Houses But No Doors

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We moved into our house a little over a year ago. Before we moved in, we had some work done-a minor remodel. One change was replacing a bi-fold door into our bedroom with a regular door.

Not long after moving in, one of the hinges developed a creak. Being the farm boy that I am, I grabbed some WD-40 and fixed it right away.

Then, over time, the creak developed again. So I repeated my solution. And it worked, for a little while. But the creak seems to always return.

Then I came to a realization. Sometimes the squeaky door hinge is just a squeaky door hinge. It doesn’t matter how much you do to fix it, eventually you’ll hear it’s whine again.

Leadership is similar. Sometimes the people who complain the loudest about one issue are going to be the ones who complain the loudest about the next issue. We can bend over backwards to try to make them happy on one issue, but the issue isn’t the problem.

So we have to decide: do we live with the creak? Do we ignore the issue, or is there something else we can do?

I don’t have an answer today. I’m sorry. I’m still figuring this out.

But here’s what I know. I’m not going to burn my house down because a door creaks. I’ll address issues that need to be addressed. I’ll ask myself if there are changes I need to make. I’ll make changes I need to make, then I’ll move forward with confidence.

And guess what, the only house that doesn’t have door creaks is a house with no doors. And the only leader who doesn’t hear complaints is a leader who has no one to lead.

Welcome to leading people. You can do this.

Three Struggles of Leadership Development

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I work in a world where the next “event” is always coming. There is always another lesson to prep, a service to plan, an event to brainstorm, and a calendar to create. There’s a frantic pace to what we do in churches.

That’s why over the years I’ve noticed something. As I started this blog back in 2017, I started to ask around about how my peers were developing student leaders. And do you know what I found?

Leadership development was an important part of what these incredible ministers wanted to do, but there were usually three things that held them back, and I think the same three things are true for all of us.

Developing Leaders is Important, but Not Critical.

The truth about leadership is that if I’m a good leader, then I can generally fake it until I make it. A strong leader can plan, execute, adapt, and perform in the moment. So if I’m capable, the temptation is to do everything myself. In fact, I might enjoy most of what I do, so it doesn’t always even feel like work. That means I may agree that developing leaders is important, but I can survive without it.

And so leadership development gets pushed down on the list somewhere between cleaning out the youth ministry closet and washing the church van. It’s something we know needs to be done, but it’s probably only going to happen occasionally.

Developing Leaders is Messy.

I mean, seriously, have you ever dealt with people? Some of them just wear you out. They have a different sense of humor, or a different set of priorities. They don’t prioritize the way you think they should. Some are just downright flaky.

Worse than all of that, sometimes after you invest in developing someone, they leave. All that time poured into them is now wasted because your organization doesn’t get the benefit.

I saw this happen in a previous position. As I helped students grow as leaders, their schedules became more and more packed because other people started to see their potential. As a result, the time I had with them to help them develop and grow was diminished.

Developing Leaders takes Time

Finally, one of the biggest struggles in developing leaders, whether it be students or adults, is the time investment. I can train a group of students in a workshop, but that limited investment doesn’t pay off fully without months and months of real life experience.

The same is true for me, and for you. I’m not the leader I was 10 years ago. I’m not the leader I was 5 years ago. I’m (hopefully) growing. I hope I’m taking steps so that I’m not the same leader I was 1 year ago.

How can I expect anything different from the students (and adults) I lead? Training take time. Developing leaders is more of a low and slow process, not microwave.

So, what’s your greatest struggle when it comes to developing those around you? What holds you back? What steps do you need to take today to move forward?

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This is Why

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Sometime last year I read through Michael Hyatt’s book Free to Focus. One of the takeaways for me was to establish a startup/shutdown routine for my work days. Being that I love routine, I’m still doing it, for the most part.

One adjustment I’ve made is to start my day with reading. When I sit down in my office, I pick up a book and read a couple pages, writing down quotes I want to remember. It’s been a pretty fun way to kickstart my day.

The book I’m currently reading is Jesus on Leadership. I bought it on a whim when a friend said they were reading it for a class, and it’s been one of the best impulse buys I’ve made since that pack of gum at the grocery store. Maybe even better.

This week, I came across this line:

To equip the church is to prepare its members to perform their part of the mission.

Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership

And that’s why I want to develop leaders. I want to develop leaders, students and adults, who 1) are performing their part of the mission and 2) are developing others who are performing their part of the mission.

If you’re reading this, I’m writing this to you so that hopefully because of the dialogue we have, you can 1) perform your part of the mission and 2) develop others who are performing their part of the mission.

So, how are you performing your part of the mission? How are you developing others who are performing their part? Is there a step you need to take today?

I want you to grow because of the time I spend word vomiting my thoughts two mornings each week. Thank you for journeying with me. Let’s continue to grow our leadership influence.

3 Ongoing Conversations for Growth

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Have you ever driven somewhere only to think back on the journey and realize you had stopped paying attention? I hate to admit this, but one time on a trip I realized I didn’t remember driving through a town (sleep may have played a part, but it was a small town). I immediately pulled over and got out in an effort to wake myself up.

As I lead, there are three conversations I have with myself on a regular basis. They serve as my “get out and wake up” questions. I’m just over a year into my new position, and these questions continue to help me work through some of the changes we need to make. These are not the only conversations taking place, but they are key to moving forward.

  1. Where are we? It’s very difficult to do anything with success without knowing your starting point. Your starting point is where you are now. Learn to assess and discern where the ministry stands in relationship to the church, the leadership, the age and maturity of the group, the adults who are invested, and the history of how the ministry got to where it is. Trying to ask and answer the next questions are pointless without knowing your starting point. It would be like trying to hit a bullseye on a target that doesn’t exist—you have to have the space around the bullseye to know where to aim.
  2. Where can we be three years down the road? The reality in ministry, especially in youth ministry, is the landscape can change drastically in three years. By beginning to paint the picture of what can be down the road, you help clarify the changes that need to take place to get there. There’s also a tension in three years. Three years can feel like an eternity in youth ministry, but keep in mind you are moving forward. Sometimes you will get there before the three years, but if you can get there in a year, you’re not dreaming big enough.
  3. What steps get us there? Finally, once you start to establish the beginning and the goal, you get to fill in the middle. What changes do you start making now to help you get to the place you want to be? You don’t have to be there tomorrow, but you need to start taking steps toward your goal.

The bottom line when leading a ministry is relationships. None of these changes take place in a vacuum. Spend time building relationships and bringing others into the conversation. Genuinely listen to their input, and be willing to admit your own inadequacy in assessing. Get to know your leaders, your students, and your leadership. Continue to build a team and cast a strong vision. Seek out the Lord consistently, and listen to His guidance, and watch what God does through your ministry!

Building Trust

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One of the joys of leadership is bringing new people alongside and letting them lead. One of the risks in leadership is deciphering how much rope a new person should be given.

So, how do we decide how much freedom to give a new person? Easy – relationships.

Occasionally, as leaders, we have to trust someone whom we do not know to step up and lead. One year ago I was hired by a church to come in and lead the student ministry. Our relationship was starting essentially from scratch, and so there was a built in level of trust that was necessary for me to start my job.

But the reality was (and continues to be), trust is built through relationships. As I have (hopefully) shown myself to be a trustworthy leader, I benefit from more and more responsibility.

The same is true as I’ve brought on new people to lead in the student ministry here. As we’ve gotten to know each other better, I’m learning what I can and cannot give away.

But it all starts with relationship.

This is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of leadership, because at the end of the day if we are not building relationships with other people, we have no leadership influence.

Relationships are messy. They take time. They rarely have easy answers. Everyone is unique, no matter how much they remind of us people from our past. But relationships unlock potential.

As a leader, if you are interested in growing your influence, continually build relationships. Be careful not to give too much rope, but at the same time, you’ll be amazed at how high capacity people have a high desire to serve. In other words, if you never give away responsibility, you run the risk of losing your best people.

So, what relationships do you need to work on this week? Maybe it’s building trust with new team members. Maybe it’s checking in with consistent leaders. Maybe it’s pouring into someone who is feeling empty. Maybe it’s have a conversation to realize someone is feeling empty.

Whatever step you need to take to further a relationship, do it today!

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