Groups Leader Video

Since we’re always looking for new opportunities to introduce better ways to communicate and leverage platforms to connect with our folks who are scattered and disbursed, we’ve been trying out a new way to provide training to our group leaders who cannot make our regular meetings.

One of the best tools that I’ve encountered for doing this, as well as doing video conferencing for one-on-one, small, medium, and large sized groups, is the Zoom platform. Here’s a sample video that I’ve sent out to our group leaders at University Baptist updating them on some basic information, providing some calendar updates, and then talking about a few more detailed matters.


Jun 2017

Fish for Groups

IMG_0004This past Sunday, we held a meeting of the Young Adults Leadership teams that are part of the ministry at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. This is an annual pre-fall meeting where we discuss what’s been going on in our ministry area, what is coming, and then take some time to refine some aspect of our overall groups processes. We are incredibly blessed with strong lay leaders at Sugar Creek and, even with a few leaders missing, still have 52 in attendance for our luncheon.
One of the key parts of any healthy and growing ministry is the continued investment in leadership development through times of intentional training and a willingness to talk through basic ministry structures. As I’ve learned (often the hard way) those in ministry must remember two key principles:

1. We can never tell our people how much we love them.

2. We can never show our people how much they mean to us.

At Sugar Creek, we’ve found that many of our best leadership development times come on Sundays, often during or directly following our regular programming. So, this past Sunday, we held a lunch, catered by a wonderful vendor, that allowed our leadership to enjoy a great meal and then participate in some leadership discussions.

To facilitate the second part of this day, we used the powerful training resource called Fish! Philosophy and applied it to our groups ministry. I discovered the Fish! Philosophy while serving at a previous ministry venue and have seen the impact the four key principles can have in creating discussions to aid ministry development. The Fish! Philosophy uses a well produced video to discuss four principles that make any experience wonderful:Front Slide

1. Play

2. Make their Day

3. Be There

4. Choose Your Attitude

After showing the video, we had our groups, sitting together as a leadership team, to talk about how they could apply each in their groups. Perhaps most significant in any training time, especially with Millennials, is being sure to allow for mutual collaboration through conversation with their peers. To often we end up talking at people and not with them and this defeats the purpose of leadership training.

For any groups ministry, a consistent pattern of leadership development enables trust and provides a platform for continued health in these groups. If you are looking to start new groups, you can often find your leaders from times like these.

How we foster a culture of continued ministry leadership development is key to seeing health raised up in our churches and growth, not necessarily numerical, occur among our people. This is one example of how leadership development works well in an established church culture.

Sep 2014



Staffing like the Pros

staffingAs the NFL season turns the corner towards free agency and the draft, we’ve passed by a fairly common post-season where suffering teams have fired their coaching staffs and replaced them with new ones.

Every year we watch as the coach carousel inevitably turns another round. Some names are constantly in the mix for jobs and past successes, or failures, are talked about by news anchors and sports show hosts. Then when it comes to the interview process some will be brought in and given the requisite tours, dinners, and sit downs only to be flown back and never heard from again. Occasionally you’ll also hear about a team that interviews someone purely for perspective.

The challenge of hiring for any NFL team, and really any organization, is two fold: you have to get the right person with the right giftings in place, and you have to understand your needs and the reality of your situation.

Finding talent is one thing, knowing your situation is another. Perhaps this is why some of the best NFL teams go out and interview coaches they have no actual desire of hiring.

One if the syndromes any organization can drift into is being unable to see the reality of the whole field because of a kind of tunnel vision that naturally sets in. We can’t properly evaluate all our talent because we have been stuck in a specific system or process so long that we’ve lost the ability to see our organization objectively.

That is why it is helpful for an owner to go out and interview someone for a head coaching job that he or she has no plans on hiring. It is a discussion about the organization from an expert level perspective outside the organization.

For instance, say a beleaguered NFL team was projected to have a playoff contending season only to go 3-13. The defense has some key players in place, as does the offense, so it doesn’t make sense why such a let down occurred. A wise owner will go out and sit down with a defensive minded head coach candidate to get his perspective. Likewise for offensive struggles or even just to get an analysis of a quarterback situation.

So, what can we learn from this: for our churches and organizations when it comes to hiring a key position, perhaps it is best to find the three or four best leaders in the nation who work in that specific field and call them up for an “interview” where they can provide much needed perspective.

Maybe talking with someone who is at another organization or church in the same area who is seeing success and talking with them about the perceptions and reality of doing your work in that area.

Also, bringing in a candidate who you both understand is likely not going to be hired to walk around the organization, talk with key leaders, and see your processes with fresh eyes allows you to valued feedback on things that might be missed.

Having a plan for staffing your church or organization that takes into account the reality of organizational myopia will ultimately help you fill your position and strengthen your organization. As a leader too often any of us can take for granted our situation and miss opportunities to leverage strengths that we’ve forgotten. Allowing someone from the outside to come in, look at our situation, and provide their analysis will aid our hiring process and help adjust our plans to the reality of a situation.

Staffing like the pros means we are willing to realize we’re not always the best experts for assessing our own situation and that we’re at least willing to talk with, but not necessarily hire, someone with a better perspective.

Mar 2014



High Capacity Leaders and Low Lids

One of the best leadership books anyone can sit down and read is John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Maxwell’s timeless laws that are linked to real world examples provide a life-shaping read for leaders of any age.

law of the lidThe first law of the book is one that most people remember well, probably because it’s the first law: The Law of the Lid.

Essentially, this law is exactly what it sounds like, in every organization (business, government, church, non-profit, etc) lids exist that determine effectiveness. If someone has a low leadership lid, they’ll usually have low effectiveness. With a high lid, high effectiveness is possible.

For most organizations, when a leader with a high lid capacity is brought in, they can often be moved across different departments and divisions. Unsurprisingly, success follows them. Low lid leaders, however, stifle their departments and divisions. Jim Collins works out some key concepts related to this in Good to Great where he differentiates between different levels of leaders. If we understand both of these concepts together we can see that often, individuals down-line of differing leadership lids have varying results. Usually when a lack of productivity is combined with abnormally high turnover, there is an indication that a low lids is in place. This turnover is often created when a high level, or capacity, leader is forced to work under a low level leader.

In institutionalized organizations, one often finds high capacity leader working in a low lid situation. There are lots of reasons for this, often it is because as an organization becomes established it seeks out, or is allowed to keep, leaders that have more established patterns of service even if they have had falling results. Because of the maintenance mode that is inherent to an institutionalized organization, honest internal reviews and personnel audits are less frequent since the status quo is more important than creating and sustaining a dynamic workforce.

The short version: established organizations thrive off the status quo.

As a result, these organizations are able to hire young talent with higher than average leadership abilities because of the security and experience that can be gained working in that organization. These young leaders begin getting more and more experience and soon find themselves bumping up against their lids.

So, what keeps a high capacity leader in a low lid environment?

Often we see that a series of trade-offs exist. At first that trade-off might be the experience of working in a position and gaining insights beyond a university degree. Perhaps for someone seeking to break into a new industry, this translates to creating a pattern of consistency that is more attractive to future employers than a shiny new MBA or (for churches) MDiv. Other trade-offs could be, the ability to build a network of relationships that will advance one’s career in the future; time to finish off a degree or complete certain certifications; financial stability to create a better personal situation; being able to work around friends who might be likewise employed; being able to get office leavingthe “foot in the door” for an industry; and many others.

The reality is that for high capacity leaders, of any age but usually younger individuals, they will stay in a low leadership lid situation so long as the trade-offs outweigh the cost to their leadership ability.

Once the trade-offs diminish in value, or perceived value, and the opportunities for external advancement increase above the value of the trade-offs, the high capacity leader will leave their low lid environment. Though it happens, it is rare for high capacity leaders to stay in low lid situations for the long-term. True high capacity leaders have the impetus and calling to get beyond their lids and be challenged by high ceilings and bigger venues.

Established organizations can create a lot of success by leveraging the insights, abilities, and passions of new, high capacity leaders and, if they recognize how vital it is to champion the successes of those who move on, can earn higher credibility and performance in allowing these leaders to move on graciously.

Feb 2014



Leading from the Bench

One of the best awards the NBA gives out every year is the “Sixth Man of the Year” award. The purpose of the award is to recognize an outstanding contributor who isn’t a regular starter in the front five of an NBA team. Last year, JR Smith won for his contributions with the New York Knickerbockers. The year before, James Harden (and his beard) won for Oklahoma City. For any player to win the award they are seen as a substitute player who can come into a game and both maintain the level of excellence the starters have been displaying and, even, raise the level of performance on the floor.

sixthmanFor a league where egos and dynamic talents often are the lead story on Sportscenter, the Sixth Man of the Year is someone who, though they could likely start for any team in the NBA, allows themselves to be that “next guy up” and begins the game on the bench. These individuals have the talent to lead, but do so in a different, but just as meaningful way. In any basketball how a coach substitutes players is almost as important as the plays the team runs. Since no one player can play all the minutes of a game, the bench is an important part of a winning team.

In ministry, just like in other organizations, there are often leaders who are starters and those behind them who might be likened to bench players. A lot of times for those on the bench there is an inexorable tension between wanting to be a starter and recognize one’s role on the team.

Now, starters get their positions for a lot of reasons. On sports teams it may well be that a starter is there because of their past performance and current contract. You can’t have a $10 million dollar a year center on the bench if he can play well enough to contribute. Another reason is because some of the starters are legitimately good enough to have that position.

basketball bench

Perhaps the hardest time for any team (sports, ministry, business, etc) is when a starter has stopped producing and is no longer effective and someone on the bench at their position consistently contributes at a high level whenever called on.

Most of the time replacing a starter is a hard task. It takes time and, if a coach or leader lacks the skill set or honesty to talk with them, the transition can be difficult. Established starters are the hardest to replace, even when their performance and production has fallen off a cliff, often because of loyalty and past victories.

For the bench players, this time between being an effective substitute and being a starter is the hardest. So, how do we handle it?

1. Show up early and leave late – Nothing impresses your leaders’ leader(s) like seeing a bench player who is there when people arrive and stays after they leave to make things better. It might be the most difficult thing to do, but being called on often comes up after consistent contributions when people are in need.

2. Continue to contribute at a high level when called on – One of the temptations is to start mailing in your efforts, or sulking on the bench. Too often bench players stay bench players because they don’t project the competency to lead or have questions about their character.

3. Contribute in ways that make the starter at your position look good – Having the opportunity to build confidence into yourself and the starter above you will always help you. When others see that our “position” (read department, area, team, etc) is being handled well it will be spoken of well.

4. When it is time seek out other opportunities – Leaving one team for another is always hard and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, sometimes the coach is so dedicated to the starter that even a future Hall of Famer won’t get the opportunity. When it comes time to leave make sure you’ve given it time and you aren’t leaving with spite. Other opportunities will arise, but make sure your next step is for a team that is a good fit for your skills.

5. Above all, stay motivated and stay focused – Your job on the bench is to contribute in a way that continues to put up points, run the plays, and perform in a way that it is like the starters haven’t left the floor. If you do this others will notice and your opportunities to contribute will abound.

6. One more, seek out a confidant or wise mentor – Know this, you are not alone. Though the bench is often overlooked, there are others on the bench with you. Your struggle might be their struggle. Find someone who is trustworthy and you can confide in so that you can blow off some steam and manage your struggle. Handling this tension alone and in private can be self-destructive.

Being part of any team is a struggle that is going to have its challenges and rewards. For Millennials, it is easy for us to get discouraged and defeated. Part of this is because so many of us have grown up in an entitlement age that we are “owed” certain roles. The truth of the matter is that we aren’t owed anything, but we can earn a whole lot.

Leading from the bench, whether in business or ministry, means we are ready, willing, and able to put forward an outstanding effort because we are called to greatness and know that it will, in the end, lead to something more meaningful.

As you look to lead from the bench in your life, I pray you find your meaning, look for learning moments, develop a steadfast character, and pursue excellence in all things.


Ready for Growth

As I was reading through my latest issue of Stratgy + Business, which is a great magazine, I came across an insightful article about what it takes for organizations (specifically in the authors’ view, corporations) to be best positioned for growth. Often many organizations fail to achieve their goals and suffer long term consequences because they cannot adjust their organization to meet the demand for their product or services for any number of organizational issues.

This occurs in churches as well.

One of the challenges for many start up ministries or comeback churches is a combination of lack of strategic awareness (notice, this isn’t a lack of strategic planning) as well as significant resource limitations. To make the jump from running out of a small space to attracting crowds of people takes both factors working together, along with several other key ingredients (the blessing of the Holy Spirit being principal of all.)

In this fine article by Ashok Divakaran and Vinay Couto, they noted three primary categories for evaluating if an organization was, as they put it, “fit for growth.” These are:

  • Stategic clarity and coherence
  • Resource alignment
  • Supportive organization


In each category several key factors were part of understanding how this particular measurement works itself out. In strategic clarity and coherence, for instance, this includes having a coherent strategy, strong capabilities, a strong/coherent product portfolio, and presence in the critical markets. This is MBA talk for specific aspects of organizational planning and, as I mentioned above, strategic awareness. For a church and ministry factors that might influence this first category would be similar to a business, though expressed differently. They include: an articulated coherent strategy, strong leadership pipeline, a strong ministry program plan, and a visible or tangible presence in their immediate community. All these put together round out the measures of the first category.

For the second category a ministry focused set of evaluative tools would include: budgetary alignment with strategy, the ability of facilities to grow with increased capacity, anticipatory talent (lay and staff level) acquisition, and ministry program expansion aligned with strategic growth. In the second category this is how we will see expansion happen and accommodate our resources and facilities for that growth. Often some ministries and churches have an opportunity to expand and see growth but fail to catch the wave of growth by aligning their resources appropriately.

Finally, a supportive organization for a church and ministry includes factors of: quick and nimble organizational decision making, strong spiritual leadership, and a supportive culture on both the staff and lay people.

As churches and ministries position themselves to grow necessitates that they are equipped and positioned to grow. Though the well intentioned ministers and lay people can talk about maintaining the status quo and certainly quality ministries are able to do this and be fruitful in the eyes of God, for many churches the desire to grow and opportunities to do come along and as good stewards we must recognize the tools given to us to position ourselves for that growth. In the article we’ve been working through here they take these measures and apply various metrics to evaluate whether an organization is truly “fit for growth.” These kinds of tests are helpful to anticipate seeing how we can develop ministries that are able to scale up to meet the needs of growth as God pours out his blessing in churches.

So what measures are you seeing as being worthwhile for growth? What is out there that will help grow your organization and align your ministry strategically and functionally?

Sep 2013