Archives For Leadership

Last week I had a meeting with an incredible group of church leaders. As part of our initial time together, I like to ask each of those in attendance what brings them back to their church week after week. After all, in America, there is no shortage of churches to attend. Often, there is one on every corner. So I am particularly interested in what is it about this particular church that so connects you to the heart of God?

As we went around the room and I heard each person’s individual story, one response stopped me dead in my tracks. It was unlike any answer I had ever heard.

The gentleman looked right at me and very calmly but with extreme certainty said the following words, “You travel a lot. Do you know how you feel when arrive back at home? That’s how I feel when I come to this church.”

His words pierced my heart and have stuck with me all week. Going to church should feel like coming home.

As I gave it some thoughts, I realized there are 10 Ways Coming To Church Should Make You Feel Like You Are Coming Home:

  1. My family, which…

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It’s not uncommon for me to remind the leaders at Saddleback that they have my permission to make at least one mistake a week. I tell this to staff members and to lay leaders, explaining periodically that it’s OK to make mistakes — provided they’re not making the same mistakes over and over again each week.

Now, obviously, I don’t want the leaders at Saddleback to fall into sloppy habits, but I do want them to feel free to fail because that means they’ll also feel free to take risks! My point is that, if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re probably not trying anything new. And, if you’re not trying anything new, then you’re not learning, and if you’re not learning, then you and your ministry will quickly be out-of-date, perhaps even irrelevant.

The secret to being innovative is not being afraid to fail. So, let me encourage you to take risks in your ministry. Don’t be afraid to try different methods or to think way out of the box. The great inventor, Thomas Edison, saw mistakes in a positive light, saying they taught you the things that won’t work, freeing you to discover…

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You will never be better than the people you meet, the books you read, and the places you go. Many years ago, I heard this statement and have never forgotten it.

In My Journey

In my life journey, especially over these past months, I have often thought of this statement. You know, it really is true. I believe it is especially true for pastors.

Oftentimes, we can get in a rut. We live in our comfort zones, reading the same old things, seeing the same people again and again, and basically revisiting the same places. The result is often a familiarity that results in an unhealthy satisfaction. It can lead to meaningless redundancy, ministry boredom, and even an unhealthy status emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

I Am Convinced

I am convinced that I become more effective personally and as a leader when I am regularly meeting new people that are challenging me to be better in some area. I am also convinced that I become better with the things I read or listen to, for example, via podcast. I am convinced that the places I travel open endless relationships and fresh perspectives that inspire me to reach…

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Culture Wars

By Tim Harlow

Life on MissionI believe that God puts us where He wants us. I know that’s an obvious opening statement, but that means that I actually believe that God put me in Chicagoland in 2015 because He gave me certain gifts and abilities that He wants me to use.  I don’t think I would have fit in as a preacher in Mayberry in the 1960s. I just could not have dealt with the legalism. I would have probably opted for Woodstock.

I was recently at an event where I heard a lot of well-meaning Christian leaders talking about “taking our culture back.” There are many church leaders who would love to bring back the “moral majority” to America. And while I hate what immorality does to people’s lives and also to the heart of God, my study of church history shows me that Christianity is usually most potent when it comes in from the outside. Jesus didn’t call us to be the majority of the earth.

He called us to be the salt and light.

I want to lead the Christians who are cellphone lights in a movie theater. Do you know what I…

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Every pastor I know is faced with numerous decisions every day. Some of those decisions can impact people greatly. While there are a plethora of decisions a pastor can make daily, what is the most important?

The Most Important Decision

The most important decision a pastor can make daily is to begin his day with God. When we begin our day with God, it changes the way we see things the rest of the day. It changes our attitude and our actions. It helps us navigate through the challenges of life and ministry.

3 Actions to Take Daily

While some who are reading this have yawned already, I continue to stand amazed at how many pastors do not begin their day with God. Their inconsistency in this discipline is their consistency.

No wonder pulpits are vacant of anointed men of God, the people in the pews are yearning for a Word from God, and the church is lacking the fire of God. As pastors, we must rekindle or fan into flame the gift of God that is in us according to 2 Timothy 1:6.

I want to highlight three actions that will fan the flame of…

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I remember the days when MySpace first came out.  Since I was out of the target market age for this new invention, I had never heard of it before a 21 year old college student showed it to me.  I, like many others in my demographic, did not buy in right away.  I remember thinking it was neat, but that it really held no value for me.

But, I signed up for an account anyway.  And that’s pretty much where it stopped.  I had a username, a password, and a short bio about myself.  I didn’t take it any further.  I rarely logged in and I certainly never used it to connect with others or to build a social presence online.

Then, there was Facebook.  I got a little more on-board with Facebook than I did MySpace.  I’m pretty sure that’s why MySpace went under – my lack of buy in.  But at the end of the day, I never really viewed Facebook as a way to be a better leader.

Today, I have a Facebook profile and page, a Twitter account (I currently manage 6 accounts actually), a Pinterest

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I’m a huge basketball fan. My team is the San Antonio Spurs, and they have a rather unique way of running their team on long road trips. Instead of playing their best players to get the immediate wins, they rest the stars to get the best from them when it matters later. I think this same type of strategy can be used with our volunteers, as resting can help them perform better, but more importantly restores their joy and increases their longevity.

One of the first things I did when taking on a large leadership position at my last church was to give permission to one of the foundational volunteers to take a much needed break. This person was highly influential, a great leader, and one of the pillars of our church – however it was becoming apparent that their energy and joy were running on empty. I knew that I still wanted them to serve, but just not in the way they were. They needed a recharge. Here’s what I did and what happened:

Discover & Recover

  • Discover what’s going on.  When meeting with a volunteer, the first part of the conversation should never be about what they do…

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As leaders, we all have bad days.  Days when nothing goes right and everything we touch goes sour.  All leaders have been there.  You simply cannot be a leader and not have bad days.

The question then becomes what can we learn from the days we wish would simply just end.  The following are 10 Lessons Leaders Can Take From Bad Days:

  1. Bad days are normal.  You are not alone.  We have all been there.  Many reading this post are there right now.
  2. Bad days remind you the task is not easy and never will be.  If you read the Bible from cover to cover, you will not find an instance where God ever called a leader to an easy task.
  3. Bad days remind us we are leaders.  It sounds counter-intuitive but it is true.  If you feel you are constantly being kicked in the backside, it simply means you are out front leading.
  4. Bad days are why leadership is desperately needed.  It is when things are difficult or unclear that leaders are desperately needed.  Leaders are the ones who help individuals navigate these times.
  5. Bad days are times for personal development.  Sometimes events take place as a…

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Leaving“It’s my church home. I will never go anywhere else!” I smile when I read those words on our church’s Facebook page, but I know differently. Nobody stays forever. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only person not eventually leaving is my wife.

People come, and people go often for all the wrong reasons.

  • They grow bored with your teaching. “I’m not getting fed any longer.”
  • You’re not new and exciting anymore. “We feel called to support a new pastor in town.”
  • They don’t like the music. “We don’t do my favorite songs enough and the music is too loud.”
  • They’re struggling relationally. “I’m having some issues with Bob and feel it’s best to just move on.”
  • It seems like you’re all about numbers and reaching new people. “What about me?”

Of course, there are a hundred other reasons given, but they always boil down to one: they don’t love you anymore or at least not as much as they used to. Let’s face it, people rarely leave what they truly love.

They don’t leave a dream job that they love.

They don’t leave a spouse whom they love.

They don’t leave a church that they love.

It just doesn’t happen. We…

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Basic RGBHere’s something you don’t hear at most conferences and seminars: Behind every opportunity are obstacles.

In 1999, I was installed as pastor of the Mars Hill Baptist Church of Chicago.  However, as is so often the case, this opportunity came disguised as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  I succeeded my father, Dr. Clarence E. Stowers, Sr. as pastor.  I inherited a traditional baptist church that had plateaued.

Based on almost every metric available, I knew I had to do something fast or else our attendance would decline. The optimistic side of me was determined to turn our church around. Therefore, in 2000, I attended the Purpose Driven Church Conference and worked hard to formulate and cast a new vision for the Mars Hill Baptist Church of Chicago.

I restructured our church, hired staff, and with fresh enthusiasm, we were off to a great start. I anticipated smooth sailing ahead.  What I didn’t anticipate is that everyone wants change until it affects them personally.  Why?  Growth is uncomfortable and requires change.

Those Who are Comfortable Do Not Grow

Most people are creatures of habit and like predicability.  They may preach the need for change and rally support…

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Staff, just like members, come and go in the normal rhythm of church life–20% of Americans move every year and that one factor alone affects all churches and staffs.

This may alarm or even scare other staff or members of your congregation. They may wonder, “What went wrong?” Was it a result of sin or incompetence or conflict? Yet, this is rarely the case. In Saddleback’s history only a very small handful of staff have left for negative reasons. Instead we rejoice as staff members step out in faith to follow God’s will into new areas.

Why Staff Leave:

1. A Stage of Life

Sometimes staff leave because of a change in their life or family: having a baby, kids entering school, spouse changing jobs or being transferred, having to care for an aged parent, getting married, needing greater income, going back to school, or retirement. These are just a few of hundreds of valid stage-of-life reasons.

2. A Stirring of God

Sometimes staff leave simply because they sense God wants them to do something else! They feel a “stirring” or restlessness in their spirit, which often indicates that God has other plans in mind for them. Some people…

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dryBe honest.  Have there ever been a time when you could not hear God’s voice?

Have you ever experienced a period of spiritual dryness?  A place some call the desert.  Let me be honest with you…the desert IS NOT a fun place.  It is dry, lonely, and HOT!

If you ever had a desert experience and are now past it, stop what you are doing and praise God.  If, however, you are approaching or are in a desert season, then maybe today’s post can help you get through it.

Everyone goes through desert or spiritually dry seasons. Be honest, you can recall times when you did not feel “spiritually connected.” You attend church weekly, go to a Bible study or your small group, perhaps you even study your Bible, but God feels a lot more like a distant relative than somebody you are connected to.

The toughest season, and one that so many Christians seem to fight through, is the spiritually dry season–the desert. During this season our relationship with God feels distant but lifeless. Again I repeat, everyone goes through desert seasons.

When I sense God is distant, I cringe when people tell me…

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