Holy Ambition vs. UnHoly Ambition

5 years ago I read Chip Ingram’s book Holy Ambition and it inspired my faith more than any book ever has.

Over the years I am also learning there is a fine line between a Holy Ambition and an Unholy Ambition.

A natural by-product of leadership is a brighter light . . . on you. The danger is that light on you can become addicting.

This unquenchable thirst for a brighter light always disappoints anyone who pursues it. None of us originally entered ministry for our own magnification. The resulting emptiness can lead to extreme discouragement in ministry.

According to Lance Witt 1,500 pastors leave the ministry monthly and 52% of all pastors say they would leave the ministry if they could replace their income.

If you have a Pastor’s heart you want to connect with people but you can easily cross the line to want to be approved by people.

Here are some self-evaluation questions to ask yourself:

1) Do you read Scripture for you or others?

2)Do you seek people’s approval when use you speak or use social media?

3) Do you find yourself manipulating conversations to highlight yourself? (We can wrap this in Kingdom-language.)

Remember, you are just as valuable to God when you are doing nothing as when you produce.

Who are you trying to please? Are you still pursuing a Holy Ambition?

Is Your Church Ignoring HALF of Your Town? Probably!

48% of all adults in America are unmarried. This is a seismic shift in our culture because in 1945 only 5% of all adults in America were unmarried.

Your church probably had much lower than 48% of your adult congregation represented by unmarried people yesterday. Why?

Are churches still doing ministry as if 95% of adults are married? Do unmarried people feel marginalized at church? Does the church unintentionally make single people feel less than complete? Is your church ignoring half of your town?

What changes should The Church make? Is reaching this demographic The Church’s next great challenge?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But they seem like questions worth asking.

3 Lessons Learned over past 3 years

1) Have a Mentor – Ask a mature Christian, pay a network coach, seek out an industry expert, etc. No matter how hard it is, find someone who is like you want to become!

2) Hang out with healthy people – The importance of this can’t be overstated. This means limiting the influence of unhealthy people in your life.

3) Take risks for God – Pursuing God’s heart and not my reputation allows me to take greater risks!

Top 5 Books I’d Recommend for Leaders

Here are the top 5 books I’ve read and would recommend on leadership:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Integrity by Henry Cloud

Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones

You can probably add to this list. Just wanted to share! 🙂

3 Things I DON’T LIKE About Small Groups

Part of my job is to lead our church’s small group ministry. But I gotta tell you there are some things I personally don’t like about small groups. In fact, here are 3 things I don’t like:

1) Giving up an evening every week

2) Trying to figure out who’s gonna watch my kids

3) The day of group I often dread it instead of anticipating it

But I still think you should absolutely join a small group. Why? Over my lifetime, I can not think of any single thing that has grown my faith more than the friendships I’ve formed in small groups. Watching others’ faith grow inspires me. Giving others access to my life motivates me. Being encouraged through tough times sustains me.

Plus, my small group is made up of some great people!

If you’re serious about growing your faith, invest in the 1st century process of meeting in someone’s home to encourage each other, pray, and study the Scriptures. It’s hard but so worth it!

6 Ways to Kick Bitterness to the Curb

Imagine a pitchman promoting their product like this:

“Can I interest you in something that never offers a moment of happiness, prevents you from moving forward in your life, poisons all of your relationships and always causes internal pain?” “Ummmm . . . NO THANKS!”, you’d respond.

No one would knowingly choose any of those things. Right?

But you and I occasionally purchase this horrible product and have these tragic results in our lives. The seduction of bitterness can be strong. Sadly, the ministry is FULL of hurting people who have chosen the prickly path of bitterness. Your dreams are forfeited as long as bitterness occupies your heart.

Here are 6 things you can do to kick bitterness to the curb:

      1. Express gratitude to someone regularly. Gratitude and bitterness can’t co-exist.
      2. Confront the person or situation causing your bitterness. (WARNING: Use good judgement. Sometimes this pours gasoline on a fire.)
      3. Pray for the person or situation causing your bitterness.
      4. Control what/who you think about. As adults we can do this. Focus on productive and positive things.
      5. Surround yourself with people who are not bitter. Bitter people gravitate toward other bitter people.
      6. Confess your struggle with bitterness to someone else and invite them to hold you accountable in overcoming it.

As you know, at times life can be so hard. It might be helpful to pray this prayer by Chuck Swindoll:

Our Father, as we acknowledge Your Son as Lord over all, it is with a sigh, because we cannot deny the pain or ignore the difficulty of earthly trials. For some people the reality of this is borderline unbearable. But being sovereign and being the One with full capacity to handle our needs, You are strong enough to carry our burdens and, in return, to give us the perspective we need.

Quiet our spirits. Give us a sense of relief as we face the inevitable facts that life is difficult and that there will be those moments when life will not be at all fair. Erase any hint of bitterness. Enable us to see beyond the present, to focus on the invisible, and to recognize that You are always with us. Remind us, too, that Your ways are higher and far more profound than ours.

Thank You for the joy of this day. Thank You for the pleasure of a relationship with You and with a few good, caring, loving friends. And especially, Father, thank You for the truth of Your Word that lives and abides forever.

In the strong name of Him who is higher, Jesus the Lord, we pray. Amen.

My Interview with Ben Reed

I want you to meet a good guy who has helped me think through some ministry strategy more than once. I’m grateful for other leaders like Ben who are growing and sharing what they learn.

Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, TN, a 6 year old, multi-site church plant averaging 2,500 in weekly attendance. He’s found his niche in raising up and building into small group leaders, creating small groups that help people take steps of faith together. He’s also found a passion in writing, and he writes 4-5 times/week on his blog addressing topics such as small groups, leadership, church growth, and social media. Ben and his wife have a 3-year-old son, Rex.

1) So Ben, as a small groups pastor, what is your primary role?

I oversee recruiting, coaching, training existing and potential group leaders, and set the direction for our groups. We’re a small groups-driven church, which means that we filter everything through groups.

2) What’s the most overwhelming part of your job and what excites you most?

I’m overwhelmed by our constant need for new leaders. We always seem to need more than we have. Which points to a great problem: we’re growing. But I get overwhelmed if I dwell too much on how many new leaders we need.

Which means I need to constantly remind myself of how God uses biblical community to change lives. Connecting people in this community is what really energizes me, especially when I can connect previously unconnected people and see them begin growing in their faith.

3) You mention on your blog “About” page that you are enjoying a dream job. What are some of the things about Grace Community Church that make it a great place for you and your family?

I serve on an amazing team. We support one another and believe in one another. We really work together well, and our ministries function in sync, where we’re not fighting against each other, but working together to reach the most people.

I really like the guys I get to work with.

From a dad’s viewpoint, I love our family ministry. I love that there are other adults that are investing in my son’s spiritual growth, and that week after week, they’re pointing him to Jesus.

I tell people often that Grace is a church that I would worship with, even if I weren’t on staff. Which is a statement that, unfortunately, not everyone on a church staff could honestly make.

4) You work alongside many gifted leaders. What are you doing to further develop your own leadership?

Learning from them! I pick their brains a lot. I’ve already bragged on my team, and I’ll do it again. These guys are phenomenal! I feel fully confident bringing my questions and concerns to them, both professionally and personally, and trusting that they’re going to point me in the right direction.

Also, I’m a “learner.” I’m constantly engaging other ideas and thought processes through books, blogs, sermons, conferences, and meetings. I enjoy learning new things and taking on new challenges.

5) Who are the biggest influences in your life right now?

My dad. I go to him more than any other person, with myriads of questions. My dad is by far the greatest influence in my life right now.

Ron Edmondson is also a massive influence in my life right now. He’s my pastor, my direct report, and my friend. He and I have a good relationship, and I’m learning from him. I love the direction he’s headed, and is heading, in ministry, and he’s become a strong mentor in my life.

6) You stay extremely busy leading a large, growing ministry. What are you doing to ensure your family loves your ministry?

I try, as much as possible, to leave work at work. When I come home for the day, I try to not constantly check emails. It’s hard, because much of what I do involves dealing with people in crisis. But I have to remind myself that I can’t immediately fix everything. But I can be there for my family.

I also involve my wife in my decision-making. I run things by her, get her thoughts, and help her be a part of the ministry. Not because I have to…but because I really value her input.

We also lead a small group together, which is a constant reminder of our own need for community…and others’ need for it as well.

7) As a rising voice in the evangelical small group conversation, what excites you most about what you see in small group ministry? What worries you?

I love how small groups give potential leaders the chance to begin leading. Since you don’t have to be a fully mature follower of Christ, and don’t have to be a Bible scholar, the bar is lowered for beginning leaders. And I love that…I love that I can take risks on unproven new leaders, and give them a chance to cut their teeth, discover their spiritual gifts, and receive the blessings that come from doing what God’s calling you to do.

For too long, the church held up the gift of teaching as one of a very few number of gifts that the Church really valued and used. Small groups give people with gifts other than teaching the chance to flesh those gifts out.

But I am worried about biblical literacy. My fear is that we’d so lower the bar that we begin to devalue real study of the Scriptures. The Church still needs scholars…I hope that small groups don’t snuff that out.

8) Most of us enter ministry for changed lives. Along the way, it’s easy to get sidetracked and pursue personal success. As a young, talented leader with many opportunities, how do you guard against the appeal to pursue success over what originally drew you to ministry?

It’s all about relationships for me. I meet with small group leaders at Grace a lot. Whether that’s over a cup of coffee, over lunch, or just at the church offices. Hearing real stories from real people, offering real encouragement, helps keep me grounded. It reminds me that small groups really are working and really are needed.

I enjoy organizational systems, and exploring how we, as a church, can do what we do more efficiently. But if I remove myself too far from people and relationships, I’ll burn out, and begin wondering if small groups really work.

9) You’re an insightful blogger. How do you personally maintain energy and creativity for your blog?

I constantly jot down ideas. I use Evernote primarily. When I have a thought, or something I’d like to explore further, I jot it down. When I have a, “Hmm…that could be a good blog post…” thought, I capture that in Evernote.

Then, when I’m ready to write, I sit down in front of my computer and I have dozens of ideas to choose from. I’m never short on new blog post ideas.

I also read a lot, which keeps me fresh, and producing (hopefully) new and engaging content.

10) In addition to what you’re already doing, do you have a crazy dream that you hope to pursue some day?

It’s probably not crazy to a lot of people, but for me it is: I want to write a book. I’m working on ideas now.

If you’re wanting to connect with a great church leader, Ben is one I’d recommend. You can connect with Ben on his blog and on twitter.

Stop Searching for What You Already Own

Yesterday I saw the strangest thing. I was at a shoe store when a man walked in wearing a exquisite pair of Italian leather shoes. As he was looking at and touching the less expensive, imitation leather shoes you could tell he was really drawn to the red pair. He eventually told the salesman that he wanted to purchase the shoes. But I never anticipated what he did next.

In order to pay for his new shoes he asked if he could trade in his own Italian leather shoes. The commission-hungry salesman said, “Sure but you still owe $33.” “Fine,” the customer said, “that sounds fair.”

“FAIR?!” WHAT?!

That story isn’t real and yet it happens every single day. You search for a cheaper version of something you already own. It usually looks like this:

– You search for significance from other people who also feel insignificant. The sovereign God says you are already significant to Him.

– You search for ways to escape your stress. God invites you to cast ALL your cares on Him for long-lasting peace.

– You search for real forgiveness. God can not only forgive, He can forget.

– You search for genuine love. God offers unconditional, sacrificial, eternal love.

Today refuse to go looking for a cheaper version of what you already own.

Goals are USELESS and HELPFUL

Today is the deadline for our Staff Lead Team to turn in our annual goals. I love dreaming. I need goals. They are related but different. Don’t treat goals like dreams.

Goals are useless when . . . 

. . . you use them to dream. You can write down “lose 25lbs. this year” but unless you have a plan of action to eat less and exercise more you’re only writing words on paper. Goals are useless motivators.

Goals are helpful when . . . 

. . . you use them to focus. Goals clear away all that you could do and identify what you will do. Goals are dreams wearing work clothes.

How to Properly Ignore People

Truth: As a leader you must ignore some people.

No leader I know enjoys this but people who try and listen to every opinion and respond to every criticism aren’t leading.

Truth: As a Christian you read that Christ died for ALL.

God the Son died for every person, everywhere. Including the people who criticize you.

How do you manage the tension of these two truths?

Here are 2 ways to properly ignore people as a leader AND a follower of Christ:

1) Have a Clear Vision

Noah had a God-given vision. He knew exactly where he was headed and why. That allowed him to ignore those who criticized and tried to distract him. He consistently picked up another nail because his vision was clear.

A clear vision alone is not enough as any dictator reveals. In addition to having a clear vision you must . . .

2) Remain Focused on People’s Need

Noah’s clear vision allowed him to ignore his critics. Yet after the ark was built Noah continued to plead with his critics to get on the ark because he was still focused on their need.

How do you properly ignore people? Have a clear vision and remain focused on people’s need.