29 May 2017

Memorial Day 2017

            I’ve lived near military bases my entire life. I can remember sitting on my grandparent’s front porch and watching military convoys traveling from Camp Lejeune to Fort Bragg. I learned how to ice skate at Fort Bragg. I’ll never forget playing at my other grandparent’s house and hearing the guns training at Fort Bragg in the evening hours. Once a year my grandfather would get a special letter in the mail inviting him to a reunion. Every year he would give me the letter. He never read it. He never went to a reunion. He gave me the letter because I was obsessed with the fact that it said “USS O’Brien” on it. My name is Brian and I was named after the O’Brien because that’s the ship he was on in World War II.

USS O'Brien (DD-725)

            Now I live near the largest naval base in the world. Most of my closest friends are men and women that are active duty or veterans. I love when they take me on base and give me tours or when they tell me stories about their experiences. They’re pretty awesome! If I ever need anything they always drop whatever they’re doing and come to serve in any way they can. They’re more than my friends they’re my brothers.

            Today I’m thinking about Andrew. Andrew served in combat overseas. He’s been a sounding board for me for years. We talk about everything. There have been many late nights where one or both of us have been pouring our heart out to each other. He helps me remember to have fun and let go of some of the small things that bother me in life. He also grills a mighty fine stuffed chicken fajitas meal!

            Today I’m thinking about Kolbi. He’s a retired veteran that I met while attending a seminar. He’s helped my wife and me become financially healthy with his teaching. We actually serve in the same city as pastors. Every 2 weeks we get together just to hang out and pray for each other. I’ve grown to love him and his wife and I look forward to the times we spend together.

Today I’m thinking about Marshall. Marshall is a weird one…he’s a Submariner. For those of you that don’t know about Submariners that means that Marshall actually gets inside of a ship that is designed to spend months at a time underwater while on mission. He’s definitely a little crazy! Let me tell you something about him though, I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who is so servant-hearted in my entire life. He loves to help. His heart is as big as Texas. We meet regularly to hold one another accountable and he has helped me become a better father and husband because of his awesome example.

Today I’m thinking about Josh. Josh serves in the Navy. Josh has been serving at our church for a while now. He is very dependable. Any time you need him to do something all you have to do is ask. Our families have grown quite close to each other. I know that if I ever need Josh all I have to do is pick up the phone. He’s a great friend and I’m glad he is a part of my life.

So what’s the point in me writing all of this? My life is so much better because these men are in it. I’m so grateful that they are here. I can’t imagine my life without them. Today is Memorial Day 2017. Memorial Day is not Veterans Day. Memorial Day is when we stop to memorialize those that didn’t make it home. Memorial Day is when we remember the immense sacrifices that have been made by men like Andrew, Kolbi, Marshall, Josh, and countless others. Today while I tell you about my friends – my brothers – I want to remind us that somewhere today “Andrew’s” family is mourning because he didn’t come home. Somewhere today “Kobli’s” wife is holding his folded flag and trying hard not to let her tears mess it up. Tonight “Marshall’s” battle buddies are going to be having a few drinks in his honor and telling stories about him as they try to ignore the emptiness in their very soul that used to be occupied by their brother. Somewhere today “Josh’s” kids are putting fresh flowers on his grave and trying hard to not blame God for his death. Memorial Day isn’t about a 3-Day weekend and a barbecue. Memorial Day is about all those that gave the last full measure of devotion.

Arlington National Cemetery

So Andrew, Kolbi, Marshall, and Josh: I’m glad you fellas are a part of my life. Thank you for your service. I love you. And to all those families that are still trying to put the pieces back together: we think of you today. We pray for you today. We honor your loved one’s memory today. We are here for you.

If you need help please get help

Help for Veterans families too

19 May 2017

The Emotional Health Top 10

Recently I've been thinking about emotional health. I believe that a leader's emotional health can be either their best friend or worst nightmare. With good EH a leader can handle stress, criticism, betrayal, pressure, etc. with a level of grace and strength that adds stability to the team. With poor EH a leader will meltdown and eventually cause harm to themselves, their families, their organization - or more likely, a combination of all those. In a quest to offer helpful suggestions for good EH here is my Emotional Health Top 10:

  1. Build emotional health in community. Find some close trusted friends who can be a "sounding board" and do life together. Let them be strength when you need it. Often times we don't see in ourselves what is actually there until someone else points it out.
  2. Build emotional health in context. What is the context of your leadership? Are you judging your success by the wrong scorecard? What is success for you? These are powerful questions that we need to constantly ask in order to build emotional health in the proper context. There's a saying that's traditionally been attributed to Albert Einstein that goes, "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." While the quote may or may not be a genuine Einstein quote it still holds water. Context matters for emotional health. Are you a fish in water or a tree climber?
  3. Build emotional health in celebration. Are you having fun in life? Everyone needs an outlet where they unplug from the machine. What do you do for fun? Find something that brings you joy and do it. Schedule it into your calendar. Don't feel guilty for taking care of yourself. What your ministry needs is a healthy you!
  4. Build emotional health in your calendar. Plan your life out as best you can. Even a bad team can win with the right game plan. When we build emotional health into our calendars we are happening to our lives instead of our lives happening to us. Schedule in the important things and make space to dream and enjoy the journey. 
  5. Build emotional health in concert. What I mean by "in concert" is to work with your family to find a healthy rhythm as a leader. Ask your family to help you find balance. Give them permission to talk to you about how you are living. Many times we think that we are doing well when those closest to us see otherwise. Allow those in your inner circle to help you cover some blind spots that you may not realize that you have.
  6. Build emotional health in competence. You are really good at something. There's a high chance that the thing you are good at is why you were hired in the first place. Spend time honing your craft. Few things take a leader as high emotionally as sinking the game winning shot. The thing about game winning shots is they happen long before the game does. We trust the superstars to make big plays not because of their ego or superstar status, we trust them because their superstar competency lets us know they can get the job done. Work on your competence and reap the benefits of success.
  7. Build emotional health in conscience. The brain is a powerful thing. We've all been in a moment when we were paralyzed because of something our brains told us. Likewise, we've all been in a moment when our brains were our best asset. Learn to control your brain and build a foundation for emotional health. Refuse to speak negatively to yourself. Don't settle for old patterns of thought. Think differently and lead differently.
  8. Build emotional health in challenges. Every leader will face challenges along the way. The best leaders know how to properly process pressure. Don't fold under the challenge. Build a gameplan to handle the challenges you may face organizationally and personally. When you are well prepared for a challenge you can face it with great strength. On the other hand, when you aren't well prepared for a challenge it can cripple your momentum. Think of it as having a leadership spare tire. If you have a blowout on the road you'll be ready to keep trucking along.
  9. Build emotional health in compromise. Most leaders don't like compromise. They view it as settling for a lesser vision. To be fair in some cases it is settling, but in most cases compromise is healthy for the entire organization. Compromise values others' input to the team. Emotionally healthy leaders know when to pass the ball. John Maxwell teaches that great leaders know when to let the best idea win. If you can embrace healthy compromise you'll be a great team leader thats full of emotional health.
  10. Build emotional health in Christ. My last suggestion is to find your emotional health in Christ. Many times in my leadership journey I've lost emotional health because I was more wrapped up in leadership than I was in Christ. Great leaders find their sweet spot in Christ and learn to let their leadership flow from Him more than flow from them. Prayer is more than a cry for help it is a time to strengthen your soul. If you want the things you lead to last let the things you lead be empowered by Christ.
Whelp that just about does it for this installment of Leadership Gravity. There are more things that we can do to build great emotional health, but these are a few that have helped me along the way. I hope that you have been encouraged and empowered to try some of these out. I'd love to hear what you have to say about the list. What did you like? What didn't you like? What would you add to the list? 

15 May 2017

Better Not Call Saul

So I've started going back through 1 Samuel in my personal reading time. I've always liked reading about Saul and David in the Bible. If I were honest I'd tell you that I tend to always view myself as a David character in my story. I'm the dashingly handsome warrior that defeats the giant. I'm the hero of the story. Today was much different.

Today I couldn't help but notice how many of Saul's negative qualities are a regular part of my life and leadership. Saul is impatient...so am I. Saul is arrogant...so am I. Saul is stubborn...so am I. Don't get me wrong I can't begin to imagine the type of pressure that Saul was under as the first ever king of Israel. I'm sure that having that type of responsibility thrust upon you at a young age is hard to navigate. I've been in various leadership roles ever since I was 18 years old so I understand how easy it is to make a mistake.

Today I'm not talking about Saul's mistakes. Today I'm talking about Saul's recurring pattern of mistakes.

There's a difference.

Everyone has bad moments. This blog post would be considerably longer if I had to write every mistake I've ever made as a leader. Here are the first few that come to mind:

  • I told a crowd of people they weren't faithful to Jesus because they didn't write their names on a sign up sheet.
  • I got so angry with someone that was volunteering to help that I blew up (in a Christian way) and walked out in front of the team of volunteers. Bonus: I refused to work with that person again for weeks.
  • I passive-aggressively called someone out on social media and then lied about it when confronted later.
  • I argued with my wife over something trivial in front of a crowd of people that we were supposed to be leading.
  • I've yelled at my kids for being too loud and trying to talk to me while I was practicing a sermon about love.

Leadership Facepalm

Keep in mind that I only listed a handful of things that came to mind there. The list is definitely larger than those few bullet points. I'm just trying to say that I make more mistakes than I'd like to admit. I think that's something that we tend to hide as leaders. We shove our bad moments into the closet and hope that no one accidentally opens the door and lets the monsters spill out. The truth is we all make mistakes and we all have character issues from time to time as leaders. That's the beauty of the Gospel - God saves and makes us all new.

At the risk of sounding like the guru I want to offer a few leadership hacks to help limit the Saul moments that we have as leaders:

  1. Be Honest - Don't try to fool people into thinking that you've got it all together. Be up front about your limitations. Have healthy transparency with people. Also: be honest with yourself. You're not as good as you think you are and that's okay. Lead from who you really are and not the caricature that you've convinced yourself that you are.
  2. Give Grace - People are human. Far too often we expect people to be perfect and we don't give nearly enough grace when we find out that they aren't perfect. Give tons of grace to people. I can promise you that you'll need people to give you a lot of grace along the journey too.
  3. Get Plenty of Rest - Rick Warren once said, "Sometimes the most spiritual think you can do is take a nap." Amen brother Rick! The truth is when we are tired we are jerks. Be sure that you are getting plenty of rest as a leader. Your body will thank you and the Body of Christ will thank you.
  4. Have an Outlet - What do you do for fun? Seriously. Don't tell me, "Leading is fun!" I might slap you if you say that. When we lead we are like a pitcher of water pouring what is inside out into a class. If you don't take the time to refill the pitcher you won't have anything left to pour. Find a healthy outlet and schedule it into your week. 
  5. Dance DON'T Duel - I've found that in most of my interactions with the people I lead I tend to come into the room like it's a wild west duel. I'm here to push my agenda and have my ideas rise to the top and anyone in my way is gonna have a bad day. The reality is leadership works better as a dance than a duel. In a dance there are 2 partners and there is plenty of give and take. Learn to view leadership as a dance where you let others take the lead occasionally. Dance DON'T Duel.
  6. Try Again Tomorrow - Sometimes the most critical leadership move that you can make is to turn out the lights and start again tomorrow. One of my mentors says it like this, "You can quit all you want to as long as you start again tomorrow." Don't let leadership beat you up in one round. It's okay to come at it again at a later date with more energy and grace.

Those are some (hopefully) helpful tips to keep Saul at bay. Leadership is a long journey and you've still got plenty of gas left in your tank. You may have missed the mark today, but take heart because there are a lot more chances down the road.

There are a lot more chances down the road

12 May 2017

Barnacles, Baptism, and Brian

            My head hurts. It’s a dull headache that seems to tick away at my brain with relentless consistency. Like a stream of water methodically wearing away at a rock within its path I can feel my mood shifting. Long gone is the excitement of “changing the world for Jesus.” Today I just want to sleep.

            There is an old saying, “No rest for the wicked.” If that’s true then I guess my life is one of complete and utter depravity. I feel like I’m always spinning the proverbial plates of life. At times I feel like I’m holding the world together. I remember a song we used to sing at church when I first became a follower of Jesus…“I’m carrying this load that I’m not meant to bear.”

            The problem is I refuse to put down the load.

            My wife recently wrote about learning to let go and rest in Christ. While I read her words I was struck with the reality that I need to let go. After all I’m not that important. I’m not the one who holds the world together. I’m not the one who has to keep all the plates spinning. It was never the intention of God that I be the Savior of the world. I’m supposed to be the one being saved.

            I hate being needy. I hate not having it all together. One of my biggest fears is for people to not think that I’m a great leader and a “mighty man of God.” If I were honest I would say that I want everyone to know how great I am. The Bible has two-word title for my heart: selfish ambition. It’s true that I want to see people come to Jesus. I’ve given my life to helping people move forward with God. I preach and teach and try to lead people to Jesus, but along the way I hope they remember who their tour guide was. I have ambition to see the Kingdom of God advance, but there’s that one pesky word before my ambition that keeps tripping me up…selfish.

            I dream of having a huge church where people flock to hear me pour out my wisdom like golden nuggets of truth. I fantasize about being the key-note speaker at every conference. I catch myself giving “interviews” in the shower to all the leading podcasts and I have already mapped out my book release tour for my soon-to-be New York Times Best-Selling book. I lust after recognition. My ambition is selfish.

            The funny thing is I didn’t start out like this. Younger Brian was much different than this seasoned veteran of ministry. Younger Brian loved being in God’s presence. Younger Brian loved helping people. Younger Brian prayed with passion simply to encounter Jesus and not to preach a powerful message about Jesus. I was happy. I was fulfilled. I was content in Him. Today I’m not content. Today I struggle when people leave our church. Today I lead for the applause of the crowd and not the pleasure of Christ. Older Brian needs to have his butt kicked by Younger Brian.

            There is hope though. I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting better. I’m learning to draw my value from simply being His child and not His minister. I’m finding myself praying less about my impact and more about His mission. I’m enjoying the people who do look to me for guidance and not as frustrated with those who leave my life for whatever reason they do. I’m learning that the goal really is obedience. I’m learning to let go. Now don’t get me wrong it’s not an easy lesson for a guy like me. It’s hard work to chisel the selfish away from the ambition. It’s taking patience and effort. I constantly wrestle with my mind and my emotions to keep the main thing the main thing. I’m not perfect, but I’m being perfected by the Author and Perfector or my faith.

            If you’ve read this far I want to say, “Thank You.” Thank you for being interested in what I have to say. It may not be ground-breaking leadership insight, but it is leadership insight. Chances are you find a little bit of my struggle living in your heart too. If you’ve ever set out to do anything for Jesus you’ve felt the pull of selfish trying to attach itself to ambition like a sea-weary barnacle welded to the keel of your ship. Maybe like me you’ve hidden the barnacles. It lives beneath the surface so you don’t always see it. Even worse, people don’t always see it. Nevertheless, lets work hard to chip away the grip that it has on our lives.

            You are more than your ministry. Read that line again. You are more than your ministry. When God called you He called you. He delights in letting his power flow through you. Move selfish out of the way and let God be God. Stop looking at how many people aren’t in your building on Sunday and start looking at how many people are there. Stop trying to keep up with the ministry Joneses and spend your energy keeping up with the Spirit of God. In the end you’ll have a much more healthy ministry if you lead out of love and not frustration.

            To be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t want to reach more people. I dream of the day when the Church is moving in power and people all over are gathering to worship Jesus. I want your church to grow. I want you to baptize people and teach them about Jesus. I want you to outgrow your building. I want you to plant churches. I want you to train leaders. But I want you to enjoy what God has called you to do in every moment not just in a future “one-day” moment.

            I bet if you stop and think about it there are a lot of great stories happening all around you. There are lives being changed in your midst and you had a part in it. People are responding to Jesus and you had a part in it. Enjoy that. Celebrate that. Thank God for that. If we can’t learn to enjoy the moment one day we will realize that the moment was all we needed anyway.

            Right now as I’m writing this my youngest son is sleeping on the bed in the room where I’m at. He’s oblivious to daddy working. He doesn’t even know what work is yet. He’s simply resting while daddy is working. I think that’s how God wants us to live in ministry. He wants us to rest while Daddy is working. He wants us to be comfortable with Him doing the heavy lifting. He wants us to have a little REM sleep drool slide down our face while He is at work. He wants us to simply be.

            Remember the story of Jesus’ baptism? He comes to John to be baptized and after a brief protest John dunks him in the muddy water of the Jordan River. Then something spectacular happened – God spoke. He validated his Son. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.17). God was pleased with Jesus before Jesus ever did anything. He hadn’t healed anyone. He hadn’t taught anyone. He hadn’t walked on any water. He hadn’t multiplied any loaves. He hadn’t cast any demons out. He hadn’t given his life on the Cross. Nothing. He had done nothing yet the Father was simply pleased in Him. I hope you hear the voice of the Father speaking over you today that he is pleased with you. Before you do anything for the Kingdom you are valuable to the King. Let the muddy water of ministry roll off of you and embrace the words of your Father today. You are His beloved and He is well pleased in you.

19 April 2016

Personal Growth as a Leader

            Today I want to talk about the value of study. If you’re like most people the word study sends cold chills down your spine. A simple online search shows that most people will never read another book after they graduate high school. That number goes up even more after college graduation. Simply put we don’t like to study unless we absolutely have to.

            Sadly that trend sneaks into the ministry world too. Pastors are busy people. We have the responsibility of many people and situations that we deal with daily. There are meetings to attend and decisions to be made constantly and on top of everything else there is a sermon to be preached each week. Pastors definitely work more than an hour on a Sunday even if many people think otherwise.

            I can understand the overwhelming temptation to handle the issues of the church and put personal development on the back burner. I’ve done that far too many times as a pastor. I’ll probably catch myself doing it again too. What I hope to do through this blog post is to inspire you to make time for personal development. When I first became a pastor an older minister said to me, “As you go so goes the church.” He was drawing on years of personal experience to tell this young up-and-coming leader to make sure that I am healthy if I ever have any hopes of leading a healthy church.

            Paul told his young protégé Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Paul was encouraging Timothy to make the time to prepare himself personally. All of us would do well to remind ourselves of this verse as pastors. We should strive to do our best while rightly handling God’s word. In today’s world we need approved workers and not mere sermon deliverers.

            Many of us find joy in the study of God’s word. Think of those times when you are laboring over a passage and you finally make that revelatory break through. In those moments it is as if the heavens have opened up and God is shining down on us. Those moments are great. Other times we seem to read the same passage over and over again only to feel lost. It is easy to go into Sunday morning feeling like you missed the bus and all you have is an empty outline. Study isn’t always the most fun part of our lives, but personal preparation makes all the difference.

            There is another element of personal study that we overlook too often. This side of our development deals with our leadership development. Us pastors and leaders are called to influence people toward God’s agenda for their lives and without constant leadership growth it’s hard to do that. Many of us wing it and hope that we can use our position as “the pastor” to influence people. While that works to a certain extent we can increase our ability to lead by increasing our abilities as leaders.

            What are you doing regularly to grow as a leader? Are you reading the right books? Are you listening to helpful podcasts? Are you seeking out healthy mentors? These are a few questions that I hope will push you to make the necessary changes in your leadership life to make an eternal impact for the rest of your life. When we read books that add value to our leadership we are ultimately making our ministries better. When we listen to good podcasts and implement things we’ve learned we are making our churches better. When we engage in mentoring relationships and allow others to challenge us to be better we are positioning our lives and leadership for greater impact.

            Here are a 3 practical tips to help you in your leadership development and study:

Schedule Leadership Development Time

Either you will rule your schedule or your schedule will rule you. Take the time to sit down and schedule leadership development time. For me Mondays are “development days” where I take time to personally pour into myself as a leader. I read books and listen to podcasts that directly relate to my life as a leader and my stage as a pastor. I try to use Monday as a day that I get personal development and that I get organizational development for our church. Those are sacred times in my calendar that I guard vehemently. I have created 52 days for personal and organizational development. Over the long haul those days are making me a better leader and ultimately making our church a better church.

Use Quality Resources

            This is extremely important to your development. Development is not about how much material you take in it is about what kind of material you take in. Find resources that are relevant to your stage as a leader. If you pastor a church of 150 people you don’t need to inundate yourself with resources that teach you how to break the 1,000 member barrier. While that is good information it isn’t pertinent information. If you are the 150 pastor find resources on how to break the 200 barrier and you’ll be better equipped for the stage you are in. The truth is all resources aren’t created equal. You have a limited amount of time for personal development and using quality resources will help your leadership grow exponentially. Find what you need now and let that inform you as a leader.

Find An Executable

            How many times have we gone to a conference and heard great speakers that inspired us to be great leaders only to come home with tons of inspiration and little or no application? Inspiration doesn’t equal transformation. Your personal development is not complete until you’ve found an executable. What are you going to do with the information you’ve read? How are you going to implement it in your ministry? These questions will determine whether or not you grew as a leader or just learned a leadership principle. When finding an executable fight the temptation to do everything you’ve just learned. A simple step executed consistently will make more of a difference than multiple steps executed half-heartedly. Find an executable an develop a plan to put into practice what you’ve learned.

            These are a few simple tips that I hope will help you as you develop your leadership. The important thing to remember is that everyone learns differently so find a plan to grow as a leader that speaks to your style of learning. If you are a reader then find the right books that will help you. If you are an auditory learner then find some good podcasts or teaching sessions that will help you. Find helpful resources that speak your learning language and put a personal growth plan in place. I would love to help you as you grow so feel free to contact me with any questions or areas that I may be of assistance to you.