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I became familiar with ExPastors.com and their Founder, Bo Lane, a couple of years ago. I’ve stayed in touch with Bo ever since. Over the past year, I’ve considered being more involved. Over the last month, I’ve now taken over as Executive Director of ExPastors.com.

I encourage you to get to know us. We’re not a place for people to bash the Church. We are a ministry that offers help, healing and hope to ex-pastors (for whatever reason they find themselves there), current pastors and church leaders.

We want to see all pastors be healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

I encourage you to browse the website and its articles. See if there’s something there that might educate or encourage you in the season of life you find yourself.

This week (Tuesday) we have a very special guest post by an ex-pastor that hasn’t spoken out for over 2 years. Be sure to keep an eye on us and our articles.

You can do this by signing up for our newsletter, following us on Twitter, and subscribing to our YouTube channel (we are about to launch a new podcast). When you sign up for our newsletter, you will receive a FREE copy of Why Pastors Quit – a must read.

Read the newest post that is up there now. Maybe it will encourage you and offer you hope.

We get unbelievable emails from pastors and ex-pastors from around the world. Join our community and please know: If you’re tired, hurt/wounded, frustrated, burnt out, thinking about taking your life, depressed, anxious – whatever the enemy is attacking you with – I’m here for you. We’re here for you. You have people that care for you and want to help you.

God’s not finished with you. Neither are we. Don’t give up!

listening-earLet me say up front that this post is longer than usual, but if you read it all and truly wrestle with it, you’ll be a better leader and your family and congregation will thank you for it. Let’s dive in!

Communication is key to being an effective leader and I would argue a genuine human being. After being called out by my wife, previous employers and team members for interrupting, I had to do some deep soul searching and take an introspective look at how I communicate, dialogue and interact with people in general. I realized I didn’t intentionally practice active listening.

Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

Honestly, this is an area I’ve dealt with for years and am just now actively working on improving. I think I’ve always known that listening is key; I just haven’t done a good job at it in every area of my life.

I actually wrote about leaders needing to listen in my last book Strange Leadership. In the book, I said, “Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are listeners.” I even pinned a TwitPic to my Twitter wall to share it with others. It’s been retweeted over 1200 times. I think we all know this is true deep down. The question is do we live this out? Do I live this out?

I’ve blogged and posted on social media numerous times that I see a counselor or therapist. I have for years and I highly recommend it, especially for pastors. Lately, this is what I have been working on with my therapist. I asked him to help me be a better active listener. So each week we work on active listening.

Here’s what I’m learning and here are five ways to evaluate yourself and do your own introspection:

  1. Leadership: Employers, are you open to feedback? Do you know and practice bottom-up leadership? Do you learn from your employees? When you lead and interact with your team and staff, do you really listen to them? Do you know their dreams, their passions, their struggles, and frustrations? Do you hear them when they say their hurting, or tired, or burnt out and in need of rest? Employees, do you understand what your employer wants from you? Do you actively listen when he or she gives you instructions and corrections? Do you get defensive and interrupt them when they critique you or give you a performance evaluation?Pastors and church leaders, are you listening to your congregation? When you plan sermon series, do you have a good pulse on what your people are going through? Do you actively listen to their concerns, fears, and frustrations with where the church or leadership is heading? Do you encourage open dialogue?
  2. Counseling: Pastors, when you counsel people in your congregation, do you cut them off and interject your thoughts and opinions? I have in the past. Do you practice active listening in such a way (like a therapist would) that you can repeat back to them what they said? Good counselors and therapists will listen to you vent and share and then respond with, “So what I hear you saying is…” I know you have a Biblical worldview, a strong grasp of Scripture and theology, but there is much to be learned in this area. My wife is a counselor and they go through a grueling two-year grad school program to learn counseling techniques – techniques we would benefit from learning. A book I highly recommend is entitled Toughest People to Love. I’ve read it twice and found it thoroughly helpful and insightful. I also recommend you reach out to a local therapist and pick their brain. Ask them to teach you how to be a better active listener. And, if you’re not already doing it, make an appointment with a counselor. You will benefit greatly from it. Your family and congregation will benefit because of it, and you might learn something.
  3. Social media: Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods.  My friend, Nils Smith said, “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” The biggest problem I see when I do an online presence evaluation as a church secret shopper is churches using social media as a broadcast tool only. They don’t truly create conversations and safe places for people to react, interact, and dialogue with the church and its leaders. My friend Brandon Cox wrote a helpful and insightful book entitle Rewired. In the book, Brandon writes, “The world around us is having a conversation about life, meaning, culture, and eternity, and we have an amazing opportunity not just to join the conversation but also to lead it. But too many in the church are struggling to keep up with this cultural shift and failing to use these communication tools to their full advantage. And this shift we are seeing toward a more mobile, social environment is actually a return to the form we were created for: to be in relationships, to have conversations, and to share our stories–and God’s–with each other.” I encourage you to strategically and prayerfully rethink your social media strategy as a church with a focus on listening.
  4. Family: Did you know that if you learn this skill of active listening and utilize it intentionally and regularly, you will have a better relationship with your spouse and children? I can’t tell you how many times I’m watching TV or working on my computer while my wife is talking to me and then she says, “Greg, tell me what I just said.” I usually struggle to repeat her words back to her. Since I’ve been coached on active listening, I’ve gotten better at this. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’m growing and learning. You’ll find that your parenting skills and dynamics change with your kids if you truly pay attention to them, make eye contact with them, and say back to them, “If I heard you right, you’re feeling…” If you accept my advice and heed my own testimony, this skill can improve and for some of you, save your marriage and/or relationship with your kids.
  5. Relationships: One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m a good friend. I truly care about those that I’m in a relationship with. When I interact with my friends now, I’m trying my best to actively listen. Too many times we’re quick to interrupt and interject our thoughts without allowing them to finish their thought and express how they feel. If you want to go to the next level in your life and relationships, learn to listen and then respond with grace and love.
  • You know who’s really good at active listening? Coaches and counselors. I think we, as church leaders, could learn a lot from them and apply this same technique to our various areas of ministry and service.
  • These are 5 things that I’m working on in my life and if you prayerfully assess and evaluate your own areas, you’ll have no regrets. Remember: Leaders are listeners. Let’s seek to lead and listen exceedingly well.
  • One last thing, friends and you haven’t heard me say this in YEARS: Go to my YouTube channel and subscribe! I am about to start recording regular content for pastors and leaders. I’ll be doing series for areas and subjects such as leadership in general, pastoral ministry, helps and coaching, guest services training and insights, ministry thoughts, mental health issues and awareness, and other things that I get emailed about. Please SUBSCRIBE today!

This year, Catalyst Atlanta is going to be out of this world. I plan on going and hope to see you there. Please don’t miss the Early Bird Rates that end today! Register HERE.

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YouVersion congrats

Hello readers! I am beyond thrilled and excited to partner with YouVersion by writing some new devotionals that will be coming soon, starting this Fall.

Here’s where you can see some of my new content that I’ve been writing or have coming out soon:

  • Rick Warren’s Ministry Newsletter
  • Pastors.com
  • ChurchLeaders.com
  • ChurchCentral.com
  • Christianity Today
  • Leadership Journal/CTPastors.com
  • XPastors.org
  • Church Fuel (look for a new eBook coming soon)
  • I will also be a guest on several church leader podcasts this Fall. I hope you’ll listen in on the conversations!

And lastly, I have BIG news: My 4th book entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper will release this Fall. As you know I’m a consultant and church secret shopper. In this book, I tell you what I look for when I go to a large church and do a church secret shopper consultation.

I wrote this book primarily for small to medium-sized churches that may not be able to afford to hire me. So, if you want to make some killer improvements in the area of hospitality and guest services, be on the lookout for my next book. I can’t wait for you to read it!

healthy person

I watched the big news yesterday that Derrick Rose got traded from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks. What’s to note about this announcement is that Derrick Rose was supposed to be a Chicago legend and superstar originally. He is very talented and can make basketball plays and shots look effortless.

The problem is, unfortunately, like Grant Hill was, his career has been plagued by injury. He never reached his full potential. Your physical, emotional and spiritual health is huge. Without it, you’ll never reach your full potential. This applies to organizations as well.

If your organization is not healthy, it will not reach its full potential.

How do you address health in an organization? With its leaders. John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I agree. Does this happen by accident? No! You have to fight for health. Just like you make yourself go to the gym and eat healthy. You must be intentional.

“You don’t have to cultivate weeds. They grow automatically. In fact, weeds are a sign of neglect.” – @RickWarren

Don’t neglect yourself. Don’t neglect your senior leadership. Don’t neglect your staff. Don’t neglect your volunteers. I have talked with three pastors and one Director of Missions for a Baptist Association that took or are on a sabbatical. That’s awesome! Give your leaders a break. Go on a personal retreat. Take time to rest. Time to play. Time to have a hobby. Time to care for your family and house.

If your leaders aren’t healthy… If your org’s culture is not healthy… If your team is not healthy… Say it with me: You’ll never reach your full potential.

And even worse, you can cause harm, hurt others and do real damage. You need to protect health at all costs. I’m big on church growth, but I always say church growth is a by-product of church health. It’s the same for non-profits and businesses. Your health can fuel your growth, or it can have an adverse effect on your growth.

Friends, pray for your leaders. Pray for me. Pray for yourself. Seek after health – in every area. And BE INTENTIONAL. Health doesn’t happen by accident.

14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. – Luke 8:14 (NLT)

So, I ask: How’s your health?

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I’ve heard it for a decade now and I’ve had enough. I remember ten years ago in 2006, leading worship at my church in Dallas and we had a guest speaker that day: David Murrow, the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. Since I knew the author was preaching that morning, I chose “Beautiful One” by Tim Hughes as a worship song. I just knew he’d love it. He didn’t. He actually referenced it in his message and talked about how men can’t connect to God with songs like that. I wholeheartedly disagree.

I think it’s safe to say that no lost person connects to God through song. They just sit back and watch and try to figure out what is happening in the moment.

However, if someone (male of female) has had a genuine encounter with the Living God – they sing, sometimes loud.

How do I know? I’ve witnessed it numerous times over 22 years of ministry and 40 years of life. I’ve seen and heard it in my local church and most recently, I have witnessed it in two very different environments.

First, I do prison ministry. I’ve been in prisons with a room full of tattooed, hardcore men (some with teardrop tattoos signifying they’ve killed someone) that are singing to the top of their lungs. They unashamedly worship our great God and Savior knowing the consequences and that some other prisoners may see this as a sign of weakness or make fun of them. Time and again, these men blow me away with their passion for God and love for worship music. Have you ever been led in worship by a praise band and choir made up of prisoners? I highly recommend it. They will rock your world.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Those guys have hit bottom – Of course they sing out to God.” Hold on. Secondly, I attend an invitation only men’s worship night that is held in a mansion-of-a-house in Charlotte on Monday nights. In this room are people like Executive Coaches, Life Coaches, ER doctors, a pediatrician, an orthopedic surgeon, an attorney and the list goes on and on.

These guys fill the living room and kitchen at the host’s home with sweet music as the pediatrician leads songs on an acoustic guitar. Are these men at the end of their ropes? Yes! In a different, but similar way. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

We’re all desperate for and dependent upon God. When we realize our need for Jesus, we cry out to Him. We lift our voices and shout, “Hosanna!”

So if you tell me men don’t sing, I’d ask you to come visit the imprisoned, sick, poor, along with the wealthy, prestigious, and influential leaders of our community and just be a fly on the wall. I think you’d walk away with your thoughts on the matter changed. We serve a powerful, amazing Creator God and He is worthy of unending praise.

So put your ear plugs in and buckle up because some men are going to lift Him up loudly. Will you be one?

He (Jesus) answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” – Luke 19:40

Hustle picture

The picture above is from a year ago. That’s how long I’ve been contemplating this post. I’m constantly watching friends like Carlos Whittaker and others, including Jon Acuff encourage others to hustle. I have no problem with that. I’m extremely driven, ambitious and have a stong work ethic.

As a matter of fact, I just purchased and began reading my friend, Brad Lomenick’s book H3 Leadership: Humble. Hungry. Hustle. I love Brad’s quote: “Leadership is more than hard work, it is habitual work.”

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However, in the hustle and bustle of 21st Century life, I often wonder if we hustle too much or too often. I wonder if we take time to be still, be quiet, think, meditate, and hear that still, small voice of the Living God. I wonder if we stop to smell the roses and take in the beauty of a sunset or sunrise. I wonder if we appreciate the little things in life and thank God for family and friends.

Do we savor the good times in life and mourn the tough seasons that will inevitably come?

My exhortation and encouragement to you my friends is to take time to Sabbath. Take time to pray. Take time to think. Take time to rest. I’ve said for years that we should work hard and play hard. If you focus only on “hustle,” you will just work hard. Take time to enjoy God and being in His Presence.

Remember the story of Mary and Martha and make sure you’re not too busy hustling that you miss out on an opportunity to worship and adore the Savior.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations,
  I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10

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A lot of people have heard or read that I’m regularly doing secret shopper or mystery worshiper visits to churches around the country. The question has been raised (and it’s a valid one): Do you need a secret shopper?

As someone who takes the mission to reach the lost and unfilled seriously, I think it’s a wise investment. It takes about a month for you to lose your new eyes, new ears and new nose. Things that you may have become used to or accepted, a secret shopper can spot on their initial visit.

I once had a great Secret Shopper visit with a local church plant in the DFW area. I then had great meeting afterwards where I shared constructive and encouraging feedback with their senior pastor. I was reminded of how even young church plants can quickly lose their new eyes and start to miss things that are obvious to a newcomer like me.

The pastor emailed me saying that they’ve worked on several of the items I listed and are excited about their future. Now, many years later, my secret shopper process has evolved. The last church I worked with was Menlo Church in California, pastored by John Ortberg. I evaluated all 5 of their campuses and went over a 22 page report with their senior leadership team. 

In one month, I’ll do another secret shopper visit at a mega-church in Dallas, TX. I’ve already begun my pre-assessment, as I take a thorough look at the church’s website and online presence.  This is a church that is seemingly doing well and has a large congregation in a metroplex, but they want to improve and tweak things and I applaud them for that.

I came across some good words on Mike Holmes’ blog that I’d like to share with you. He mentioned that a secret shopper or mystery worshipper can do a few things:

1.               Assess areas of strength and weakness.

2.               See what visitors see.

3.               Give objective appraisal.

He also shares the story of his experiment as a secret shopper, which is convicting and inspiring. He goes on to share signs you need a secret shopper or mystery worshipper:

1.               Visitors who don’t return

2.               Decreased attendance

3.               Lack of influence in the surrounding community

I would add an eye for excellence and an attempt to be better at hospitality. It’s always healthy to look at your Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a newcomer and especially the eyes of a lost person. You may get only one chance to make a positive impression on them.

We all know a guest makes up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes.

Read that again!

When you bring a guest to church, you instantly become sensitive to your surroundings – the people, the seats, the ushers, the greeters, the kids check-in, the sermon, the music, etc. You want everything to be perfect for your visiting friend (especially if they are not a Believer). A mystery worshiper can spot these crucial areas out for you, before your lost friend does. It’s an investment, but I think a wise one.

Nelson Searcy (in his book “Fusion”) says that if a first-time guest turns into a second-time guest, they are 80% more likely to get plugged into your church and eventually commit their life to Christ. That’s huge and that’s what I do. I help churches remove unnecessary barriers and bad impressions and turn first-time guests into second-time guests. 

I once read an article in the Wall Street Journal on secret shoppers. As the article states: “Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service.” Isn’t what we do on Sundays as church leaders more important than department stores and restaurants? Seriously, isn’t it???

If you’d like to pick my brain or ask what’s involved in a secret shopper visit, contact me. If you’d like to read through endorsements of my ministry, check out the Worship Impressions website. Keep pressing on and know that what you do matters!

Stadium-Lights

Sunday night I, like many of you, watched Peyton Manning (Quarterback of the Denver Broncos) make history. Not only did Peyton win the AFC Championship, he becomes the first QB in the NFL to go to multiple Super Bowls with multiple teams. Not only that, he has been to 4 Super Bowls with 4 different head coaches. Wow! As I celebrated his achievement and performance, I reflected on what makes Peyton so special and what we, as pastors and leaders, can learn from him.

    1. Passion: Peyton Manning’s passion for the game of football is evident. He loves to play and though he may look serious (with his game face on), he’s having a blast on the field. We, as leaders in the Church, should have passion as well.
      Danger: When being a pastor becomes your identity and you are, as Craig Groeschel once said, “A full-time pastor and a part-time disciple.”
    2. Commitment: Who knows the countless hours Peyton Manning has spent studying film, practicing with his offensive line and receivers, working out and strengthening his arm and body? Peyton is committed to the game of football. He doesn’t do anything halfway. He’s all-in. If you pastor a congregation, you should be committed to that church and to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
      Danger: When you don’t have a life outside the church. You need to be an engaged and committed husband and father. You need to have hobbies. You need to learn to laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously (read this).
    3. Driven: Any fan of the game can see that Peyton is a driven athlete. He’s extremely competitive and can’t stand to lose. For Peyton, his goal every year is a Super Bowl championship. It’s Super Bowl champs or bust. We, as pastors, need to be driven by the mission of the Church, specifically the Great Commission. We should always be looking to reach more people with the gospel.
      Danger: When we make attendance, budgets and baptism numbers the end all, be all. We have to see people as precious in God’s sight and not targets. Build relationships with people. Don’t use them to increase your metrics. Also be on the alert of becoming or enabling a work-a-holic atmosphere. Keep manageable office hours and don’t neglect your family.
    4. Excellence: Peyton Manning is the poster-child for excellence in the NFL. He holds too many records to list. He excels at everything he does. As leaders, we need to lead with excellence (that’s what my next book is about). We need to show we care about our calling, our career and our churches. Lead courageously. Lead well.
      Danger: When we confuse excellence with perfection. There is no such thing as a perfect church.
    5. Didn’t quit: Peyton injured his neck last year and his foot this year and could have retired from the game and would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He didn’t need to ever play again and he could have gone on to other things, but instead he had multiple neck surgeries, went through extensive physical therapy and rehab and worked hard to get back to the game he so desperately loves. He didn’t give up when most would have, like when his team, the Indianapolis Colts, released him and doubted his ability to play at an elite level post-surgery. Too many pastors quit right before a major breakthrough in their ministry. As I have stated in both of my books, I’m a big believer in longterm ministry. I think you need to plant roots in a community and give your life to something significant.
      Danger: When you don’t know when to step down. Too many pastors don’t have a plan for a successful succession. Dr. Gene Getz modeled this for me years ago and has been a hero of mine for a long time. I also encourage you to check out my friend William Vanderbloemen’s book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works.
    6. High Standards: Peyton expects greatness from himself and his team. For two decades of ministry leadership, I have expected a lot from myself and from others (my staff and volunteers). I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for commitment and excellence from your team.
      Danger: We must be people of grace. We must have grace for ourselves when we fail. We must have grace for others when they let us down.
    7. Character: Peyton Manning is known for being a class-act. He’s a good person on the field and off. He’s not involved in scandals, suspensions or problems with the law (like many other athletes.) As leaders, we need to be men and women of character.
      Danger: When the public self and the private self don’t line up. If you’re an amazing preacher at church, but a horrible husband and father and/or addict at home – you need to repent and seek help. Go to counseling and confide in another pastor that you trust. Pastors need friends they can be real with.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord… – Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

What lessons do you think you can learn from an athlete like Peyton Manning?

book

One of the biggest challenges every leader faces is how to continue developing and growing as a leader while still getting things done and moving things forward.

With the ever-increasing demands on our time and energy, often the first thing that goes is investing in ourselves. We know that isn’t wise; it’s really very short-term thinking, but under the pressure of the moment we often make that choice.

One reason we do that is that we don’t see immediate consequences. The consequences of not investing in ourselves now often show up later—a year or more later, when the challenges are even bigger and we aren’t ready for them.

One way to address that is to change our reading habits. We have all heard that “readers are leaders” and that “growing churches are led by growing leaders.” But the average reader takes 4-6 hours to read one book. It can be a challenge to find that time on a regular basis! Most of us end up with a bunch of unfinished (or unstarted) books that we know we should read but just don’t have time to get to.

Maybe it’s time for you to check out Leaders Book Summaries. They summarize books for busy leaders. They condense books down to 12-15 pages, and then also provide a 2-page summary of the summary. An average reader can go through a whole summary in just 15-20 minutes. That’s a lot more efficient than 4-6 hours!

You’ll get summaries of the titles you should be reading. Leaders Book Summaries was started by pastors, for pastors. They are practitioners, not just theorists. They know what it’s like to be in the trenches, and they pick and summarize books that will help you make a difference.

They issue thirty (30) summaries of leadership books each year. The books are written by both secular and religious authors. Recent examples include…

  • Leading Congregational Change, by Herrington, Bonem, and Furr.
  • The Leadership Playbook, by Nathan Jamail
  • Amplified Leadership, by Dan Reiland
  • Be The Best Bad Presenter Ever, by Karen Hough
  • Supersurvivors, by David Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz.

In addition, titles by Andy Stanley, John Maxwell, Henry Cloud, and other well-known leaders fill their library.

A subscription is normally about $7 a month, or $119/year if you want the archives (over 150 titles). Leaders Book Summaries is currently offering a special discount to our blog readers. Instead of paying the full rate, you can get the monthly rate for just $5.95/month, or the Premium subscription, giving you access to their whole library, for just $99/year. And that covers all the new summaries coming out in 2016 as well!

This is a win-win-win. You can save time, save money, and invest in your own leadership development. You can’t do much better than that!

Click here to get the discounted rate. (It isn’t being offered anywhere else!)

By the way, besides providing summaries to those who subscribe, the folks at Leaders Book Summaries go a step further to support God’s leaders. A tithe of the profits is given to church planting efforts in the U.S. and Mozambique. Additionally, they give free subscriptions to third world pastors, who often can’t afford to buy books. When you subscribe to their service, you are also investing in other leaders around the world.