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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!

Music headphones

Often I get asked by a pastor or worship leader what I’m listening to and worshiping with. They realize that I travel the United States doing church secret shopper consultations and that I probably experience music and worship in more churches yearly, than just about anyone else to be honest.

So I hear a wide variety of styles and song selections. But I do have my personal preferences and songs that really move me and help me to connect to God. I bet you do, too. I’d like to introduce you to some that are my favorite (if you’re not already aware of them).

For the past 2 to 3 months, I’ve put YouTube on my TV and watched 2 artists, which I consider to be the best worship music in the United States. I think Elevation Worship is the best worship music in the US. I think Bethel Music is a close second. And they are very different, but I love them both.

Here are the songs that God has really used to minister to my heart and soul. I hope you’ll worship with them personally and consider them for corporate music.

Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music
*** My current favorite song! This song is brand-new and isn’t even on iTunes yet.

Call Upon the Lord – Elevation Worship (My current 2nd favorite song)

Resurrecting – Elevation Worship

Here As in Heaven – Elevation Worship

O Come to the Altar – Elevation Worship (great response song after the message)

King of My Heart – Bethel Music (I know Saddleback Church has done this several times recently)

Ever Be – Bethel Music

No Longer Slaves – Bethel Music

It is Well – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music (for more traditional churches that want to breathe new life into an awesome hymn)

 

*** I’d love to hear from you. What’s playing in your earbuds these days? What songs move you?

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.

This came out recently on SermonCentral.com and I thought it was worth passing on. To read the 20 non-preaching websites for better preaching, go HERE.

I wrote a new article called “Lessons from a Secret Shopper” that will be coming out on SermonCentral.com in a couple of weeks.
I look forward to sharing it with you.

What are websites and resources that you use in message preparation?


It never fails, everytime I visit a church, I notice the senior pastor sitting in the worst seat in the worship center. I experience this weekly at my home church (Fellowship Dallas) and used to experience it weekly at Bent Tree.

In each case the senior pastor would sit on the side, front row (right in front of the subs and closest to the drums). Then they will say it’s too loud (when it sounds fine out in the house to the other thousand or three thousand seats). The sound engineer then feels his hands are tied as he tries to mix for 1100 seats (at Fellowship Dallas) or 33oo seats (at Bent Tree) or whichever church I’m visiting – the audio guy has to adjust for the person in the worst seat and thus has a bad mix for the majority of the room. How backwards is that?

My suggestion to the pastor sitting in this worst possible seat – trust your people and tech team out in the house and let them mix for the entire room. Don’t ask them to adjust things to your liking – it’s not practical. How about you? Have you experienced this in your church?