First Day as Lead Pastor

Today is a big day.

Today I start as the Lead Pastor of Kamloops Alliance Church.

Today is the day I start to live a dream that God placed in my heart more than five years ago.

Today is the first day that I have the opportunity to love, shape, lead and grow a group of people to love God and love each other.

Today, as they say, comes with “all the feels.”

I start this day reflecting on all the grace, love and people that have put up, built up and stood up for me.

Here are some of those reflections:

  1. God is faithful

I hit a real low in 2014. Ministry wasn’t fulfilling and I sat on a balcony with Krista, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Positano Italy, eating cheese and salami, and dreaming of ways I could get out of ministry. I was done, or so I thought.

Fast forward just a few months and a new challenge came, at the right time, serving with the right person and God restored excitement and renewed my passion. When I wanted out, God allowed me to stay in.

This is one example of hundreds, illustrating God’s abundant faithfulness in my journey serving His Church. The longer I serve Him, the more I realize that this journey is more about Him than me.

  1. Family is everything

I am more convinced than ever that ministry is a partnership. There are unique stressors and challenges that pastors experience that often negatively impact families.

I am so grateful that Krista is in this with me. She doesn’t put up with ministry; she is passionately involved in it. She doesn’t do it because she has to, but because she wants to. As we said our goodbye's to people in Coquitlam, there were countless stories of the impact that Krista had on people as she journeyed and loved them.

I wouldn’t be able to embark on this journey without Krista.

  1. Calling counts

I believe that every follower of Jesus is called to ministry in the places and spaces they live, but there is a unique calling to serve as a pastor. Throughout the recruitment process with the leaders from Kamloops Alliance, I was listening and waiting for Jesus to call us from Coquitlam to Kamloops. During our candidation weekend, he called us (read more here).

Why does this matter so much? There will be days and seasons where there is momentum and growth. And there will no doubt be days where I am discouraged, afraid and faithless.

It is in these days that this call counts. It will keep me tethered to the mission and to persevere both in times of success and struggle.

  1. It's go time! 

Proverbs 13:12 has been close to me this year, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” I have felt the life and energy that this opportunity has brought me. I have spent the last 6 weeks in-between jobs. It has been refreshing, fun and a great preparatory time.

But it is time to get going. I have stayed up and been woken up, in the middle of the night full of prayer, dreams, and hopes for Kamloops and Kamloops Alliance. The church is well situated for the future, with a great team, and a generous and engaged church.

I am beyond thrilled to be able to take the helm, along with a great staff team, to love the people of Kamloops Alliance and seek the renewal of Kamloops.

Here are a few things I am most excited for:

  • Preaching often – this is my first passion and an enormous privilege to open up God’s Word
  • Working with and developing a staff team – some of my greatest joys come from watching others succeed
  • Crafting and casting long-term vision – along with the Elders and other Senior Leaders, I am so excited to see God’s story unfold at K.A.C.
  • Developing leaders – I love watching others grow and see how they come alive when God uses them to impact others

Thanks for reading and loving me and my family well.

Let’s get this started!


Calling, transition and change...

Things around christhroness.com have been very quiet lately.

To my loyal reader (Mom), I apologize. But it has been for a good reason.

I want to bring you up to speed on some big changes in my life.

The Story

Looking Back…

In August of 2013, I felt that I should apply to be a Lead Pastor at a church. This was a scary journey, but one that I felt I should embark on.

With terror and a sense of excitement, I submitted my resume to be a Lead Pastor. After 8 months, numerous interviews, a trip up to meet with their Elders, it was down to one other candidate and myself. I thought I had it in the bag. I’ll never forget the phone call from their senior leader telling me that they went with the other candidate.

I was devastated.

I had a vivid dream that night that made the ordeal make more sense: I was sitting in a huge gymnasium about to take a test I thought I had prepared for. There were hundreds of desks set up in rows. The examiner placed the test in front of me, I opened up the first page and realized I had studied the wrong material. This was a senior level physics exam. I have only taken one science course in my life and I hated it. I knew I would fail the test.

After three hours I was the only person left in the gymnasium. The examiner told me to bring up my exam. I did so, only having written my name on the paper. Right as I handed in the exam I woke up. God spoke so clearly to me in that moment saying, “You thought you were ready, but you aren’t.”

The Big Change…

Fast forward to August of 2017. I had been asked to preach a weekend at Kamloops Alliance Church. During my preparing, practice and prayer time before their Saturday night service, I heard God say as clearly as he did in 2013-2014, “You’re ready. You need to apply.”

In a way, this was equally as devastating to hear as I was so passionate and committed to the people and mission at Coquitlam Alliance Church. I didn’t know what this all meant, but I knew what I heard.

I filed this away and prayed throughout the Fall of 2017. The position opened up in February of 2018, and obediently I tendered my application. I was invited into the recruitment process and interviewed numerous times with their Search Team and Elders Board. I was invited up to Kamloops and had a great, long and rigorous discussion with their Elders Board.

In this meeting, I did everything I could to make it so clear as to my passions, giftings, strengths, and weaknesses. I wanted them to know unequivocally what they were, and were not, getting in me. I felt the freedom to be this open because of my amazing situation and support at CA Church. I didn’t want to leave something so great.

The Candidation…

At the end of April, I heard back from the Elders at KAC. They invited me to come candidate to be their Lead Pastor. I was thrilled. I had been waiting for that phone call for more than 5 years.

On May 26/27 we packed up the family (and managed to convince my Mom to come along to watch the kids for us) and headed up to Kamloops for 5 days to meet with many of the pastors and ministry leaders. I was also privileged to preach at their 3 weekend services.

Two moments stand out. The first was after meeting with the Prime Timer’s group. As Krista was getting into our van, she started to cry. I asked her what was wrong, fearing that she was scared to come and felt like we shouldn’t make the move. Quite the opposite. Krista said, “We have to come here. They need you.” I was blown away. I needed to have Krista’s buy-in to move forward. She is all-in.

The second moment was on the Friday evening we had a dinner and Q&A time with the Elders. It was transparent, rigorous, warm and exciting. We talked about the past, the future, how we can love and partner together and the opportunity to bring Kamloops Alliance into a great and effective season of ministry. By the end, Krista and I were both in tears and felt such a partnership with this group of people. We knew we were called to this new church community.

With so much emotion I resigned as the Executive Pastor at Coquitlam Alliance Church the first week of June. Today (June 19) is my last day serving in this role.

“So, how do you feel?”

I’ve been asked this a lot the past few days. Honestly, it’s so hard to say. It depends on the day and time you ask me.

  • Mostly, I feel grateful. Grateful for an amazing 8 years at CA Church. Grateful for leaders who believed in me, loved me, picked me up when I fell and continued to give me more opportunities.
  • I feel excited to be able to bring leadership to Kamloops Alliance Church. A community that has already embraced my family and me. A church with so much anticipation for the future. I also feel excited to work with a great staff team there.
  • I grieve alongside our congregation as they process the news this past weekend when I resigned.
  • I feel sad to leave an amazing staff team. A group of people that I have hired, developed, loved, and journeyed with. These people have given me grace when I failed, encouraged me in my low points and have been an easy group to lead. There is a reason why CA Church has been a certified “Best Christian Workplace” for 3 straight years and it has little to do with my leadership. It has everything to do with a group of people who love each other, are unified in purpose and mission and sacrifice much to tell people about Jesus. I strongly believe that the best days are ahead for CA Church. It is hard to leave.
  • I feel a strong sense of anticipation for the future. I can’t wait to get into the saddle in Kamloops to learn the stories of the people and community there, to open the Word with them every week, to watch them grow as they watch me grow, to lead the church forward with increasing impact and influence. I really can’t wait.

To the great people of Coquitlam Alliance Church

We love you! Thanks for supporting and loving us so well. Krista and I got married at CA Church and had 3 kids during our time with you.

Krista grew up at CA Church. This has been home for her for more than 30 years. How can we put into words our gratefulness? It is impossible.

Thank you to Mark and Diane Francisco. Again, words fail to describe our love and gratitude toward this amazing couple. God asked Mark to mentor me 10 years ago. I don’t know where my life would be without him. He has given me every opportunity to grow and lead, has shared his pulpit generously with me and done so without the slightest of ego. We are forever shaped by the Francisco’s and their passion for ministry. Leaving this amazing partnership is what hurts the most.

Some people wonder when a transition like this takes place, “I wonder what the real story is?” Let me tell you as clearly as I can: there is no hidden story. The only story is that God has seen fit to move us on to a new assignment. And so, we go.

Finally, the mission matters. I have loved being a part of a church that seeks to love the lost, marginalized and broken. With grace, gifts and growth, continue to invest in the lives of people.

To the great people at Kamloops Alliance Church

To KAC in general: thank you for already loving my family and me. This was one of the big questions we had, leaving a community where we are so loved: “will they love us well?” We feel it already.

To the long-tenured people of KAC, I am excited to learn from you. To hear the stories of the community that has shaped the people, mission, and vision of KAC.

To the staff team, I look forward to serving you and alongside of you. I am so passionate about leading in teams. One of the best parts of my job is watching others succeed. I will do whatever I can do set you up for success.

Finally, get ready! On the Grip-Birkmann personality test I completed as a part of the hiring process, one of my clear orientations is action. I am passionate about bringing a group of people into a new level of impact and effectiveness. I am privileged to be on this journey with you and to lead KAC into the future.

Would you start to pray about how God will use you to bring unity, missional impact and Holy Spirit driven mission in your sphere of influence? We have lots of work to do!

What’s next?

Finally, here is what our lives look like in this transition period:

  • My last day in the office at CA Church is June 19, 2018
  • CA Church is throwing a farewell party after the Saturday night service(6pm) on June 23. This will be the last official opportunity to mingle and say goodbye
  • Krista and I will be in Coquitlam until the end of July
  • I start at KAC on August 1st.
  • If you could pray for us, that would be great. We need to sell our house in Coquitlam and buy a house in Kamloops. We are praying for a great place to call home there, and the sale of our house here.

If you would like to reach out to me for any reason, please do not hesitate to drop me an email at christhroness@gmail.com.

Thanks for your continued support for us!

In Him,

Chris, Krista, Hannah, Micah, and Mattea

 

 


Building Great Teams: 8 effective outcomes from 1 easy exercise

Great Leaders Build Great Teams

Bill Hybels, a leadership expert and current Lead Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, rightly notes that whenever a leader gets better, the whole organization does as well. With this thought in mind, we need to be leading ourselves with intentionality, planning, and execution.

A true mark of any successful leader is not just their own growth and improvement, but that of the team they build around them. If you build a passionate, united and committed team, you switch from building a factory to leading a movement. The difference is clear: a factory worker aims at producing the same results and fulfilling responsibilities, but a movement member lives, breathes and sacrifices for the sake of the united vision.

So, what is your plan to do that? Let me help.

The Final Product

Below you will see the completed product of the most clarifying and unifying team building and development exercise I have ever done. Here is the final product:

The Process

Here is the step by step process to do this:

  1. Meet with each person that reports to you and introduce the exercise to them. Cast vision by using the outcomes listed above. Remember, you want to ensure that they as invested in the exercise as much as you are.
  2. In these meetings, introduce to them the 1 Sentence job responsibility, a concept created and developed by leadership expert Andy Stanley.

How to come up with a 1 sentence job responsibility:

  • Think of it is the ‘break-the-glass emergency plan’ for their role. Boil their role down to the main outputs. You can determine what this is by asking, “if this person left, what would fall apart?”
  • Ask them to take some time to reflect on their role and look over their job description to identify what they do best (why you hired them in the first place!).
  • Give them 7 days to come up with the first draft and then have them email it to you. Remember only 1 sentence!
  1. Read through all the first drafts. Compare and contrast your vision of their role with what they understand it to be. Make a second meeting with all your direct reports.
  2. Having thought through their first draft, you will have the opportunity to:
  • Encourage them that they are on the right path – your vision of what they should be doing and what they are doing is correct
  • Challenge them to recapture what they may have forgotten – it is easy to drift when you have your head down and are working hard
  • Address any differences in their understanding of the role and what they need to do to succeed in our organization
  • Ensure that common language (using your mission, vision, values and strategy statements) are being used in different departments
  1. Once this second meeting is over, they should have absolute clarity of your expectations and understanding of what they need to do. They walk away and become a wordsmith in making any tweaks, revisions, or edits that you talked about. Then they send you a second copy.
  2. As you receive everyone’s 1 sentence, type them out on individual pieces of paper and tape them to a whiteboard. On your own, or with your Executive Leadership team, arrange them on the whiteboard according to your organizational chart. Look over your entire organization for the following:
  • Gaps
  • Repetition and redundancy
  • Areas of potential conflict
  • Opportunities to adjust people’s responsibility to take on the next challenge for your organization

This part was vital to our process as I was able to finally understand why we were having continual system problems in certain areas. It also allowed me to identify those who were overburdened and others who needed more challenge.

  1. Repeat steps 3-4 as many times as needed until everyone (including you with your direct report or Elders Board) has a completed 1 sentence job responsibility.
  2. Send all completed job responsibilities to your Admin team. Get them to print out each person’s 1 sentence with their name and role below it.
  3. At your next staff meeting, have everyone go around and briefly explain their position.
  4. At the end of the meeting, put out a few tables and place everyone’s job responsibilities on them. Make sure to leave ample time at the end of your meeting so people can read all of them. Have them write a few encouraging words to each person. Leave them out for a few days if necessary to allow everyone to do this.
  5. Hand their sheets back to them and tell them to place it next to their desk.

8 Effective Outcomes

Here were the outcomes we experienced in our team as we did this process:

  1. Every person, no matter where they were positioned in the organizational chart, was able to think long and hard about what their unique contribution was to the mission and succinctly express it one sentence
  2. Team Leaders were able to ensure that they were on the same page with the desired outcomes of the team member’s role (Remember most of the objectionable human resource situations you find yourself in are due to mismatched expectations!)
  3. Team Leaders and Team Members collaborate during the process, increasing trust and teamwork
  4. Team Leaders are able to capitalize on the organization’s mission, vision and values language, ensuring that the organization’s DNA is included in each role
  5. The Senior Leadership Team/Executive Pastor was able to view the entire organization from 30,000 feet being able to spot gaps and redundancy
  6. Each team member was able to peruse everyone else’s one sentence to see how everyone fits
  7. Each team member was able to give and receive encouragement
  8. Team members have one sentence near their desk, constantly reminding them of their influence and gifting

Take Action

There you have it: one of the best exercises from the pages of my leadership book. The beauty of this tool is that it is transferable between paid and unpaid teams as well!

Take some time to plan this into your staff or leadership team calendar. You will see a marked increase in ownership and team unity.

You’ll also be reminded again that as your team gets better, you’ll see increased mission fulfillment.

And that is what it’s all about.


Character Matters Most: 3 Lessons from the Life and Ministry of Billy Graham

No matter your religious background, it's nearly impossible to ignore the tremendous legacy of Billy Graham. As the world received the news this week of his passing, his influence permeated every news feed, including my own on Facebook.

Reports say that Graham spoke in front of live audiences totaling almost 215 million people in his lifetime. He was the pastor to Presidents and some would say the entire United States at pivotal times of distress and decision.

His simple message and contagious passion for Jesus affected spiritual transformation in millions of people. And yet, throughout his life and ministry, there wasn't a controversy or scandal that sidelined or marginalized his ministry or impact.

Graham's power and influence came because his message matched his mandate; he practiced what he preached in word and in deed.

As we reflect on Graham's life, we need to be reminded of the unmatched importance of integrity and character.

You just can't fake it
We've all heard it, and for years I said I believed it: character matters more than competency.

And yet in the past, there have been times when I have promoted a rock star speaker or leader to a level of leadership that their character either didn't match or simply wasn't ready for. The end has always been a downright catastrophe.

This is the simple but painful lesson I have learned: influence plus character brings fruit. Influence minus character brings disaster.

[bctt tweet="Influence plus character brings fruit. Influence minus character brings disaster." username="christhroness"]

So, how can we facilitate the better equation? Not merely through education. Humility, grace, trustworthiness, and integrity cannot be taught. They are forged in patterns and rhythms of a growing disciple who understands that the ministry and mission are more important than themselves.

In this way, you just can't fake it - character matters more than competency.

Learning from Billy
So how did Billy Graham live a life above reproach? How did he keep morally clean in a morally unclean world?

In their book, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley outline three of Graham's convictions that led to his lasting influence.

The starting point of these convictions lay in Billy's belief that "spiritual enthusiasm does not make you immune to greed, pride, lust, and ambition." With that in mind, Billy and his entire organization committed to living out these three safeguards:

1. Shady handling of money
Graham and his team knew that emotional appeals work. With the massive crowds Billy spoke to, the inherent temptation would be to wring out as much money as possible from an audience.

However, Graham refused to go down this road. Instead of looking at the audience to help his ministry continue, he created a fundraising plan beyond his speaking ministry to finance the mission. This method was unheard of at the time as other traveling evangelists would simply pocket the money for their personal use.

Graham ensured that the offerings given during his events were not the sole provider for his financial needs. Because of this, his team continually downplayed the offering to ensure it was not a distraction or hindrance from the gospel message he presented.

2. Sexual immorality
Graham knew that with being widely known and celebrated came sexual temptation.

In order to combat this issue, Graham and his team pledged to live above reproach with members of the opposite sex. He said, "We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have been even the appearance of compromise or suspicion." This meant that they wouldn't be in the same room alone with a member of the opposite sex other than their wives.

As faith leaders, we must do more than not play with sexual temptation - we must flee from it. Scripture doesn't leave much room for interpretation when it comes to the gravity and consequences of such sin.

Graham knew this and led himself and his organization to flee from any appearance of sin.

3. Exaggerated accomplishments
Graham knew that there were no small sins. Therefore, he decided to put procedures in place to promote truth-telling. For example, instead of exaggerating the size of an audience, Graham and his team accepted crowd estimates from the police and other officials, even if they believed there were more people in attendance.

This is a lesson needing to be retaught in our social media age in which optics seem to matter most; where we can angle our pictures in such a way that our gatherings seem fuller than they are; and when we drop names and numbers purposefully to tell people how successful we are.

When we exaggerate our accomplishments, we erroneously believe the lie that we are what we do, and in so doing, tether our identity to our work. When this happens we ride the rollercoaster of our success' and failures, instead of finding our identity in Jesus' work.

Graham warred against the tendency to show himself to be more successful than he was because he wanted to show how great God was, and not himself. We need to do the same.

Character or competency?
Brad Lomenick, former Catalyst leader said, "Talent and ability may help you get to the top, but it takes character and integrity to stay there."

Do you believe this?

As leaders, we need to not only develop skill and acumen but sharpen every ministry and leadership tool we can, just never at the cost of character.

Billy knew this, lived it and proved over the course of his ministry. And it was because of this integrity that God immensely blessed and anointed his ministry.

And that's why his legacy and his influence will be remembered forever.


Facing the Monster: receiving feedback and criticism

The Big Ugly Monster
If you've been a leader for any length of time, you know "the monster" and the feeling that comes from facing it all too well. It's the person who approaches you after a sermon and says, "Pastor, can I give you some feedback?" and you see the one page of single-spaced notes they have taken. It's the email after a leadership meeting with the subject title that reads, "A few thoughts…".

You feel the anxiety in your stomach. You play out possible scenarios and your response in your head. The big ugly monster keeps you up at night.

It's the monster we don't want to face. And yet we must.

Leadership: does pride or humility follow it?
There are some who say that being in a leadership position naturally lends itself to pride. I understand what they mean. Sometimes leaders take the spotlight, have the mic and always get the last word.

When this paradigm of leadership is adopted, leaders think of themselves more highly than they ought to, and pride becomes their default and their downfall.

When leadership is all about you, of course pride is the danger.

However, leadership can be one of the most humbling and refining instruments in God's toolbox.

Why do I think so? Because as I lead, I realize more clearly than ever than those who I lead have to deal with…me.

My annual review has refreshed this concept for me.

The Review
I set up an anonymous online form in which any staff member, no matter where they are positioned in our organizational chart, was able to anonymously answer 4 questions:

The questions were:
1. What is Chris doing well and should continue doing?
2. What should Chris stop doing?
3. What should Chris change or do differently?
4. Is there anything else you would like to say?

I received 18 anonymous surveys that were sent directly to my Lead Pastor. He then went through each one and summarized the main takeaways.

Facing the Monster
Here are a few of my reflections on facing the scary monster of feedback and criticism:

1. It's not as bad as you think
Through this process, I was reminded again that even the feedback that stung wasn't all that bad. The main reason for this was because I choose to receive it with a growth mentality, rather than a defeatist mentality. I have learned that when faced with feedback, I have the power to choose how I will receive it. Instead of allowing it to defeat me, I choose to use it to develop me.

When it comes to the difficult topic of feedback and criticism, we go to the worst-case scenario.
I don't think this has to be the case. I left my review feeling more encouraged and receiving more clarity on how to grow moving forward.

Why was I energized? I was reminded that God continues to use my strengths in communication, vision, leadership and preaching to build CA Church.

2. It's more necessary than you think
This review again exposed all of the weak spots I am aware of: impatient for progress and typically driven toward tasks rather than people. But it also exposed things I didn't even know existed like being distracted by technology in a staff prayer time or a failure to make one decision in a timely matter that negatively affected a group of people.

It is vital for any growing leader to provide avenues where people can be real with you. Mining for feedback is more necessary than you think because as a leader, you model a growth mindset for your team. Feedback should be a normal, everyday process in a healthy team. Yet often, as leaders, we are good at giving feedback, but not so great at providing avenues for our own evaluation and performance.

If you step out as the leader and ask for honest feedback, you model that it should be sought after is a normal part of leadership and can be used as an agent of growth for any ministry or organization.

3. The gospel is more functional than you think
I don't think there is anything more effective than feedback to make the gospel real to you in your role as a leader. As Christians, we give intellectual attestation that we do not find our identity in our work, but often times we place it on our performance.

Receiving feedback makes the gospel granular as it forces us to answer the question: am I defined by my work or by Jesus' work?"

[bctt tweet="Receiving feedback makes the gospel granular as it forces us to answer the question: am I defined by my work or by Jesus' work?" username="christhroness"]

This applies both to my strengths and my weaknesses:

  • If I apply the gospel to my strengths, I understand that any credit given to me actually belongs to God who created me, saved me, empowered me, wired me with gifts and is the author of my story. I understand that I am a product of a wider community that developed me, loved me when I failed, and believed in me when I didn't. I can't take credit for any of this. God receives the glory - I don't.
  • It also applies to my weaknesses. Hearing painful insights about my weaknesses, sin, quirks, personality or oversights doesn't destroy me. Through the gospel, I am reminded that God's love for me is constant, both on my best and worst days. I am reminded that I receive a righteousness through Christ that I did not, cannot, and will not earn. It was given to me freely and abundantly in Christ.
  • You see how grace starts to feel real? Receiving feedback and criticism provides a boundless opportunity for you to once again understand, and be in awe of, Jesus.

    It's your turn
    How will you start the process of mining for feedback?

    I'll help you. Using the four simple questions above, create a Survey Monkey survey and send this out to your leadership team, Elders, or staff.

    They will be glad you did as they are able to voice their insights (both positive and negative!). You'll learn about your strengths and weaknesses. You will also be reminded again of the sufficiency of Jesus.

    It's a win/win/win.


    3 Ways to Prioritize Prayer in 2018

    The Challenge
    To a room of successful Christian leaders, Puritan John Owen said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”

    In other words, a prayer-less minister is a pitiful pastor.

    John Owen challenges leaders to use prayer as the litmus test for true fruitfulness, impact and success in ministry. Do you use the same test?

    [bctt tweet= "John Owen challenges leaders to use prayer as the litmus test for true fruitfulness, impact and success in ministry. Do you use the same test?" username="christhroness"]

    Whether you are a Christian leader or not, I am sure we would all agree – at least intellectually – that prayer is important. But what about in practice?

    The Problem
    There is a wide chasm between what we know intellectually and what we experience existentially regarding prayer.

    Why is this?

  • Technology Technology makes us practical atheists. It struck me, after watching the Christmas classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that every single problem John Candy and Steve Martin encounter in the film could be solved by my cell phone. Things have changed since 1987.
  • Schedule It’s packed, which means no time for Sabbath, rest and reflection. Our work schedules are more demanding than ever as we try to make ends meet while living in one of the most expensive places in the entire world.
  • Culture I wrote about the contributions of Charles Taylor’s cultural analysis here, but he notes that our culture enforces “the buffered self”, which Collin Hansen describes by saying: “Meaning, morality, and satisfaction come from without the self in Christianity. A buffered self seeks all that from within.” Our culture prizes self-sufficient humanism, not prayer.
  • Life and Family It is difficult to carve out any time in the midst of Disney dance parties (I would pay a high ransom if these were ever filmed), snotty noses and sleepless nights.
  • As a pastor, I often hear people say they are unsatisfied with their prayer life. They indicate that it could always be better. When we read the list above, it is easy to see why.

    So, what do you do about it? In the summer of 2017, I was unhealthy: too busy, tired and running on empty.

    I decided to do something about it: I lost weight, created more margin and most importantly prioritized prayer.

    I am happy to say that I experienced the healthiest season of ministry in 10 years. What did I do?

    The 3 Ways Forward

    1. Pray intentionally everyday
    I heard about another Christian leader who prays the Great Commandment, the Fruits of the Spirit and the Great Commission every morning in the shower. I thought this was simple and effective, so I started to do it myself.

    Think of how powerful this framework is:

    Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31): This prayer directs my love and worship to God first, and then to others second.

    The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23): This prayer focuses on the areas of growth and refining needed in my life. Throughout my day, I am reminded to ask the Lord to give me patience in a meeting, love for my family or gentleness with my kids.

    Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20): This prayer prompts me to live my life on mission, in partnership with Jesus.

    As you start your day, intentionally pray through this simple framework. It will anchor your soul, capture your love and send you on mission.

    2. Pray for a day
    There was an old dusty policy in our staff manual that I finally took advantage of. The policy states that every full-time pastor is allowed 1 day away a month to pray. For 7.5 years I didn’t take advantage of this gift.

    However, this past fall I scheduled a day, once a month, to get out of the office and pray. I had to battle the magnetic pull to get things done, the fear of appearing lazy to the staff and outsiders, and the constant distraction through email and technology to actually pray.

    I walked, I sat in coffee shops, I journaled, listened, reflected and grew in prayer. I am not anywhere close to where I want to be, but I did have this day set aside to learn the rhythms of prayer.

    Perhaps you don’t have a policy that enables you to do this, but could you schedule a morning away once a quarter to get out and pray? I’m sure your spouse or Lead Pastor would support your desire to commit yourself, church, family, and city to God.

    3. Get others to pray
    Instead of allowing technology to pull me away from prayer, I decided to leverage it.

    I reached out to trusted family and friends and asked if they would be a part of my prayer team. I had 32 people – uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, friends and former colleagues – say yes.

    I send an email once a month, highlighting how God answered prayer that month and requesting prayer in the three main areas of my life: personal, work and family for the next month.

    This strategy has forced me to reflect and acknowledge the ways that God is working and answering prayer, as well forecast ahead to invite God into every realm of my life.

    At first, I felt awkward asking these people to pray for us, but now I am so grateful for these 32 prayer warriors who stand with me as I serve God and my family.

    I can assure you, this email doesn’t take long and the benefits are immeasurable. For instance, I had numerous people tell me that something had changed in my preaching this fall. They couldn’t place what it was, just that it was more powerful and insightful. The funny thing is that I had changed nothing. I credit this to prayer.

    I was more focused, energetic, reflective and thankful. I credit this to my prayer team interceding for my family and I.

    If you want the template I use to send this out, fill out the contact form, and I’d be glad to help you out.

    Time for Action
    Tim Keller, in his book Prayer, notes “Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle – yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.”

    Although I am still striving towards my goal I have found these words to be true as I started prioritizing prayer in my life.

    Perhaps you can’t implement all three of these, but surely you can start one today?

    You’ll be glad you did and then wait to see what God will do.

    Is this an area that you would like, or need, support and accountability in? I would be glad to explore a coaching relationship with you.


    The Best Books of 2017

    When it comes to choosing a good book to read, the possibilities are (almost) literally endless.

    The Library of Congress, in Washington D.C., houses almost 18 million books. To add to this, almost 200 hundred thousand more titles are added every year.

    This means that in 50 years, there will be another 10 million works available to read.

    Adding the 18 million and the 10 million coming in the next 50 years, there will be 28 million books for the modern reader to peruse over the next fifty years!

    If you were a particularly voracious reader capable of reading about 2600 books in your lifetime, for every 1 book that you read, there are another 10,000 you are not reading!

    If you are an avid reader, I understand the emotional turmoil this causes. Isn’t it obvious? You don’t have time to read bad books!

    So, with the paralysis of choice, what books would I recommend to you?

    Here are my 5 favorites of 2017:

    5. The Power of People Skills by Trevor Throness
    Sure, I have a little bit of a bias with this choice.

    Trevor is my uncle and coaches Executive Leadership Teams in fast-growing, successful companies. He has coached me over the past few years and has added immense value to my leadership skills on the topics of team leadership, strategic planning as well as building and keeping high capacity teams.

    I believe that marketplace leaders have much to offer to church leaders, and Trevor does not disappoint with his book. He offers practical ways to help assess your team, get the right people in the right seats and create a culture in which you attract and retain the best people.

    Keeping your dream team together is one of the most difficult aspects of church leadership, and Trevor offers ways forward to navigate these tough situations. For instance, do you know how to challenge the underperformers on your team? Or, how to get the best out of your star employees? Trevor addresses these important topics in the book.

    If you lead teams, I would recommend buying a few copies and going through the book together.

    4. Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor
    This is by far the densest read of this list. Taylor, a Catholic philosopher from McGill University, expounds on the location of the moral good for the modern person.

    How did we get to the place where our search for the moral good ends with ourselves? Taylor offers an intellectual history of the building blocks of the modern identity.

    This book helped me understand modern worldviews and brought precision in diagnosing the dominant ideas and worldviews of our culture. For example, Taylor traces how we have gone inward to find the moral good. He says, “We go inward, but not necessarily to find God; we go to discover or impart some order, or some meaning or some justification, to our lives.” This inward journey is the mantra of our culture.

    It is a demanding read, but one that I often cite, either directly or indirectly, in my preaching and teaching opportunities.

    If you take the time to thoughtfully engage, you will be invariably enriched.

    Interested in more of Taylor's thinking? I summarized another one of his books here.

    3. Making Sense of God by Tim Keller
    I don’t think I have ever read a poor Tim Keller book, and Making Sense of God lived up to my expectations. Keller has a masterful way of combining deep scholarly research and content with practical and devotional applications.

    Keller comments that Making Sense of God is the prequel to his best-selling book The Reason for God as it deals with all the underlying assumptions and questions of the secular person. The Reason for God deals with the intellectual stumbling blocks to Christian belief, like reconciling God and the reality of evil, while Making Sense of God focuses on the emotional and cultural components such as the belief that science is eclipsing religious belief.

    I found this book to be thoughtful, thorough and convincing. Not only is Keller an introspective author, he is also a trusted voice. His character, leadership, and passion for the Church and its renewal in North America is inspiring.

    This book should be on your shelf.

    2. Reformed Theology by Michael Allen
    This is the best theological book I read in 2017. I finished my Master’s degree in July of 2017, and as an elective, I took a course on Reformed Theology, Spirituality and Thought. This book was the required reading.

    Allen, the instructor for my class and a current Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, does a remarkable job articulating a clear synopsis of Reformed thought.

    I found the book helpful as I interact with people who have questions about Reformed theology. The thinking of the 16th-century Reformers, unfortunately, gets reduced down to acronyms, which does an enormous disservice to the breadth of thought from the leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

    If you’re interested in Reformed theology or just looking for an accessible theological work to sharpen your understanding of this pivotal time in theology, this is the book for you.

    1. You are what You Love by James K.A. Smith
    This book takes the top prize without a doubt. Smith, a philosopher from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, outlines how the practices and habits of our lives have more to do with our affections (what we love) than anything else. He has helpful chapters on family life, children and youth, cultural liturgies we all are shaped by (often unconsciously), faith and work.

    So, while you may have a desire to be a spiritually healthy person, he asserts that you need to recount the habits of your life (or liturgies as he calls them) as they shape you more than anything else.

    Driven by the Augustinian thought that what we love the most shapes us the most, Smith helps spread light on some of the reasons why you may be feeling spiritually dry.

    For instance, one habit I had in my life that was contributing to my spiritual malaise was the incessant noise of the television. Every morning, while eating breakfast, the morning news would be running in the background while my family would eat breakfast together.

    Instead of having the opportunity to spend time talking and reading Scripture together, we would be attentively taking in the nonsense that dominates cable news broadcasts. This liturgy, or habit, instead of drawing us closer together and to God, would drive us further from Him and each other.

    This is an insightful book that should find its way onto your bookshelf.

    Which books will you read 2018?
    With one year gone, comes another and new opportunities to read broadly, thoughtfully and vigorously.

    Which books are on your list to read in 2018?


    4 Ways Leaders Needlessly Spend Their Chips

    I can confidently say that I am one of the worst poker players you will ever meet for two specific reasons.

    As my wife would attest, I have a terrible poker face; she can read every emotion. Also, the game just takes too long for my restless personality. I end up going “all in” on a 2-7 off suit hand, thereby losing the buy-in cost.

    However, I understand the basic premise: the more chips you have to play the better. Effective poker players build a stockpile of chips by winning hands.

    The same principle can be used in leadership. Effective leaders build a stockpile of “chips” after wins. What are these wins? Consistent godly character, sincerity in caring for people, courageous leadership in the midst of challenge, and passion.

    Leaders want to amass a stockpile quickly, but it’s highly unrealistic and the effort can be exhausting. Rarely do you gather thousands of chips at a time; however, the small and often unnoticed wins will add up with patience and perseverance.

    As difficult as it is to collect leadership chips, unfortunately it is easier to spend them unwisely and often unintentionally.

    What are some of those unwise and unintentional expenditures? Here are 4:

    1. Indifference…over the small sins
    I don’t know many leaders who are actively pursuing murder or fraud, but I do know some who are playing with gossip and coarse language.

    I am one of them.

    As like all disciples of Jesus, leaders have blind spots, i.e., the ways in which we can’t see ourselves and the small character deficiencies we are comfortable with.

    Blind spots have consequences in our relationship with Jesus. But they also affect the people we lead because they see them when we can’t.

    [bctt tweet="Blind spots have consequences in our relationship with Jesus. But they also affect the people we lead because they see them when we can’t." username="christhroness"]

    The most important quality leaders need to develop is not their competency, but their character. So, the off colored joke amongst your leaders, the not-so-bad Christian swearword or your underlying competitive attitude with the church down the street seep out of us and spend our leadership chips.

    You don’t notice them, but you can be sure that the people that spend time with you do.

    Regular time in the Word, authenticity in community and people in your life who are willing to give you honest feedback are all ways you can ensure that this isn’t one way you are needlessly spending your chips.

    2. Unavailability
    While it is true that there are too many ways people can access you (email, phone, text, Facebook etc.), consistent inaccessibility erodes people’s trust in a leader.

    Hear me: you need boundaries around when and how people can contact you. But you also need to be available. Whether it is a reference form for a volunteer, a phone call from someone in crisis or a teammate who simply needs 5 minutes of your time, people must have access to you.

    Absent and unreachable leaders rapidly lose their influence and spend their leadership chips.

    How to check if you’re unavailable:
    • How many unread emails does your iPhone icon say you have?
    • Any dust collecting on texts sent from colleagues or volunteers?
    • Can you remember the password to your voicemail at work?
    • Is there a running joke amongst your peers of your propensity to be missing in action digitally or personally?

    If it’s true that trust is the currency of leadership, how can you build trust when people can’t connect with you?

    3. Disorganization
    The chasm that separates competent leaders from extraordinary leaders isn’t massive. The good news is that this chasm can be bridged with a few conscientious steps.

    One of the simple ways to be exceptional is to be organized.

    I don’t mean that you have to be an all-star administrator, but people need to know they can rely on you to deliver what you promised.

    For instance, does your leadership team trust that your 7 pm meeting will actually start at 7 pm (and finish would you said it would)? Or do they show up expecting to see you frantically photocopying meeting agenda’s and finishing off the PowerPoint presentation?

    Does your team covertly, or maybe not so covertly, roll their eyes when you excitedly cast vision for a new initiative because they know that no execution follows your impassioned ideas? The execution of a vision happens because you formulate a realistic plan, and a vision without a plan is a dream.

    Rolled eyes and wasted time are small ways that your unorganized leadership are unnecessarily spending your precious leadership chips.

    4. Unawareness
    It may be hard to accept, but you’re not a perfect leader. I know I am not. The quicker you come to this realization, the better it is for you and those you lead.

    Acceptance of this truth is not enough: a further step needs to be taken.

    Leaders, you need to be able to answer a hard question: in what ways are you imperfect? The answer to this question will empower you to lead more effectively.

    The obvious, humbling and terrifying truth about leadership is that those who you lead are downstream from you. They get the good and the bad. An oblivious leader doesn’t understand how the people downstream from you are negatively impacted by your weaknesses.

    Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t striving for perfection. But as you continue your education of yourself, you will understand how to manage your weaknesses better.

    I see two simple ways forward: ask honest people for feedback and follow through with their recommendations and develop a thick skin for criticism from people that you trust.

    Unawareness spends your leadership chips. Awareness earns them.

    [bctt tweet="Unawareness spends your leadership chips. Awareness earns them." username="christhroness"]

    Steward your chips
    Leadership is a harder game than poker. It demands your constant attention and growth, and the losses are more consequential.

    Being unconcerned (with your character), unavailable, unorganized and unaware squander your leadership chips quickly.

    You will need to cash in your leadership chips at some point: for the new church plant or proposing an extra faith-filled budget. Don’t waste them on these easily corrected leadership slip-ups.

    And if you are thinking of inviting me to your next poker night based on my self-assessed poor poker acumen, I’ll save you the time:

    No thank you.

    Are you a millennial church leader and need some help in any of these areas? I'd be excited to explore a coaching relationship with you.


    The Emotionally Healthy Leader

    Some time ago, former Pastor and Evangelical leader Rob Bell articulated a painful reality for leaders:

    Leadership is “death by a thousand paper cuts."

    These metaphorical papercuts are the seemingly insignificant nicks that we occur along our leadership journey, but they add up over time. And they sting.

    It’s one little scratch here. Another there. All of a sudden you realize you're bleeding out very, very slowly.

    And if you’ve led anything for some time, you’ve probably received a few of them already.

    What are these papercuts? They can come in the form of a backhanded compliment that you receive after giving what you hoped was an inspiring sermon: “Pastor, your sermons aren’t nearly half bad as they used to be!” It’s the family that praised you two months ago that has now left your church for the big one down the road. Or, it’s the death of a vision you carried for some time.

    So how do you deal with these inevitable wounds? Through my leadership role, I have felt these cuts and learned two important lessons that have aided me:

    1. Figure out what you’re feeling
    The ability to read your own emotions is an elusive, but vital skill in leadership, one that is difficult for a number of reasons:

    First, life in the West doesn’t cultivate emotional reflection. The fast pace doesn’t enable us the time to self-reflect. We continue to work hard to pay mortgages, drive kids to soccer and try to go on dates with our spouses. If it’s not the pace, it’s the incessant noise coming from our devices: text messages, Facebook notifications and the six o’clock news.

    Second, the personality of a typical leader doesn’t help either. We are often driven, passionate and focused on the future. It’s difficult to think about what has happened in light of what still needs to happen. Who has time to process when Sunday is coming?

    Third, I don’t think being a male makes this easier. It could be just me, but it seems that emotional articulation comes easier to females than males. Most guys only know three emotions: hungry, tired and angry (when your team loses).

    Finally, the journey in and down can be a scary one too. It’s the same eerie feeling you get when you know you have to dig out the Christmas decorations from the crawl space; it’s dark, cramped and worst of all, you don’t know what you will find.

    Our feelings are indicators of how we are actually doing internally. And for some, the temptation is to remain numb. It seems to be easier – and less terrifying—this way.

    For these reasons, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern how you are actually feeling. But it is important.

    Behind every papercut is a story, and in every story, there are often painful emotions.

    Take time to fight against yourself and your culture to make some sense of your inner life.

    [bctt tweet="Take time to fight against yourself and your culture to make some sense of your inner life." username="christhroness"]

    2. What will you do with these feelings?
    Once you’ve labeled your feelings, what do you do with them?

    The ways in which you deal with the papercuts (disappointment, failure, insecurity, and fear etc.) will either release you to long-term ministry health or will disintegrate your integrity, leadership, and family.

    Here are some unhealthy ways leaders deal with emotions:

    First, the temptation is to medicate ourselves to cope. It does not matter your track record, upbringing, education, tenure or zeal – no one is immune.

    Some favorite medications of Christian leaders are the misuse of power, unhealthy sexual appetites, pornography, substance abuse, food and escapism (usually some form of slothfulness).

    Second, we start to vilify everyone we perceive is against us. It can get wearisome, always being defensive. In order to regain some control, we go on the offensive by creating false narratives about the people we interact with.

    The good news is that although difficult and painful, each papercut is actually an invitation to make the gospel functional in your life. These painful reminders serve us as they speak of our re-occurring need for grace.

    Grace is the cure. It aids the healing of your leadership pain. In His grace, God will meet you in your area of struggle and disappointment and speak words of life, reassurance, and hope.

    So, when that power family leaves your church, you are reminded that these people were never yours to begin with. You realize once again that the Kingdom is bigger than your church's address.

    When that backhanded compliment comes, you see again how your identity cannot be rooted in your work.

    Or when your vision dies, you get let go, the finances are in the red, the Elders turn on you, the conflict is too much, the desired change is rejected, the church plant fails, the staff member leaves, the church floods, your preaching is terrible, you aren’t seeing the growth you want...

    …you see again that you are in much need of grace.

    Now what?
    I wish I had this all figured out as I still struggle to understand how I am actually doing. But I realized a while ago that if I didn’t lead myself intentionally in this area, my default is to drift to being alive and busy, but feeling dead.

    So, I have tried to do the following:
    • Send out a monthly prayer letter to trusted friends. I outline what has happened, what is coming up and ways to pray for me, my family and ministry.
    • I take one Friday a month for prayer, reflection, journaling, and dreaming.
    • I have friends who keep me accountable and ask me hard questions.
    • I desire to lead authentically with those around me; I try not to portray something, someone or somewhere that I am not.

    Deciding to bring your papercuts to Jesus doesn’t overwrite them or dilute them; rather we meet Jesus in the midst of them. Often, it is in these moments when He becomes more real to us than ever before.

    [bctt tweet="Deciding to bring your papercuts to Jesus doesn’t overwrite them or dilute them; rather we meet Jesus in the midst of them. Often, it is in these moments when He becomes more real to us than ever before." username="christhroness"]

    And if you’re a Christian leader, what more could you want or need?

    Do you need some help in this area? I'd be excited to explore a coaching relationship with you.


    Top Three Preaching Insights

    Malcolm Gladwell coined the idea of the ten-thousand-hour rule, saying that in order to be an expert in anything, you must invest ten thousand hours of time.

    This goes for any skill: a golf swing, writing (I’m putting in my time!), crocheting…or preaching.

    Considering preaching, this is quite a daunting task. Let’s do some quick math:
    • 1 sermon/teaching opportunity per week
    • 52 weeks in the year
    • 1 sermon = 40 minutes
    • Prep time = 10 hours
    • Total time per week preparing and preaching =10.6 hours
    • 10.6 hours x 52 weeks = 551.2 hours per year

    At this rate, it would take someone just over 18 years to collect ten thousand hours of experience in preaching. Based on this, I am still 8 years away from becoming an “expert” in preaching. This may offer some reassurance to some who attend my church!

    But as I have invested time, energy and resources into this important craft, I have acquired some valuable lessons.

    After 10 years in ministry, 2 degrees and countless preaching and teaching opportunities, what top three preaching insights that I have received, would I pass on to you?

    1. “Preach with snowshoes, not stilts.”
    Richard Pratt, Old Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, gave this sage advice during an Old Testament course I participated in at Re:Train (at the former Mars Hill Church in Seattle) in 2011.

    The meaning behind is phrase is quite simple: the preacher needs to learn how to handle and expound larger chunks of scripture.

    It wouldn’t take long to learn this lesson when snowshoeing on your local hill this winter. Imagine trying to maneuver through 4 feet of snow with stilts –not an easy task. The science behind snowshoes is easy to understand: displace weight across a larger surface area so that you don’t sink into the snow.

    So it is with preaching. The temptation is to zoom in on one word, or one phrase in a verse and preach that phrase for the entire duration of your sermon. The danger is that we miss the nuances of the rest of the text.

    This can lead to a counterfeit type of expository preaching.

    Imagine if someone took one or two sentences out of an email you sent to a loved one, and simply focused on the words and phrases in those sentences, without zooming out and understanding the greater meaning to the message. Not only could the text be misconstrued, but the overall essence could be lost.

    If we use a bigger chunk of scripture, we will have more ground to convince people that the sermon is the true testimony of Scripture.

    2. “Find the F.C.F.”
    When it comes to preaching, Bryan Chapell has probably influenced me more than any other thinker.

    Author of “Christ-Centered Preaching”, Chapell is well-known as a leading voice in preaching Christ-centered, redemptive sermons. The content of my formal master's level Homiletics course at Knox Theological Seminary was derived from this text, a must own book for every preacher.

    My greatest takeaway from Chapell is his insistence on finding the “Fallen Condition Focus” or the “F.C.F.” The FCF is “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written.”

    The F.C.F. prompts the preacher to ask a question: what is the burden in the text? What was the struggle? How does the weight, consequence, and reality of sin play out in the text to be preached?

    Likewise, it forces the preacher to discern how Genesis 3 (the fall of man) has impacted the people, story, situation, and perspective of those in the Scripture passage being preached. The key then is to connect it with our struggle right now.

    In order to find the F.C.F. ask and answer these three questions:
    1. What does the text say?
    2. What concern(s) did the text address in that original context?
    3. What do we share in common with those for or by whom the text was written?

    The F.C.F. takes preaching from the third person to here and now and the people sitting in the pews.

    Effective preaching is about bringing truth to struggle. It is not just about telling people what to do, but knowing people’s burdens and bringing the truth of Scripture to them.

    [bctt tweet="Effective preaching is about bringing truth to struggle. It is not just about telling people what to do, but knowing people’s burdens and bringing the truth of Scripture to them.
    " username="christhroness"]

    3. “Preach to the heart”
    Tim Keller is an amazing expositor of Scripture and of culture. I still listen to his sermons to secular University of Oxford students as a model of evangelistic faithful Bible preaching. Keller is an amazing resource for any young preacher trying to get better as he demonstrates how to preach to the heart. Tim Keller's "Preaching" book is a must-have for any preacher.

    As I see it, preaching to the heart assumes two things: you know the text and you know the people.

    Knowing the text means that you put the time in during the week through thoughtful study. Knowing the people mean you put in the time with people, learning about their dreams, hopes, struggles, and fears. The former is being a good expositor; the latter is being a present pastor.

    It is vital to preach to the heart because, as Scripture states, it is the seat of what you trust and are committed to the most. The heart is the seat (not of the emotions as our culture tells us) but of what you trust and are committed to the most (see Proverbs 3:5-6). Your heart affects the mind, will, and emotions.

    If we don’t preach to the heart, we end up cultivating Tyrannosaurus Rex disciples: big heads, small hands and, most tragically, a small heart.

    [bctt tweet="If we don’t preach to the heart, we end up cultivating Tyrannosaurus Rex disciples: big heads, small hands and, most tragically, a small heart." username="christhroness"]

    So what now?
    Perhaps the next step is to buy one of these thinker’s books or to set up a few people to evaluate your next sermon with these directives in mind (possibly remind the reader of the three directives).

    Take one of these three lessons outlined above and commit yourself to getting better today.

    Preaching matters. More than ever we need to be committed to effective communication of the timeless Word and to the changing culture.

    And remember it may take time to improve – perhaps even up to 10,000 hours’ worth.

    Want a coach to go over some of your sermons with you? I'd be glad to help. More information here.