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There are those among us who seem to just be born with a high level of grit. They don’t stop until the task is done. They could be a number crunching CFO, a dedicated employee, an artist at a canvas, or a leader who just won’t give up no matter what.

Let’s set those amazing folks aside for a moment…

There are others of us who have ideas and think of ourselves as entrepreneurial. We love to start things and many times will walk away before it’s finished. In the church world we tend to think of these people as higher caliber leaders, but we aren’t. We just have more books (that we read the summaries of…), and most of the like-minded people are the ones who speak at conferences. They make us feel better about ourselves.

We’re the starters. We’re the quitters.

We are the First In and First Out.

I have a theory that is not backed by data anywhere because I don’t have the money, nor the grit, to study it. I just think that we’re the ones who quit too soon. We didn’t like middle school and we couldn’t wait to get to high school. Then we hated high school. We would have quit both if our mom would have let us. We wanted to play the drums, but it didn’t come naturally so we gave up after five lessons. We got to college… yeah, we hated that too and would have quit if we weren’t on scholarship and investing large sums of money.

There are hundreds (dozens?) of us nationally that just took a ministry job at a local church after finishing our education. For the first time ever no one is going to make us stay after it.  The clock is ticking and a whole bunch of us flame out before year three. We launched that ministry, we started that thing, we even started those things that had nothing to do with our job description, we got people excited…and then…the newness wore off.

For those of us who took the only job we could get, we find ourselves in a dangerous spot. This is really no different how we felt back in middle school or taking viola lessons. This is work. This takes grit. We quit, and we say that God has called us to something else. Or our shallow attitude gets the best of us and we get fired for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or for not understanding how to do the right thing at the right time.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have some folks around us who wouldn’t let us quit by year three. This is the fundamental idea behind Leadership Pathway. When we say “stick it out for three years” to a 23-year-old they may wonder if we realize that we’re talking about more than 10% of their entire life. It sounds eternal. Later in life, we have the perspective that three years sounds more like a long weekend.

For those of us who've been down this path and lived to tell about it, it's now our turn to be First In with those coming behind us, and help them to not be the First Out.


"EEK! My Kid is Thinking About Ministry" 4 Things to Consider

"EEK! My Kid is Thinking About Ministry" 4 Things to Consider

In a previous post, I set up this conversation that I tend to have a lot this time of year with parents of high school juniors and seniors.  Here’s the first of four things that I tend to say over and over:


There are countless books written about the topic of vision—vision for the country, world peace, a business, or a church. Let me ask, what’s your kid’s personal vision for himself or herself?

The best vision is as specific and measurable as possible. Everyone struggles with this question for their life. Most 18 – 25-year-olds struggle even more so. Most of them I talk to are impressive, and they tend to first say, “Whatever God wants.”  This should be the first answer, and I applaud it, but to get them to think more deeply, I tend to ask it this way: “If I jumped in a time traveling DeLorean and went out five years, found  a photo you took and brought it back with you, what would be in the picture?” 

I then follow up with simple questions like, Are you in a city or rural setting? Are you employed? Where? Are you married, or are you waking up alone? You are getting in a car and driving to a location at 8.30 A.M. on a Monday—is it an office? If so, to do what?

I would encourage you to have this conversation as early as possible (10th grade maybe) and re-visit it often. I remember doing the Paterson Process Thinking Wavelengths with both of my kids at this age. They are now in their mid-twenties, and we have revisited this conversation often.

So, here’s the deal…unless you are sitting on piles of cash, you may not want to haul off and finance your (or your kids’) next two decades on an education built on a foggy vision.

What lifts the cloud of vision? It is action built on self-awareness, not prayer alone, not reading alone, not studying alone but action. If your student is not actively volunteering at a local church but is voicing that he or she wants to pursue vocational ministry someday, then I’d go as far to say that this vision is not a vision at all.

Great vision is followed by a clear mission, supported by strategy, fueled by plans, and measured by metrics.  This is true of your student’s life, as well.

I suppose that if your teen was thinking about becoming a veterinarian, you’d say, “You know, honey, you should think about either getting a part-time job with a vet or just volunteer with our vet to see if you’d like it.”  My son worked a part-time job as an intern during his high school years with a single A baseball team. He’s now in his 4th season full time in baseball, moving up the ladder in professional operations.

Here’s a wrong response to a high school student who wants to go into ministry:

“Well you pray about it, and whatever the Lord wants, He will direct you.”  Don’t get take this the wrong way, you should pray about it, and the Lord will direct them. But his must be followed by action.

I’d urge you instead to encourage her to jump in, do something, volunteer, get out of high school a few hours early, and spend time in the kid’s pastor’s office. Who knows? Maybe she’ll be asked to serve as an intern there.

I’ve encountered 23-year-old students with a master’s degree from a seminary and thousands of dollars of school debt yet still unclear as ever about their vision. Now they are caught somewhere between a lack of readiness and in need of a job.

This is why we founded Leadership Pathway. We need to help fewer arrive at this point on their journeys.

Now, am I saying, your Generation Z-er, cannot move forward until they have their life fully planned? No, of course not. But, should you calibrate the investment of time, money, and distance accordingly? Yes.

Speaking of investment, the next post will cover that it doesn’t really matter which path students choose in college.

Questions I get Asked

Questions I get Asked

Through my work with both and, I get asked many questions over and over about ministry candidates.

After the character/walk with Christ questions, there are a few that seem to make the top of the list. The questions are similar for a 21 year-old resident as they are a 32 year-old ministry leader. If you are thinking about taking your next step in ministry in 2018, ask yourself these. What are your answers? Does your resume, the stories you tell, and your current supervisor see your track record similarly?

// What have they built/started?
// What have they led?
// What was the shape of the ministry they inherited and how did they leave it?
// Do they hustle, have passion? Do they have drive?
// Are they coachable/teachable?
// Do they understand themselves with tools like the enneagram, DISC, Strength Finders, or Thinking Wavelengths?
// Do people follow / do they show signs of being an influencer?
// Do people want to hang out with them?
// Will they engage in conflict or are they a peacemaker? Can they resolve the conflict they have gotten in to?
// Can they think strategically about complex situations and systems?

The end of a calendar year is a great time to get a truth-telling friend or co-worker and do some self-evaluation. Even if you are staying put in 2018, a few hours of this is good for your own development.

A Lead Pastor's Take on Residency

A Lead Pastor's Take on Residency

Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield, Colorado (Denver) is several years into building a residency program.  Recently, I *sat down with the Lead Pastor of Discovery, Steve Cuss, to talk about the unique view a senior pastor brings to such an endeavor.  Discovery averages about 900 people on a typical week and is about fourteen-years-old.

Can we begin with an overview of where Discovery has been in terms of residency? We started residency in 2015 with one resident from Nebraska Christian College in Omaha. She began mid-year in January in our Worship Arts Department, and we added a second resident that summer onto our Children’s team. In 2016, we expanded by adding residents to our Youth and Discipleship departments. Currently, we have a total of 5 residents, and there is always an overlap between who is new and who is doing a second year. I can’t really keep up with it, and that’s why I’m glad we have Renae Loring, who serves as our Pastor of Global Ministries and Leadership Development.

You’ve mentioned that you view Discovery as a teaching church. What do you mean by that?Yeah, we see ourselves as a development church. I came to Christ as a teenager from a complete blank slate—an unchurched home. When I went to a Bible College, I got a 22% on my Bible Entrance Exam! I couldn’t put Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the correct order, for example. But, I did have a youth pastor that very quickly put us on the front lines of ministry; we had high ownership of the church service as teenagers. I’m sure we were pretty bad at it, but we really believed the weight of the church was on our shoulders.

Almost three decades later, I can draw a straight line from that leadership development to my skills today. So just like my youth pastor did for me, I want to make sure we don’t set the bar of excellence too high so that a residency cannot be involved. In order to be a teaching church you have to ensure they have the opportunity.

So, this model is much like a teaching hospital, right? For example, one doctor doesn’t walk into the room alone; rather, there’s a line of younger people in lab coats learning alongside him.Yes! The other added bonus of being a development culture is how well it develops our current leaders. Leaders don’t grow if they are not developing people, so I see two sides to the development coin.

What do you hope are the outputs? What are your expectations upon a student completing this program? I guess we have a few goals. One is to add to what they learn in college. Some pastors are quick to say things like, “I wish they taught me ____ in college,” but honestly, that has never made sense to me as there are some skills and experiences that can only be learned in the trenches of ministry.

I hope our residents learn to fail well, to build a resilience for what is a very tough role, to learn to engage with actual unchurched people, to understand themselves better, like what makes them tick or what ticks them off—just some base level self-awareness, and to learn some significant skill and craft in the process.

What does that look like? Well, yesterday, I took two of my residents to a lunch with a local Muslim imam and an urban African-American pastor to talk about racial injustice and systemic poverty. I’m constantly asking people I schedule meetings with, “Can I bring my residents along?” The week before we were teaching those same residents how to walk onto a stage after a worship song and lead what is next.

So, I expect our residents to come away with a broad range of skills for ministry. Most of all, I expect our residents to be brave and to continually step significantly out of their comfort zones and depend on God in their ministry.

From where does your motivation to do this come? After college, I served as a hospital chaplain for a year and did 4 units of “Clinical Pastoral Education.” The basic premise is to put a ministry student in a trauma-filled environment for a year in order for him or her to learn who he or she really is. I discovered a great deal about myself and how I perceive the world—what I am afraid of, etc. I come from a tradition that didn’t know what to do with a shadow or dark side. This experience really opened my eyes to the power of God which is available when I offer him my dark side, temptations, fear, etc. This experience motivates me to broaden our students’ experiences in becoming more self-aware.

It takes a commitment to fail positively, especially publicly (on stage, etc.) for residents. How have you determined where the line is for acceptability? Oh man, this one is very difficult. It helps that we have communicated to our congregation that “we hold excellence and development in tension,” and also that “everyone of us is in development.” I am better at preaching than our residents partly because of gifting, but mainly because I’ve done it more often. My first years at Discovery I had some really cringe-worthy sermons. Ha! So, will we have some uncomfortable moments from our residents? Yes. But, someone has to let them do this in a safe environment.

Surely you follow these “fails” with evaluation and coaching, right? Yes. I don’t think we have a handle yet on the “acceptable line,” but I look for courage and vulnerability. If a resident is courageous, willing to put himself or herself out there and give it everything, I’ll generally go to bat for them every time. If the resident is moving toward comfort, I’ll turn the heat up a good bit instead.

If a church your size is considering residency, what would you say to their senior pastor? Well, first I’d say, don’t do it to get cheap labor. You will have to truly invest in people, not extract from people.

Secondly, I’d say that you need residents to keep you young and open to new thoughts. Be open to their ideas that they share in meetings and in other settings. The energy our residents bring is fantastic!

Thirdly, if you want to grow as a leader, bring on a resident. If one of your key leaders needs to grow, make him lead a resident.

What are the ingredients required that go into making a successful residency? Logistically, you need money, housing arrangements, and a firm commitment from your staff to develop students. Then, you need a bit of time to figure it out. Assess your situation and realize what does your team and church intuitively do that is worth passing on, and then turn that into some sort of training path. It does not have to be formal, but it must be intentional.

For us, it is a 9-month class that meets every other week for 2 hours, and also a monthly lunch and a monthly meeting on spiritual health. That’s a purposeful commitment that is real. Lots of man-hours and personnel dollars go into this.

It helps a great deal, too, if you enjoy your residents’ company. I always look forward to time spent with my two residents; they are both outstanding, quality people.

 For a church your size to have a potentially deep bench seems like an added blessing to the process, yes? Yes! When I hire from within, I get excellent people who inherently get the culture but don’t have outside training. When I bring someone from outside, I get great fresh perspective and high adaptability, but cultural fit challenges.

With a resident, I get both.

 To learn more about Discovery’s residency program email Renae Loring, Director of Leadership Development.


*By this, I mean I emailed him questions, and he answered them…but you already knew that.

Where Are the 29 Year Olds? (In one of 3 places)

Where Are the 29 Year Olds? (In one of 3 places)

Over the last eleven years I’ve been in a church leadership conversation that sounds something like, “We’re looking for someone who is probably 29 – 32 years of age, and has built a ministry and ready to take their next step. Know anyone like that?”

No matter the role in a church, this seems to be the center of the target when it comes to looking outside for the next team member. When churches have depleted their internal pipelines, and connections, it’s time to go out and hunt.

I was asked just this week: Where are the 29 year olds who could join our church staff?

From my first-hand accounts, they are in one of three places:

1. Locked Down. They are doing great in their ministry role. They are challenged, they are moving “up” organizationally, and have a clear path ahead of them for the next several years. They’re the Worship Pastor who might be an executive pastor someday.  They were the  middle school, and now high school, pastor who desires to be a teaching pastor someday.  They were the 4th/5th grade director, now they’re over all elementary and they can see the day when they could become a Family Ministry Pastor.

You get the idea.

2. They quit 6 years ago.  Unfortunately, this 29 year old took the wrong path at age 23. I’ve written before here on four dangerous paths to begin. Early in ministry they had limited exposure, and therefore, limited understanding, of what the future could be. I’m not talking about size of church, or pay scale. I’m talking about ministry effectiveness. They took the role they could find. They listened to a voice they shouldn’t have. They wake up a year in and they began to thnk if this is ministry I’m not doing it…

I pitch vision every day for those beginning in ministry to start in a place that is obsessed with advancing the Kingdom. These are the types of places that shape a future vision.

We expect young leaders to have a vision for their ministry. How about those of us who are older start having vision for what the young leader could be someday, too?

I’m convinced those that get through the first three years of ministry have the emotional intelligence, and pain tolerance, to do this the next fifteen or twenty years. Some will do this for a lifetime. This is what the Kingdom is crying out for…a leader with just a little experience, to go to the next level.

A friend recently said, “The wrong time for a new mom to evaluate her parenting skills is in the first weeks after delivering her first child.” The same is true in ministry. We must coach young leaders through these early years. 

We are losing too many this way, and this is on those of us who are twenty years ahead of them.

3. They were never there in the first place.  The local church needs leaders who could have done anything with their one and only life. The college Junior & Senior awakening to a call of ministry has a couple of options before them:  1.) Seminary or 2.) Para-church.

Number one leaves them deeper in debt than they already are, and some may argue too much of this too early will only make them that much more irrelevant to their peers. Option number two puts them on a path that will take them someplace other than your church staff.

We need another path for them.  This path can be you and your church.

I would challenge that we must create option #1 above on your team. We have to find those with the most potential, and begin them early on your team in residency. Lay out a developmental path that will help fill in their gaps so they can continue to grow and raise their lid of knowledge, heart, and skill.

Someone on your team must champion this. They have to take on the role of coach, and not just supervisor. Young leaders need both. Having a vision for the youngest on the team, with the most potential, will help answer your question in a few years: where are the 29 year olds? They will be right there with you.



If blogs, conferences, books, and tweets were the answer to leadership development I think we’d be in good shape.  What’s made the difference in my personal life and development over the years is coaching. It takes a “real person” sitting across the table, on the phone, or looking through a video camera from across the country, reminding me of what I said I was going to do, and asking me how it’s going.

It’s with that in mind that Leadership Pathway offers a second year of Coaching Huddles designed especially for those who’ve been in ministry less than three years. The emphasis of these gatherings focus on how to begin the habits and actions to be a life-long learner. They are limited to ten or fewer, and are delivered over zoom video conferencing.

Click below to get more information. Space is limited we kick off again in July.


Nobody Gets There on their Own

Nobody Gets There on their Own

Someone sent me this picture last week. I think this is about 1987. That's my home preacher, Wayne B Smith, in the center front. I sat on the aisle, house right, row 5 for most of my life up to age 18 and was deeply affected by watching hundreds (or was it thousands?) respond to the Gospel.

To the left of Wayne is my big brother. He was the first guy dumb enough to sign me up to be "staff" at his Kids Min Day Camp when he was a kids pastor.I was also inspired by his work ethic, and "can-do" mentality. This typically meant he just didn't go to bed when his ministry had a big event. I would shake my head and go shoot basketball in those days.

To the right of Wayne is a guy named Wally Rendel. Wally still preaches to this day in a church that is advancing. He has encouraged me greatly about how to help college aged young adults in to ministry, and he's doing it. His wife, Barbara, had me play in the band on some Easter services when I was in high school. Wally and Barbara are like second parents to me.

The guy in the very middle is Jim Burgen. Jim was Wally's youth pastor in those days. I think Jim was the first guy to put me in a band for a youth group thing. As I recall they all knew what they were doing, and I just kept the key boards turned down. (except for that helicopter sound affect on that one tune from my DX-7). Jim is now a preacher at a little church in Boulder, CO.

I could go on...

It's the Monday after Easter. I hope your Sunday was a great one. I was reading last night in my social media feeds, and in texts, about how many were at this church and that church, and how many baptisms happened all over the country.  If you're a church leader I bet your social media feed was similar.

Big days tend to make me reminisce about all the people that asked, loved, encouraged, and kicked me over the last 25 years. Nobody gets to where they are alone. If you're like me it actually takes more than just a village to help you along the way. There's probably not a picture large enough to include all of these folks who've meant so much to me over the years from KY, Vegas, Michigan, Chicago, Omaha and now Denver. 

I got a couple of texts "thinking of you" and those are the best. So I'm texting a few today as well. Hopefully you are in the yard working, or riding a bike, or playing catch with the kids, but you are already thinking what are we doing Sunday? Take a moment and make the list, and shoot some thank you texts out before you take off in to next week.

If you're like me the list is a long one...Kristin, Bart, Greg, Schneids, Andy, Saul, Jim, Ronnie, Gene, Bob, Amy, Curtis, Bill, Rick, Ben, Jim, Laban, Matt, Aaron, Jordan, Jeff, Bruce, Katie, Tim, Paul, Sean, Mark, Nate, Scott, Andy, Don, Megan, Lance, Nancy, Steve, Sammy, Lindsay, and just a few moments ago a guy named Jim made this list.

If I sat here longer I would think of more I'm sure. Like you, I'm off to next weekend planning.

Happy day after Easter.


Core Competencies

Core Competencies

About five years ago I did a series of roundtable lunches with senior leaders of churches. I asked them two questions:

What are you looking for in your next hire?
Why did you, or your executive pastor, have to fire someone on your staff?

After speaking with about 80 leaders across denominations, and from churches of all sizes we landed at about 150 general answers. I took this spreadsheet and had it printed at Fed Ex Kinkos (it was quite large) and hung one copy on a co-worker’s wall, and hung one copy on my office wall.

The goal was to boil down this list in to a common set of core competencies or soft-skills. I wanted to boil this off to five. I think we got it down to twenty something.

There are probably a thousand competencies to doing ministry this is not meant to be exhaustive (so please no hate mail about Biblical training and discipleship) keep in mind that this list assumes a lot.

For one, it assumes theological education is handled elsewhere for those that want to preach and teach. It also assumes that most of the core issues of personal spiritual growth are handled as well.

We were assuming a lot, but we landed on this list for a few reasons:

First, this is what church leaders told us. After all, what is needed in the field is a question that the Church owns. Not colleges or seminaries. This is theirs to answer.

Secondly, the landfills are full of discipleship materials. There are plenty of people on that topic.

At the end of the day, the Kingdom is spending billions on education and discipleship, and I’ve always tried to get at the core issue of why aren’t there enough leaders, and why are we still under-preparing the ones we do have?

Third, we were seeking to answer the question: Why do people get fired? And what ends ministry careers early at churches? In other words, where are the gaps in the skill preparation of how we are preparing people for ministry.

The gap does not appear to be in theological education.  We're good there. Our seminaries are full, and there's a ton of content on line.

The gap does not appear to be in discipleship. You may argue that there aren't many disciples and that's fine, but I'll point you to this week's list of books and resources, and last year's landfills. 

So where is the gap?

My co-worker Andy Dykhouse boiled this list down (below), and we’ve been tweaking/running on this list for four years. They are broken into thirds and build upon one another. It's a big list, and this is why we need two years of residency just to address the topics and coach through them.

This is the list that eventually led us to launch 

I’m curious what do you see that we are missing? Email me let’s talk about it.


Self Care


Time Management


Taking Initiative

Fail Forward



Work Ethic


Decision Making

Managing Details

Courageous Influence

Personal Finances

Gospel Presentation


Passion for Personal Growth

Bible Application

Lead a Meeting


Think Strategically

Developer of Others

Team leadership

Conflict Management




Culturally Proficient

The Lumineers, Chasing Awesome, & Sunday Mornings

The Lumineers, Chasing Awesome, & Sunday Mornings

I haven't seen the Lumineers live...yet.  Mainly cause if I can't sit on the front row I don't wanna go. I'd rather pay hundreds for a good seat, than to sit up stairs looking down at the top of HVAC ducts in an arena, and I don't have hundreds for a good seat.

What a great time to be in your twenties! (those of you who are in your twenties). I watch the Lumineers and I realize rock n roll is now acoustic, authentic, unpretentious, approachable, and it's about fair trade coffee, being vegetarian, and good conversation.

The Rolling Stones were in their early 60's before they valued such things.

Yet some things remain the same when you're in your twenties. I watch the Lumineers (on my TV from home) andI come back to what we all still have in common:

// Gathering
We want to be with a large group for something bigger than ourselves. We have stuff in common. We're going to stand in line, stand in the rain, we won't be denied. When I watch on my TV with my fair-trade-free-range snacks I am at a distance. If I was in the middle of the crowd we would be together and I would belong.

// Anticipation
The lights go down, we stand to our feet and scream.  It's crazy, but it's still universally true. What's going to happen first? What's going to happen next? My daughter told
me about "this and that, how cool, how awesome..." after seeing the Lumineers recently.
She sounded like me and my friends a couple decades ago. 

// Joining
When prompted and led well we join in and sing our guts out. We continue to do this don't we? And honestly here's a thought: the BEST PERFORMING ARTISTS know how to get us to join in. my twenties it was Dave Matthews and Sting, in my thirties it was John Mayer. This might be cheesy, but I'll never forget Prince leading an arena together with the house lights up and only an acoustic guitar. Now it's the Lumineers and there's nothing like it!
// Craft
Stuff done well like the arts, killer audio, great visuals, amazing lighting, musicianship, singing on key, programming that paces well and takes a crowd on a ride, and working at it and thinking it through, practicing til your fingers bleed, writing a great song, decades of preparation,
...and three and a half minutes of payoff where everyone joins in cause this is awesome.

Now...those of you who know me well know that I WILL pay hundreds to sit behind the plate with Kristin and the kids, and sing take me out to the ballgame a bit pitchy (speaking of things that never change).

You also know that this is not a post about a band that I love (although I have listened to Cleopatra often...mainly cause I think my son in law sounds just like them).

Those of you who know me have already filled in the blanks and you know I'm poking at what we seem to have lost on Sunday mornings. We oughta own these things. If it can be better on Sunday morning it ought to be. Look at a peacock, a sunset, and the color of your kids eyes, and then explain why Sunday is lame.

Church guys will say, "people in their twenties aren't drawn to __________ " (fill in the blank of what Church guys don't want to do).

But man, I watch a video of thousands camping out and screaming their guts out to Cleopatra & I wonder if I believe all those blog posts, tweets, and experts who've led us to abandon awesome when Christians get together.

I'm not talking about "entertainment" on Sundays. Those of us that lit the fuse on that stuff back in the early 90's cringe when we look at where it took some of our friends. But a response that just ignores what "normal" is, is just dumb, it's weak, and appears to be just lazy.

Don't do what we did in the 90s. Do what you do today.

I get to be around these awesome college students who are thinking about ministry, and I continue to tell them to work hard, glorify God, have a deep understanding of the Word, love people, Love Jesus, but also do the best you can with your craft and in a phrase...CHASE AWESOME. I can't own this conversation. This is for the twenty somethings on stage Sunday morning. Those of us who are a couple decades ahead should cheer them on, help pay and pave the way, show them the mistakes to avoid, but inspire them to get after it.

Nobody is going to fill an arena to sing their guts out to uninspired and predictable. The Lumineers and their management folks know this.

Nobody is going to fill a church for uninspired and predictable either.

Stuck on Residency? Here Are Three Guiding Principles

Stuck on Residency? Here Are Three Guiding Principles

The title for this post could be “You Should Start a Residency Program at Your Church Even if You Aren’t Ready” because I know some great churches who keep putting off pulling the trigger.

I blogged here before about the importance of residency, and why churches should move beyond short internships. Recently, I’ve had a few conversations with church leaders that I know would be great providing oversight to a resident leader, but they simply couldn’t get approval from their executive teams. “We’re not quite ready,” is the typical response.

If you answer yes to the following questions I think you church is the type of church that should jump in:

Is our church advancing?
Is our church a place where I believe someone could learn best practices for ministry?
Do I have a staff member who has proven they are a developer of people?

Let’s face it, you can talk about it, write some sort of curriculum, and try and engineer out all of the issues. But guess what you’ll be doing at the end of the first year of residency? You can guess that you'll be changing and tweaking it! So don’t spend too much time on isolated development because you will have gaps.

Church Leadership Residency is a journey. It’s one leader coaching a younger leader on how to navigate ministry. Education is linear…experience is fluid and will be forever changing based on temperament and personality of those involved.  


Since “activator” is in my top five of Strength Finders, allow me to help push the topic by offering simple concepts of how to do get a residency going:

1. Start Small. I think one idea that keeps churches locked up on this topic is that they study marque residency programs at massive churches (there are a couple out there & we need dozens more) that have been running for a decade or more, and they know they can’t do that.

Here’s my encouragement: start with ONE resident. See if you can form best practices and take great notes for the future.

2. Find Partnerships, Coaches, and Models. They’re out there. I’m personally working on Leadership Pathway. We will have coaching helps, and a program available by fall based on the learning of the last four years.

3. Choose the Developer & Avoid the Need. If your average church attendance is around 1250 (give or take 500 people) you probably have somewhere around ten to thirteen FTE on the team. Some of these teammates are killing it, and some probably need help in their week-to-week ministry.

My advice is to identify the staff member who has proven to be a developer of people and start there. This may be the strongest/best looking department on the team, which may cause questions.

Remember: you must want more for the resident than from the resident. This is not about helping out a weak ministry.

Here’s the reality: all day everyday folks like me are in conversations with churches of 150 to 15,000 who cannot find what they are looking for in their next hire. Disruptive change in how we prepare next leaders is a critical need in the Kingdom with no short fixes.

Don’t put this off another year. Like a lot of leadership moves you’ve made…you’ll never actually be “ready.” This will take a small risk with a lot of vision.

How Well Do You Know...

How Well Do You Know...

I remember I was about 35 years of age and was sitting in a boardroom (or was it bored room?) watching a friend lead a church through Paterson’s Thinking Wavelengths.  Up until this point in my life I had done some spiritual gifts tests, some other personality types of things, but had never seen this version of this test.  It was a light bulb moment for me as I began to have thoughts like “no wonder I get bored once things are built and running more smoothly…” etc. etc. I was lost in my own world and of no good use to the board room the rest of the day.

Who knows, maybe I was just in a place to listen. Maybe I was more open that day to hear what I needed to hear, but it was a game changer for me.

We all live and lead out of perspective.  Perspective is gained through experiences. Those experiences that transform us the most tend to be the ones of which we are most passionate. That day in that boardroom was a transformative experience for me, and one which continues to be an area of passion for me.

Risky statement:  “Team fit issues are always the employees fault.”

Many days a week I hear I just don’t fit in here. Or it’s expressed as they’re just so…and I just am…and it’s time to move on…and when I look at their work history they’ve moved on every 18 months for the past eight years and I wonder are they learning anything or are people today as clueless as I was 11 years ago?

It’s amazing how many 45 year olds have never taken Meyers Briggs, DISC, Strength Finders, or have even heard of Thinking Wavelengths.  And yet they are going to run to the next employer with all this pent up angst that no one understands them.

If you haven’t invested in these types of tests today is the best day to do it.  If you haven’t sat with someone who has known you for a decade or more and asked them to affirm or deny the results, then today is the best day to do it.

Knowing who you are beyond the surface, AND understanding the implications of it in your work history will save you the same frustration at your next place of employment. God has uniquely wired, crafted, and gifted you to be of use in His world. This is His story that we are characters in. Understanding your perspective and part will help you take the next best steps.

Don’t learn these lessons the hard way like I did. If you are younger than 35 and reading this you have a head start on me. That’s a good thing.

Moving from Summer Internships to Residency

Moving from Summer Internships to Residency

(this is part one of a two part post)
When I began in ministry there was this thing that churches did called, “summer internships.” I started in ministry the year Bill Clinton began his first term. Many of you reading this are too young to remember Bill Clinton as President, and yet, churches are still doing summer internships.

Ways in which summer internships work:

- Cheap (yet questionable) labor
- Keeps the college student out of his parents’ basement

 Now, occasionally I’ll meet someone who is awesome and in his tenth year of ministry or something, and he’ll tell me that it worked for him. But looking more closely at the cause/effect, I would suspect that this person would have been great anyway. Did the 8-11 weeks working at that church actually help develop this individual?  I’d vote no.

We need to continue to find better ways to actually develop future leaders, and in so doing, I’d like to offer up reasons why summer internships no longer work:

 - Ministry Schedule. Summer is about camp, vacation, conferences, retreats, and some more vacation. A future leader never gets to the regular rhythm of meetings, ministry, and normal programming.

- Conflict Avoidance. Both the future leader and the supervisor are more likely to avoid difficult conversations that lead to development because, “she’s going to be gone in a few weeks.” This is probably the biggest issue. Future leaders need safe, healthy, and difficult conflict in order to grow and learn.

- Supervising. I’ve had countless Student Pastors tell me that they felt the “pressure to find something for him or her to do” every week. This is a bit tied to point one, but it puts ministry leaders (and especially youth pastors!) in a difficult spot because they tend to rely on a summer intern to help with camp. But what about the week after camp? This leads to busy work for both parties.

- Investment. Any of us can do anything for a short season. Go to Haiti for 3 weeks, exercise for two days, or be an intern for a summer.  However, when a future leader is going some place, and it’s going to be a one or two-year (even better) commitment, then it begins to feel a bit more like a tour of duty.  And we need more of that level of commitment by both parties.

So, if all you can do is summer internships, and that’s all the budget you have, then go for it.  But I’d consult you to reserve internships for people who are in-house to your church already. Consider changing it to be a leadership development next step to those with whom you are already working. Who knows, maybe an internship will open her eyes to vocational ministry. This would be a good thing, but we need something more to actually address the question of preparing the next leader.

We need thousands of churches embracing the developmental path of residency. We'll address how in the next post.





What The Boss Taught me about Worship Leadership Prep

What The Boss Taught me about Worship Leadership Prep

Bruce Springsteen is the type of artist that I might pay good money to go see, but I’ve never really listened to his music. I can hum a few of his songs that are the most popular and certainly appreciate his art. He’s iconic but not a favorite necessarily.

Yet he taught me great lesson in preparation a few years back.

I remember seeing him perform at the Super Bowl halftime show. You can watch it here.  And it was a “normal over the top” Super Bowl show. It was some months later that I was able to see the documentary “behind the scenes” look at what it takes to pull of the show.

I’m sure you’ve seen similar rock n’ roll documentaries, but what stuck out in this one was the length of time and investment that Bruce went through to prepare his spoken word at the beginning of the show.

They showed multiple clips of him working on the words, practicing the timing, and rehearsing the band over and over months in advance.

I was mesmerized as I watched Bruce work diligently on just a couple of sentences, while rehearsing those same 2 or 3 familiar songs over and over. My mind flashed back to how much effort I had not put in to writing transitions between songs or elements on a normal Sunday morning worship set. 

I had forgotten the simple fact that I was preparing for way more than the 100 million viewers for a once-a-year Super Bowl.  I was preparing for the King of the Universe, as well for those believers and unbelievers who were coming to have an experience with Him.

Do you struggle between songs to know what to say? Do you know how to move from one element to the next so that those in attendance can go with you?  Take time to work on these.

Above all, I would argue that preparation is the key. Yes, the spirit is going to move, and you should be ready, but how much work did you put in to the moments that actually facilitate a great worship experience – the moments in between the songs?

My brotha from down undah, Tim Foot, is one of the best at transitions and has written about it here.  Spend time in this area. God deserves it and so does your church.

Athletics & Residency

Athletics & Residency

The NCAA and Gallup partnered together for a study that came to the conclusion that those who participate in competitive athletics generally do better in life than those who do not. 

Those of us who played sports certainly would agree.

Before you go there….YES, I played high school basketball at a very, very, very, small high school, although it was in the basketball-crazed state of Kentucky!

I learned a lot through my involvement in athletics, as did my children. Athletics can teach us endurance, discipline, playing through pain, leadership, and taking direction from an authority figure (sometimes a very loud authority figure!).

This is not a rant about the idolatry of athletics in America or the overindulgent parents living vicariously through their own kids. Nor am I here to dispute the findings of the study. I actually agree, and it makes total sense.

I am here to call us to consider applying just a little bit about what we know about athletic training to the development of our future church leaders.  Consider these six qualities we see in athletics:

1. Culture – It’s cool to be on the team. Teams have their our own lingo, handshakes, and their own nicknames for one other.

2. Exclusivity – Many try out, but only a certain number get selected.

3. Difficulty – Many quit during conditioning – the price is very high.

4. Belonging – If you do make the team, and the team is really good, it’s still a privilege to just sit on the bench. Just watch March Madness. Those guys belong.

5. Coaching – I’ve blogged on coaching before here. I recall my team despising our coach during conditioning, but in March, we overwhelmingly loved him. Continual evaluation, correction, and feedback are necessary.

6. Encouragement – High school gymnasiums, and huge arenas are filled to capacity with raving fans cheering their team on to victory. With this level of encouragement comes great accountability to succeed!

Something to Consider…
As I said earlier, I grew up in Kentucky, the home of the Big Blue Nation, Coach Cal, and the winningest team ever in Division I NCAA basketball. I would argue those dozen or so individuals should be some of the best humans on the planet after they grow up. We put millions of dollars into them, obsess over their every move, hold them to the highest level of accountability, and place them in an arena full of 24,000 people cheering them on to do their best!

Follow me around, and you’ll learn how to be a youth pastor is a mind set that is no longer effective; it would make about as much sense as a University of Kentucky basketball team with no leader, no budget, and no plan.

Developing a great athlete or team takes great intentionality. 

Kuddos to those who know it takes this same ingredient in developing a future church leader. 

Two Powerful Questions to Ask Your Boss

Two Powerful Questions to Ask Your Boss

I was recently asked to come present to one of my favorite church staffs in the city where I live. I could talk on any topic and I had 30 minutes.  This is a multi-layered staff with many in their first ministry. There are also several who are in their first management/leadership role.

Hmmm…what should I have heard if I had been listening when I was first beginning on a church staff?

Well one complaint I’ve heard recently from other young leaders is that they just “don’t have a supervisor who is a developer.”  So I thought I’d take a crack at that and I presented two questions they needed to ask their boss.

1. “What are my gaps?”

Draw a continuum with two points. Point one is “where you are now” and at the other end of the line is the point “where you want to be” in a particular amount of time.  Maybe it’s the job offer after the residency is completed, or maybe it’s the move up to the next level of responsibility. 

Of course, be prepared to hear the tough stuff, and then go act on it! Your development is on you. No matter what it is, ask the boss what she needs to see from you to be able to achieve this.

After you get a short list of action items, then pause and ask....

2. “What are you not telling me?”

I firmly believe that most of us want to be liked. Especially in the local church leadership circle, and even more so when we are first beginning in overseeing staff. I remember it was really hard to say the thing that was going to sting or hurt someone I was leading even if it was for this person’s good. 

How many one-on-ones did I spend trying to say something and failing to do so? Those of us who are pastoral-leaders will especially struggle. So in recent years I’ve been coaching residents, and those new in ministry, to ask their supervisor this question at the end of a good one on one meeting (please choose a good day!).



You Need More than a Mentor: Coaching

You Need More than a Mentor: Coaching

After 13 years of ministry I was fortunate to jump on a start-up rocket ship and fly all over the U.S. consulting in churches. I was probably in four hundred churches over the five+ years. I don’t want to exaggerate here, but I believe I heard over two hundreds times “please help us find a _______” youth pastor, kids pastor, worship leader, executive, tech director, etc. Size of church, denomination, and region of the country did not matter.

I also came to realize that churches and church leaders of all types are still isolated and alone most of the time. Despite the conferences, blogs, tweets, and more, most feel as though they have no one to talk to and no one would ‘understand.’

This is acutely a problem in the first years of ministry. New church leaders who are just beginning need a coach more than ever. I define a ‘coach’ to our graduates as someone who is five years ahead of them in a ministry that appears to be something of which they would want to be a part.  One hour a month on a Skype, or a call, the newbie brings the questions and the coach is there to…well…coach.

I like the definition of coaching as one who supports a learner in achieving a specific professional goal. It’s not discipleship, or even mentoring. We all need these things, too. Coaching is the act of helping a new pastor stay in the game, to realize they aren’t alone, to overcome obstacles, and avoid the future ones.

I had this in my first three years of ministry. I sought it out, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I could tell you their names and they are friends to this day: Glenn, Greg, Bart…when one didn’t have time I sucked the life out of another one. They took me to conferences, they had ideas I could steal, and they had leadership tools I could borrow until I developed my own. Most days I was lost, and many times felt like giving up. They gave me the confidence to know that they had lived through it, and I would as well.

A year in I knew that ministry was hard! Two decades + later I now know the truth: doing anything that is ‘awesome’ is pretty difficult. Why do I take on really difficult and seemingly impossible things? Well, it’s the way God wired me: Walk in to a mess, start cleaning, tear down what’s left, cast a vision, people begin to follow it, they make it their own, and something gets built that is bigger than all of us.

Surely I heard in college that this would be hard, but wasn’t listening. I am sure that I’ve been to countless conferences, and sat through sessions about these topics, as well. But it cemented into me in my first few years of ministry with Glenn, Greg, and Bart. I was fortunate. I was lucky.

WE have to stop allowing men and women to wander into the wrong place, all alone, get beat up, and then quit within the first three years. For those of us who are guiding and encouraging the next generation of leaders we should require them to have a coach as they walk in to ministry. A lot of us should be doing this, too. This should be normal. This should not be luck. Let’s work to make it so.