God’s strength. These things are relevant for all people, not simply for pastors. But the problems come when pastors, like myself, assume that we are larger than life! When we think we can function differently to every one else. When we ignore the warning signs, we will eventually crash.

This book is a helpful road map for guiding us to avoid the pitfalls and dangers and disasters that will come our way, especially (but not exclusively) in pastoral ministry. If our lives are especially busy and draining, and if they revolve around caring for people, then we need to take these warnings seriously. Especially if we think we’re indispensable, or worse still, if we function as though we’re the Messiah, that no one can do without, then we’re in serious danger. Overall, this is a very good road map. It’s worth consulting many times on the journey. It’s worth spending time with others, looking at it together, and planning what steps to take next.

This book draws heavily on the work of one of Peter Brain’s teachers, Dr Arch Hart from Fuller Theological Seminary in the US. Hart has written a number of influential books, including Adrenaline and Stress and Coping with Depression in the Ministry and other Helping Professions. I remember my mother sending me Hart’s book on stress very early in my ministry, but I was too busy to read it! (I’m only semi-joking.) I put it aside, along with so many other helpful resources, because I didn’t have any problems and there were too many pressing things to be done. And there’s the problem! Straight and simple. We too often put off what’s important and replace it with the urgent. Eventually we can’t cope with the urgent or the important and we’ve become casualties of burnout.

Various statistics relating to the burnout of pastors are quoted in this book. It doesn’t matter whose stats we read, they’re always alarmingly high. Too many casualties. Too many avoidable tragedies. I can testify to having felt burnt out a number of times throughout my ministry. On one occasion a few years back, numerous people were asking me to consider a different ministry role, but I couldn’t even consider it because I knew at that time I’d have nothing to offer. It was then that I realised some things badly needed to change, and we took long service leave to recharge and try to sort them out.

Peter argues that the signs of burnout can be either friend or foe. It all depends on what response we make to the signs. If we ignore them, we’re headed for serious trouble. If we see the symptoms, and recognise them for what they are, then there’s real hope ahead. We have the opportunity to realign, take some better paths, and push on. I believe this experience will probably happen many times throughout a pastor’s ministry. Each time we should embrace it early, as an opportunity for change and growth.

If you’re involved in pastoral ministry or a ‘people-focused helping-profession’ of some sort, then I recommend you read and keep referring to this book. If you’ve never read it and you suspect that you may be at risk of crashing, then please get hold of a copy and read it. But also speak with someone you trust about your situation and how you’re feeling. This is a good book to read with some friends or colleagues. You can share what you learn, talk it through practically, relate it to your own situations, and agree to support and pray for each other. It will be worth the encroachment into your busy life. I promise!

Time for some self-care. I’m off to bed. 🙂

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