Continue ... stop ... start
At the beginning of 2017 these three words bring clarity to our planning. Ask your team or congregation these three questions.
1. What works well and what should we continue with?
What does 'works well' mean? The programme, service or product produced the desired outcome and supports the vision of the congregation. In order to determine this, an analysis must first be done. But we should also look at the culture in the congregation. How well do members work together and how do they treat each other? Which positive aspects of this culture should we continue with?
2. What should we stop doing?
There are some things, ways of doing things or interpersonal relationships that shouldn't be continued in 2017. Some congregations make no progress, because they carry too much baggage with them. We should never allow sentiment alone to determine our future. Are there any aspects of the culture that are negative or irrational? Did things happen which led members to become disgruntled? Are there decision-making or communication processes that hinder progress? Put all of them on your stop list ... and then stop them. Making a wish list is not enough.
3. Which new initiatives should we start with?
Once you stop doing certain things, you create space for new ones. Innovation is the continual process of trying new things. Sometimes they will fail, sometimes they will succeed. This is the nature of innovation. Is your congregation stuck in a rut? Can you contribute fresh ideas? It may be programmes, systems, products or even better ways of working together. Do you spend money on research and development in your budget?
Each leader should ask him-/herself two questions:
What should I personally continue, stop or start with?
What should my team/congregation continue, stop or start with?
'The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles'- Oren Harari
Five of the devil's favourite strategies against leaders
There are people who never speak about the devil, and then there are those who can't stop talking about him. These extremes are rather unhelpful – both are wrong. The key to breaking free from the devil's activities and influence, is simply to acknowledge it. If you expose it to the light of Christ, it loses its power. Below are a few strategies that the devil uses.
This is a well-known strategy that the devil uses often: discord in the church. Why? Because it works. In Galatians 5 Paul gives us a list of the practices of the sinful nature (verse 19). In this list we find, amongst others, discord and dissension. It stands against the list of the fruits of the Spirit. But sometimes we have to hold strong opinions – like Martin Luther with his 95 theses. It is most likely not a strong opinion for Jesus if it leads to discord and bitterness.
There are two particular ways in which Christians succumb to pride: success and a wrong definition of maturity. The most difficult test of our character is not failure, but success. It is easy to give all the credit to yourself when things go well. It is easy to be humble when things go wrong. The aim of Christian leaders is not to persuade people to follow them, but rather to persuade them to follow Jesus. This struggle against pride is a daily fight.
Pride also creeps in if we confuse Christian maturity with knowledge – the more you know, the more mature you are. Knowledge makes you proud; love makes you humble. Leaders should be changed by love and humility every day.
Discouragement says you aren't good enough; I'm not making a difference; I can just as well give up; etc. The best antidote for a lie, is the truth. Therefore, your base against the lie should be the truth – also the truth about yourself. Christ will never send such negative messages about yourself.
Self-pity is discouragement on steroids. Self-pity tells you there is no way out – nothing will change. Self-pity is dangerous, because it shoves you onto the side line – you remove yourself from the game. Self-pity also steals all your joy.
5. Small transgressions
"The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts" (C. S. Lewis).
It begins with compromises over small issues. The first misstep is always the most difficult – then it gradually becomes easier. If you can't be loyal in small issues, you cannot be trusted with big ones.
By knowing what the devil's strategies are, half the fight is already won. If you don't notice the devil's strategies, you can't fight them. Once you see them and hold them to the light, they lose their power.
I'm wasting my time
How often do we walk out of a meeting saying it was a total waste of time? What is worrying, is how often we say it. How can you, as a leader, eliminate things that waste time? Look at the patterns that rob you of your time and simply decide: I'm not doing this any more. The key is to identify the this.
Carey Nieuwhof identifies five things that are a waste of time for leaders.
Many leaders struggle with this. It is almost completely unproductive. One can understand that leaders have much to be worried about. Leaders are tasked with solving problems, especially problems that no-one else can solve. This can make leadership a breeding ground for worry. There is 'n big difference between thinking about a problem, and worrying about a problem. When you think about a problem, it leads to a solution; worrying about it leads to nowhere. That which you worry about, will likely never happen.
"My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened" (Michel de Montaigne, French philosopher of the 16th century.)
Leaders should think about problems, but not worry about them. If you are worried, gather a group of leaders, point out the problem and ask for their insight. Focus on what you know is true, not what you feel is true.
2. Get together with someone who doesn't have to meet you
If someone asks to meet you, you will most likely say yes. Think carefully: as your congregation grows, you will have to meet more and more people throughout the week. You don't have to meet all of them. Decide beforehand who you will meet. Of course you will have to get together with other people, but only after you met with the key players. Is may sound harsh, but will allow you to do more. Beware of meeting addiction.
3. Over-manage things that don't need management
Many leaders don't manage; they over-manage. Good management adds value; over-management sucks the life out of an organisation. We meet for hours about something we can solve in five minutes. If you can do something in five minutes, do it in five minutes. Start leading; stop managing thing that can manage themselves. Leadership builds something new; management organises what is already built. Leaders go out to build something new.
4. Ineffective e-mails
E-mail is the top communication channel today. It is astonishing how many hours disappear every day because of unnecessary e-mails. How do we know an e-mail is unnecessary? Imagine coming back from holiday and finding hundreds of e-mails in your inbox. As you wade through them, you find that only about 10 to 20 require an answer. The world continued without you. Answer only if you can add value to the conversation. Answer as briefly as possible. Let the e-mails that support your calling get the most attention.
5. Work when you are tired
Control your work flow. If you are tired, relax. Sometimes it may be necessary to push your boundaries, but too many leaders try to do it every day. They are exhausted; they go home exhausted. Your brain doesn't function properly if you are tired. If your computer screen becomes blurry, walk away and come back when you feel better. A key ingredient of this is sleep. Get enough sleep.
Plan carefully how you use your time. You have limited time – use it wisely.
What am I reading now?
Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Os Guinness)
The era of the Internet is the era of the self and the 'selfie'. The world is full of people who are full of themselves. Globally, connections between people are characterised by unbelievable speed and range. Anyone can communicate with everyone from anywhere at any time – immediately and affordably. Active and interactive communication is at the order of the day.
These days everyone is in the business of self-promotion – they present themselves, promote themselves, defend themselves, sell themselves or share their innermost thoughts and feelings like never before. We have become apologetics, if only for ourselves. Our purpose in life is to get as much public attention as possible and to reach as many people as possible with our products. And our biggest product is ...OURSELVES.
Are Christians ready for this new era? We are representatives of God – His advocates. Despite all the new media, many of us are yet to discover a way of apologetics that is as profound as the good news that we preach – as deep as the human heart, as subtle as the human mind, as powerful as the series of people that we meet in our extraordinary lives every day.
Our time is the biggest opportunity for Christian testimony since the time of the apostles. We should embrace this opportunity with courage and creativity. At the same time, we should handle the challenges of this new communication in a realistic manner. Unfortunately, the global era has pointed out certain weaknesses in our current approach to sharing our faith. We and the Christian testimony have become unpopular, because we have lost the art of Christian persuasion. We do this in a world that is becoming more and more post-Christian and pluralistic. Many churches don't even attempt evangelisation anymore. Others trust in formulae and one-size-fits-all evangelisation.
The church didn't appreciate the diversity of humanity, and therefore many of our evangelisation attempts have failed. The Christian testimony has become unpopular and unpersuasive. The church has fallen silent and often hides it under the mask of social justice. The problem is that many people are eager to spread the good news, but they are ineffective if we encounter people who aren't interested – they just don't care.
Persuasion is the art of persuading people who don't care to listen to what we say. Our best arguments should be aimed at people and not at winning arguments. This creative persuasion is critical in the church today. The public domain is more secular and the private domain more diverse. We must learn to speak other languages besides church language.
This book is about the logic of persuasion. He says Christians are good at preaching and teaching, but weak at persuasion – the ability to talk to people who don't want to or don't care about listening to us. This persuasion should be both rational and imaginative. This book handles the dynamics of conversations and persuasion.
For those interested in evangelisation – all Christians – this book will be invaluable.