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2 Big Leadership Questions you Probably aren’t Asking

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I want to thank my dad, David Alexander, for this guest post. Retired from a career with the Department of Defense in which he oversaw billions of dollars of government assets and hundreds of employees, today he enjoys fishing, his grandkids, and driving my mom crazy! Love you dad, hopefully some of your leadership experience rubbed off on me. And hopefully this post helps church leaders think a little differently about leadership.

Do you know who you work for?

Seems like a silly question, I know. Let me explain… I was once asked to work for the Under Secretary of The Navy for Research and Development for a few months in order to help with the work load. While there I worked for the Deputy Under Secretary, Rear Admiral Dave Oliver. My first assignment was to give a briefing about our lab facilities on the west coast to the new Under Secretary who was a new appointee under the Clinton Administration.

The Under Secretary had a very large office as far as Pentagon standards and had a great view of the Washington monument.  There were a number of Navy Captains, high level civilians as well as the Under Secretary in the room. Just before my brief, my boss, ADM Oliver told me to be sure to introduce my self and explain I was on loan from the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command to ADM Oliver. He was standing in the back of the room and had a smile on his face. As I started my brief, and introduced myself and who I worked for, the Under Secretary stopped me in mid sentence saying, “Mr. Alexander, I want you to understand, you don’t work for ADM Oliver you work for me!” Sometimes people, especially political appointees, feel the need to flex their positional authority mussels. The ADM was now laughing and trying to hide it and pointed at me from the back of the room. Nothing wrong with positional authority, sometimes it’s a way to get things accomplished. ADM Oliver totally set me up and he thought it was very funny. But there’s a real lesson here. No matter how large or small an organization, in which you serve, you need to know who you really work for and who your boss really is. I can tell you, it’s probably not your direct report! Maybe it’s others….or just maybe ADM Oliver was just trying to make me, the new kid, feel like part of the team, could be he just needed a good laugh, not sure. But that was the high point of the brief. From that point on, I always made sure who the boss really was.

What are your priorities ?

You can get all sorts of answers to the question of priorities in the work space. As the Executive Director of the Nuclear Submarine Base New London, Groton CT. I had the privilege of working with various unions and union leadership representatives. Having some important info I wanted to discuss with the union leadership representatives and members I asked that they meet with me at close of the business day for an hour and that I would pay them overtime for the hour.

We had two shifts on base so I asked each shift to meet with me at 1600 (4pm for those who may not know how the military tells time). To make a long story short my HR division head informed me that paying union members over time to attend a meeting was against the rules and that I can’t have the meeting. I thanked John, my HR Director, for his input, but that I was having the meeting anyway. He decided to report me to HR headquarters in Washington DC!

Bold move to say the least since I signed his pay check. I had the meeting and a couple of months later I received a phone call from the senior officer on the base. It was the ADM in charge of water space management for submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Although not in my chain of command, since he was the senior officer on the base he had lots of positional authority (goes to knowing who your boss is). The ADM called me first thing in the morning one Monday and asked if I would come see him. He was just being polite. Of course when the ADM asks you to come see him your not going to say no. Sitting across from his desk he said “David did you have a meeting with the union folks and pay them overtime to attend?” I told him I did. Then he asked, “Would you do it again if you needed to.”  I simply said, yes I would. He then crumpled up a letter on his desk and made a perfect swish to the trash can (I’m thinking two points!) and said, “I thought so.” That was the end of our brief meeting that morning. I could tell because he stood up and turned to ask his administrative assistance something, so I simply exited his office. That’s how things are done lots of times.

I assumed it was a letter from HR headquarters talking about my transgression with paying the union folks. I later found out it was.

Even though I had much to do each day, one thing was always more important than the issue at hand. That was making people a priority. Knowing your priorities is key to success and I believe in most organizations the priority is your people. Do what’s best for them, sometimes it may have to be in spite of the rules. But if you do decide to break the rules, you need to be sure it’s the right thing to do.


Posted in Leadership, Testimonial

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[Free Webinar] The Unstuck Church: Why Churches Grow, Thrive, Decline & Die

We’re less than a week away from the in-store date for the new book, The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan. If you haven’t already checked out the pre-order perks, there are just a couple of more days to get those extras.

Most churches start, grow, thrive, decline and eventually end, but we believe God’s plan for our churches is that they grow in maturity towards a peak of sustained health.

Do you know where your church is today in its life cycle?

On Thursday, May 25, Tony Morgan, Amy Anderson and Gabe Kolstad will host a free, live webinar to help you answer questions like:

  • Do all churches hit all phases of the life cycle?
  • Where do growing churches typically get stuck moving toward sustained health?
  • What does sustained health look like?
  • What are the early warning signs a church has entered the maintenance season and started to decline?
  • How can we confirm what phase our church is in today?

Space is limited and filling up! Register now to join us.

Register Now


Posted in Leadership

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Why your Church is Thinking about Volunteers the Wrong Way

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I’ve never met a church leader who said that they had enough volunteers. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Having too few volunteers is one of the most frequent complaints and pressure points I hear from church leaders. Most of the time it’s not due to a lack of effort or trying. It’s usually due to thinking the wrong way about volunteerism in the church.

  • Most churches think they need more volunteers to accomplish the ministry…they don’t.
  • Most churches think they need more talented and experienced volunteers to accomplish the ministry…they don’t.
  • Most churches think they need volunteers to do the tasks of the ministry so the church staff can lead the ministry…they don’t.

“Volunteering is the Ministry”

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve.” Serving others is both the pathway to and pinnacle of spiritual maturity. Volunteering is not a means to an end (getting the ministry accomplished) …it is the end, because volunteers are not roles to be filled but people to be developed. When ministry staff members say things like, “We need more volunteers to make ministry happen” they begin using people instead of ministering to people. Volunteering is discipleship!

“I See Something in You”

Twenty-five years ago, the pastor of a small conservative Baptist church said he saw something in me. Something that I didn’t see in myself. And he invited me to start teaching a Jr. High Sunday School class. I’m not sure what he was thinking. I was scared to death. But I said yes. I wasn’t really all that much older than those Jr. High Students, and I really didn’t know all that more about the Bible or knowing Jesus than them. But I studied those lessons and did the best that I could. That’s where leading church ministry really began for me. All because someone saw something in me. Church leaders need to start seeing “something” in the people around them. Start seeing them for what they could be in and through Jesus, not just as they are. Start speaking those life-giving words into them and inviting them to take a risk and use their gifting for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom. And by the way. When I began volunteering, I began growing in my friendship with Jesus in way that I had never done before.

“Join a Team”

The way you talk about something reflects the value you ascribe to it. Words create worlds and so the way you talk about volunteers and volunteerism at your church will either build or erode the volunteer culture you’re trying to create. Unless you tell them differently people are going to think they’re just helpers…just a volunteer. You’ve got to help them see that they’re not just a volunteer but when they volunteer they are actually no longer coming to church they are being the Church. Stop asking people to volunteer and perform a function, get tasks done, or fill a role. Invite them to join a team and make a difference with their life. Help them see volunteering in the church as what it really is…joining a movement to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus.

A big shout out to Brian LaMew who serves as the Pastor of Campus Development and leads the Campus Pastor Team at Sun Valley Community Church who shared these principles in a Sun Valley all staff gathering recently. Keep up the great work Brian!


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Volunteers

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3 Pressure Points Facing Millennial Church Leaders

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I recently had the opportunity to spend some significant time with 10 talented young millennial church leaders and had a blast! If these leaders are any indication of what the future leaders of the church look like then rest assured, the church is in great hands.

That being said there were a couple of pressure points that came up over and over again in the conversations from different angles.

#1 Anxiety about the Future

It was interesting to listen to these young church leaders discuss their work. They really are passionate and committed to the ministry God has called them to. But they’re also anxious about it. Their ambition to move the ball down the court, help the ministry progress, and get things accomplished can keep them from enjoying and receiving the blessings of the very ministry God has given to them. I also picked up on a longing for a future bigger and better role and ministry at the expense of missing the fruit of what’s been given to them today. I’d encourage young leaders to be faithful to whatever God has put in front of you today and let Him be concerned about where He puts you and what He gives you tomorrow.

#2 Relaxing Today

Many of these young leaders referred to the inability to “turn it off.” Anyone who is deeply and personally connected to his or her work can relate to the difficulty of coming home from work and not thinking about work. Being present is essential to health in life and relationships. “Bringing work home with you,” can be a recipe to undermine your most important relationships. I’d encourage young leaders to learn to take your weekly days off, scheduling your time off that you have coming to you each year, and put the cell phone down when you’re with your family. If you don’t learn what fuels you, fills you, and then schedule those things into your life you’ll end up in some kind of a crisis in your 40’s or 50’s that you could have avoided.

#3 Workload Confusion

It was also intriguing to hear the weight with which they carried the ministry they are involved with. Many young church leaders really do feel as though they are really busy and that one day when they are in a more important role with a more important title, have more authority and more people working for them that ministry and work will be easier. While I agree that many of them are working hard, I think many are confused about hard work. The weight of and the busyness of doing ministry is a very real thing, but not compared to the weight of leading ministry. I’d encourage young leaders to enjoy the season of ministry they are in, learn as much as they possibly can, and not long for greater responsibility too much because you might get it. And when you do, you may discover that with greater responsibility, more staff, and a more important title comes more pressure than you’re feeling today.


Posted in Staffing

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10 Articles that will Help your Church Make Vision Real

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Thank you for making April another great month here at Helping Churches Make Vision Real! It’s fun to stay connected with you through social media and hearing that these articles have been helpful. So, thank you for connecting with me through the content on this blog! You made these the top posts from this last month. If you missed out on any of them, here they are all in one place for your convenience!

5 Things that Make Good Staff Members Leave your Church

Good Church Staff Members leave churches for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s because God has called them to something different. But more often than not it’s because of something very different.

7 Things All Growing Churches Have in Common

Once a month at Sun Valley Community Church (the church I have the privilege of serving at) we gather all of our staff from all of our campuses to have some fun, celebrate wins, keep everybody on the same page and often times do some leadership development training. Last week Chad Moore, who serves as the Lead Pastor at Sun Valley shared 7 Things that All Growing Churches have in Common…I thought these may be helpful to you in your local church context…

5 Proficiencies of Great Church Staff Teams

Great Church Staff Teams are full of team members who not only care deeply about people and are passionate about the ministry; they’re actually proficient in what they are doing. I actually believe you can fake passion for a while until your heart catches up. But you can’t fake proficiency. You’re either proficient or you’re not. That being said, I’ve been a part of Church Staff Teams for more than 20 years and the ones I’ve been on that are the best are always proficient in these 5 core areas:

7 Indicators You’ve Found the Ideal Ministry Spouse

In ministry your spouse can make you or break you. It may be cliché but it’s true, behind every great Ministry Staff Member is a great ministry spouse…and you can’t have one without the other. So whether you’re already married or you’re still searching for the right person, here are a couple traits you should be looking for in the ideal ministry spouse.

Why Leading by Example doesn’t Work

Leading by example sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? After all thousands of pages written on leadership, by leadership experts can’t be wrong can they? The problem is you can’t lead by example. Your example may inspire others, it may set behavioral standards for others, your example may even be a prerequisite for authentic leadership, but your example doesn’t actually lead others anywhere. Instead great leaders set the example and then hold the team accountable to the standard. The secret is in the accountability…not the example.

Trying Harder Won’t Fix Your Church

Conventional wisdom tells us that when things get difficult we just need to work harder, work smarter or somehow upgrade the quality of our work. But what do you do when trying harder doesn’t work? It may that it’s time for you to stop doing the same old thing with more effort with more efficiency or more quality. It might be time for you to stop trying harder and try different. It’s time to try something entirely new.

Avoidance: The Silent Killer of a Team

Great teams keep short accounts and normalize feedback, which allow them to make small degrees of change along the way. These behaviors allow great teams to create feedback loops, innovate, and test new solutions quickly. The problem? Most teams aren’t great teams.

8 Reasons Why People Don’t Volunteer at your Church 

I’ve never worked with a church that has said they don’t need more volunteers. But I’ve worked with a bunch of churches that have trouble getting people to volunteer and stay engaged volunteering.

The Difference between a Shepherd and a Leader

I love helping churches and leaders get unstuck and make vision real. In fact out of all the stuff I get to do with churches and leaders one of the things I enjoy the most is Leadership Coaching. Recently I had the incredible opportunity to spend a day coaching a group of Pastors and Church Leaders from Australia (unfortunately their cool accent didn’t rub off). One of the topics we spent time digging into was the difference between shepherding and leading in relation to why some churches are stuck while others move forward. Here are couple of thoughts from the conversation.

The Difference between Preparation and Planning

Do great organizations prepare for the future or do they plan for it? The answer is, “yes.” To be clear preparation and planning are not the same thing, and great organizations become great by doing both.

Photo Credit: justin fain via Compfight cc


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