A few weeks ago I was sitting in a doctor's office answering questions about how I was feeling. The questions were part of the process for the doctor to figure out what was going on with me. Individually, the symptoms weren't a huge deal, but taken together they provide a picture of what's happening. In ministry we need to regularly ask ourselves diagnostic questions about our leadership, especially when it feels like we're on the roller coaster of ups and downs. Those times, with their uncertainty and unpredictability, can be debilitating for us unless we dig into the issues. So here are 7 diagnostic questions to regularly ask yourself in ministry, but to really look at on the rough days.
1. Is your personal spiritual life growing, regular, consistent, and engaging? - In ministry we're only able to give to others what we're getting ourselves. That starts by the regular practice of spiritual disciplines, the practices we do to engage our faith. If your time in the Word isn't charging your heart, if your time in prayer isn't shaping you to be like Jesus, and if you're not regularly fasting, serving, giving, witnessing, and sharing hospitality, it's no wonder your ministry leadership feels dry. You're running on an empty tank.
2. When was the last time you dreamed? - Daydreaming is a waste of time, that's pretending you're high-fiving Lebron James when your name gets called as an NBA starter. Start practicing your jumper or start studying for that Physics test. But dreams are a whole other thing. Dreams are where the energy for our effort comes from. Dreams are where we picture an ideal future of what we want our lives and ministries to look like. Sleep studies have shown if we don't dream, we can really hurt ourselves. Are you dreaming of what your ministry could look like? Or are you content to just let things continue?
3. Is your marriage and family life balanced and healthy? - The downfall for far too many pastors who burn out or disqualify themselves happens not in the pulpit but in their home. Are you engaged with your kids or distracted by your phone? Are you involved in their lives reading bedtime stories or attending games? Do you date your wife? Are you regularly intimate (physically and emotionally)? Satan will attack your home before he attacks your church (cf. Mark 3:27), so take an assessment and see if things are strong?
4. When was the last time God answered a prayer? - James tells us we have not because we ask not (James 4:2-3) and sometimes I think that happens when we stop praying expectantly. If it's been a while since you can remember God specifically answering a prayer, check to see if your prayer life is vibrant or perfunctory. Are you praying to seek God's face and plead with Him, or are you running through your church's sick list?
5. Can you name who's shaping you and who you're shaping? - I'm a huge fan of mentoring, both to have someone shaping your life but also for you to shape someone else's. One of the best uses of a leader's time is spending time investing in another leader--that multiplies your influence. If you shape someone and are being shaped, you're constantly sharpening yourself. If your ministry influence isn't being replicated in others, you're not developing a culture of leaders, you're creating a dependency.
6. Are you reading something right now? - Ministry leaders fill their offices with books, a lot of it comes from spending 3-8 years in intensive study in seminary (especially if you're crazy enough to go for a doctorate!). But when a ministry leader doesn't have to read for class anymore, many times they fall into a trap of not regularly reading anymore. Harry Truman made it clear when he said "leaders are readers" because if you're not growing and expanding yourself as a leader, you're on your way to turning into a Dead Sea. Check out the book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books for more on sharpening yourself as a reader. Also, don't be scared to read outside of your tribe. I've gleaned so much from secular leadership books, there's so much to take from them that are observable principles of working with people.
7. Can you remember the last time you depended on faith to do something? - One thing I've learned in almost a decade of ministry is that we are trained to be risk-aversive. Risk isn't always good or wise, sometimes when we think we're taking a risk to accomplish something we're actually being stupid. But our risk aversion means that more often than not, we're not depending on faith to get anything done. We're so good at "counting the cost" that we forget to look to the Lord of the harvest. If you can't remember the last time you needed to depend on faith for something, maybe you've been depending on yourself and your ability more than God's. Take a step back and look for a BHAG that only God can accomplish, get wise counsel, and after much prayer take a leap of faith. Watch how God provides, protects, and works through you.
Yesterday began the highest of holiday weeks for the Christian calendar with Palm Sunday. During this week, called Passion Week, Holy Week, or if you're Baptist "Easter Week," our attention turns to the culmination of Jesus' life and ministry, His victorious death and resurrection. The special nature of this week causes us to reflect on Jesus' work in our own lives, and we remember the sacrifice on Calvary that was necessary to pay our sin debt. And the great news is that because Jesus' death was enough to cover our sin means we don't have to live with guilt and shame.
Families have the great opportunity to use this week to make a lasting impact on not only their own families but their communities and the world. Here are seven ways how:
1) Make the commitment to have family devotions this week - Use your dinnertime as a time to spend time in the Word, praying, and having a spiritual conversation. It doesn't have to be anything formal or scripted, but it does have to be intentional. Spiritual conversations can be about what they're doing at church, how God is working in their lives, and a chance for parents to encourage their kids. Maybe read through John 13-20, which gives a full account of the Last Supper, the arrest/trial of Jesus, and the crucifixion & resurrection. If your kids are younger, you can use the Jesus Storybook Bible and its stories on pages 286-317.
2) Go through your stuff and give it away - If your church or community has a clothing ministry to needy families, this week can give you a great time to clean out your closet. If you can't remember the last time you wore it, give it away. Those jeans you used to fit in before you discovered the candy stash? Give those away too. Bless your neighbors with the things that you don't need anymore.
3) Collect money and give to the Annie Armstrong Offering - Every year at Easter, SBC churches around the country collect money for church planters and missionaries in North America (US & Canada). There are hundreds of Kingdom workers around the country who are serving in major cities making Gospel impact, and the Annie Armstrong offering is a chance to bless them and their work. You can give through your church or directly through the Annie Armstrong website.
4) Share the Gospel with your kids - One of the most profound things about being a parent is that when we look at our kids, we not only see our pride and joy, but we also see a prospective brother or sister in Christ. If your kids haven't made a profession of faith yet and are old enough to understand (check out this article from John MacArthur on the "age of accountability"), be intentional this week about sharing the Gospel with them, and point out their need for a Savior. You can get more help from Focus on the Family, David Platt, Centri-Kid, Source for Youth Ministry, and LifeWay Students.
5) Serve a widow(er) or senior adult in your church - There are lots of senior saints in our churches who are experiencing a special season without their spouse, or who are dealing with the loneliness of old age. Your family can bless them by visiting them, spending time with them, sharing a gift, and reminding them of their great hope in the Living Christ. If you need help finding a senior adult to spend time with, talk to your church leadership or deacons.
6) Do a mission project as a family - This doesn't have to be a big production, it can be an evening volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Your family can be a part of blessing and serving alongside a Gospel-focused ministry this week. Doing this as a family and letting your kids see you serving can show them the joy of missions and help them to learn to love serving Christ.
7) Intentionally invite someone to church on Sunday - Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days for guests in churches. We see lots of people who come to church because it's Easter. Why not intentionally invite your neighbor, your coworker, your kid's soccer coach, or your babysitter to church on Sunday? Intentionally inviting them is more than asking them to come, it's engaging them throughout the service (especially if they don't understand Christian-ese), it's asking them their thoughts, and asking if the Gospel presentation made sense to them.
Families, what suggestions would you have for this list?
Earlier this week I wrote about how important it is for leaders to have BHAGs (Big Hair Audacious Goals), that are huge visions and dreams about what could be possible with a God sized faith.
Ready for me to burst your balloon? You can't live in BHAG world forever. You need to come back to earth with SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. They're much more specific, grounded, and realistic than the wild and crazy BHAG dream you might have.
Why do leaders need to make and keep SMART goals?
1. Goals without structure are wishes - SMART helps give a structure to what we want to accomplish as a leader. When we build SMART goals into our leadership, we're giving a plan for how we want to accomplish our goals, and we're being very specific about what we want to accomplish. Simply saying "We want to make disciples all over the world!" sounds like a great goal, but really it's a wish. There's no way to go about doing that. A SMART goal for that would be something like "We're going to make disciples in our community, involve with church plants in ____, and partner with missionaries in ____." Rather than a wish, there's a plan in place with a very specific focus.
2. SMART goals aim at something you can hit - Too many times leaders try to go after something that's not realistic or attainable. SMART goals are things that can be accomplished in a limited period of time with reasonable effort. In doctoral studies, the best advice I got on writing my dissertation was "Pick something you can write about and finish in a year." That advice helped our entire class focus on something that we could accomplish, not some pie-in-the-sky dream of changing the world. It's January so everyone is in "Lose Weight" Resolution mode, and too often people set a goal that can't be reached, like losing 30 pounds in a month or something like that.
3. They develop a winning cycle - There's a really funny scene in one of the Major League movies where the manager comes in and says "We won a game today, we won a game yesterday, and if we win one tomorrow that's called a winning streak. We've had those before here." SMART goals, because they are attainable, can be measured, and are within a limited timeframe, provide a sense of momentum where wins are regular and expected. When leaders set SMART goals, they're building a series of gradually increasing wins that build on previous goals like a house being built.
4. They create a sense of urgency - Because SMART goals are very specific, have to be measured (against a previous amount or a particular benchmark), and have a limited timeframe, there is a sense of urgency that is natural to them. Building a sense of urgency is important for any leader, especially in ministry, to create a culture of action and change. I love Kotter's approach to leading change, and especially his thoughts on what a sense of urgency is.
5. They develop a plan for accomplishing - SMART goals need a plan if they're going to happen. They need to be focused on a specific focus, have a system for measuring and determining success, be achievable and not something far fetched, be relevant (so a church shouldn't probably set a sales goal), and be timely where there's an end point. All of those factors require leaders to have a plan for accomplishing the goal. They need to be able to backwards plan where they work from the end point towards the starting line, they need to be able to identify the first priorities, and they need to be able to measure success with specific metrics (for example: church health is difficult to measure with attendance and giving only, but with small group involvement, volunteers, and baptism/conversion ratios can be measured more effectively).
Next will be where we come up with a strategy for combining BHAGs and SMART so that leaders can be effective in leading and casting vision.
When I was in college serving on our BCM Leadership Team, I was introduced to BHAGs (Big Hair Audacious Goals). We were a group of about 40 who were gathering to pray, plan, and dream about engaging and reaching a campus of almost 20,000 students. We knew we would have to be Big and Hairy to accomplish that. Anything else would fall short of what we believed God was calling us to do. It was really cool to watch that year as we saw record numbers of freshmen involved, students engaging in almost every aspect of campus life, targeted outreach and engagement for commuter students, and countless leaders serving in churches now being developed.
Ministry's unique difficulties and challenges require a leader to have BHAGs. Here's 3 reasons why:
1. Leaders without dreams are maintainers - The biggest difference between leaders and managers/maintainers is that a leader sets forth a dream for what can be accomplished, while a manager/maintainer just does what's before them. Sleep research is undeniable that without dreams we cannot function, dreams give us our motivation and creativity. Without dreaming, a leader becomes nothing more than a maintainer of what's already there. They may do some good things, but they'll never change the world like Steve Jobs once asked John Sculley.
2. God-sized goals require God-sized faith - William Carey, who many consider to be the father of modern missions, once said "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." Engaging the nations with the Gospel for Carey was something that only God could do, so he set a God-sized goal. Too often we make our goals small enough that they're easy to reach, and don't require us to stretch our faith. What happens when leaders are regularly setting BHAGs is they're attempting things that only God can do, and they're growing in their faith as they learn to depend on Him to accomplish those goals. I remember my pastor in seminary setting a God-sized goal of seeing people almost weekly saved/baptized. As that God-sized goal matured, it turned into Upward Basketball & Soccer, where every week hundreds of our unchurched and lost neighbors were on our property. We had a 70 year old grandpa get saved because of that, and I remember our pastor's reaction: "Wow."
3. BHAGs foster a culture of vision - This past year we took our first family vacation to St. Louis, about a 5 hour drive. Which for a preschooler = Eternity! How did we survive (besides singalong CDs)? We kept the vision in front of him of what we'd get to do in the Gateway City. Leaders have to be visionaries, and BHAGs develop a culture where vision is not only accepted but championed. Vision is the fuel that pushes through the difficult days. Vision is what kept Moses pointing to the Promised Land, Nehemiah to the completed wall, Paul to the Gospel proclaimed throughout the world, and for John to say to a persecuted church that in the end Jesus wins. If we fail to regularly set BHAGs as leaders, we're setting our people up to just get by. BHAGs give something to aim for, something greater than ourselves.
Later this week I'll bring all you dreamers back to reality with SMART goals, and also how to balance these two critically important leadership tasks.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.