June 10, 2014

10 Father’s Day Lessons on Raising PK’s

Todd's kidsI will become an “empty nester” in just a few short months. My first born son will begin his junior year at college, and my youngest daughter will embark on her freshman journey. Eighteen years ago this day seemed so far away, but now it is here and I have survived raising a couple of awesome PK’s.

I began knowing nothing. Now I feel like I know something, but definitely not everything. Here are some thoughts that I hope will encourage fathers this week.

  • Remember they are not your kids. They are His. They are called from birth to fulfill a mission for their Father. You just get blessed to have them in your home and be a part of the process.
  • Let your kids teach you how they are best raised. Kids are unique in terms of how they process life and what they are passionate about. Learn your kids first.
  • Have age appropriate expectations. When they are three years old, expect them to behave as such. When they get older this line can easily blur because teens look adult-like, but they aren’t.
  • Give plenty of room to fail and teach about grace. Guilt, shame, and condemnation are strongholds that latch on to us early in life.
  • Most spiritual resources are deposited prior to the middle school years. By the time they are a teen, you help them unpack what you’ve already invested.
  • Believe in your kids. There is no substitute for self confidence in life. They will feel beat up and get beat down, but never let you know.
  • You need to be willing to intervene and make hard decisions for your kids, especially when they are teens. Their hormones, brains, and emotions are not trustworthy guides.
  • Use teachable moments to demonstrate biblical truth at work in life. If you do this well, they won’t even know you are discipling them.
  • God is always at work teaching and leading your kids to become someone you can not even imagine. Trust Him.
  • Don’t let the church activity be equated with being a passionate Christ-follower. Be a model and mentor of Christianity in society. Often times, as the father goes so go the kids.
May 8, 2014

4 Frustrations of 1st Chair Leadership (Post Two)

photo 2This post concludes a series on 4 Frustrations of 1st Chair Leadership. If you missed the first post, please visit http://bit.ly/1mymNkE.

Frustration #3: Independence Surfacing in Unfocused Ministries

This third frustration is the natural outcome of one and two. When you have an unclear vision and reactionary leadership, you lack a long-term committed strategy. Every need creates its own independent strategy. This innately creates its own system of measurement. Success is now measured by how many people we have participating in an event or how few rumblings we are hearing. The measurement of long-term discipleship has been effectively removed from the conversation.

It is extremely important that staffs have a unified and consistent method of measuring success. We tend to default to attendance and giving. While these are two important indicators, they are not equal to transformative discipleship. For example, if a staff has a clearly defined target for the year of discipling people in small groups to live their lives as missionaries in their city, this implicitly has a ton of strategy work to direct and hold the staff accountable. There will be needs in worship, communication, leadership training, curriculum development, age appropriateness, resource allotment and much more.

Second chair staff long for such clarity that they can sink their teeth into over the long haul. They like to lead a process, develop the details, strengthen the organization, and see lasting results. A clear direction like this also makes the “no” to the next new idea or fire burning solution a lot easier. 1st chair leaders tend to be impatient, competitive, and enamored by the new thing. 2nd chair leaders like the focus and process.

Frustration #4: Negativity from Missing Celebration

Okay this isn’t just a 1st chair issue, but a society issue. However, 1st chair leaders set the pace and can be the game changer. Life is fast and we are always rushing to the next assignment. Every weekend needs a ton of programming in today’s modern church and events are getting bigger and bigger.

However, we meet together ever week to plan and actually celebrate in worship. We are gathering consistently in both small and large settings. Taking the time to celebrate is an opportunity we have, but rarely properly engage. Driving to the next thing will ultimately lead to relational tension and empty spirits.

What does celebration produce? It starts with a really good feeling. There is nothing wrong with this. Life certainly produces a daily dose of not really good feelings. We just don’t get in our cars, sit in traffic, arrive at work, run errands, or shop at stores in an atmosphere of unbridled celebration. It just doesn’t happen. Can you imagine how distinctly powerful it would be if your work environment, weekend services, small groups, and leadership events where first prioritized to celebrate? It would be such a powerful contrast to what people experience every day.

This value of celebration brings glory to God, enhances worship, opens people to discipleship, and reveals how God is glorified by what we do. It directs meeting agendas, sets an incredibly positive tone, makes people expectant, engaged, and empowered to invite. I think church culture could really benefit from prioritizing celebration.

It begins with just a great emotional experience however it produces so much more. Choose to create an atmosphere where people love to come to work, show up to staff meeting, and fulfill their mission with passion.

Here are some practical takeaways to help you address these common frustrations:

1. Ask your staff to write their version of your church’s vision in their own words. (They may have some statement memorized, but it would be good for you and them to process it with a new language to make sure it is clear and transferable.)

2. Create a team of key lay leaders and staff which regularly meets to provide honest feedback, direction, and to be a sounding board.

3. Create a yearly milestone that is tied to your vision that can hold you accountable and provide you with an easy “no” to a new idea. It will also give you the platform to hold your staff accountable.

4. Create a list of ways you can celebrate every single week in your staff meeting and worship setting.

By the way, your 2nd chair leader asked me if I could help you learn to create less ideas, don’t be so confident in what you know, involve them in the decision making process, and listen a little more. I told them you were working on it and to be patient. You may want to forward them my blog on Frustrations of 2nd Chair Leadership that can be found at http://auxa.no/1gGpMma.


May 6, 2014

4 Frustrations of 1st Chair Leadership (Post One)

Chair 150x150I have been in ministry for 30 years, and have spent a good bit of time sitting in both the 1st and 2nd chair of responsibility. Half of this time I have been a leadership consultant to churches, and it has been interesting how many times I have been invited behind closed doors to have a private discussion about 1st chair vs. 2nd chair tension. The conversation is usually not hostile or divisive, but it is frustrated. When I sat in the 2nd chair, the work of the 1st chair seemed so clear to me. Then when I got in the 1st chair, the view changed and I forgot what I used to know.

God wires people certain ways for certain reasons. Every wiring has blind spots. Some of these blind spots can grow to an unhealthy size when mixed with stress, pace, insecurity, inexperience, etc. I want to take some time to rehearse some of my most common conversations about the frustrations between the 1st and 2nd chair. Warning: I am going to be straightforward and direct. I’ve learned 1st chair leaders appreciate this kind of conversation.

If you are a 1st chair leader, one of my clients, and a friend, I promise I did not use you as an inspiration for this piece. However, I did use a friend of yours, so make sure they don’t read it.

Frustration #1: Confusion Created By an Unclear Vision

1st chair leaders are clearly the visionaries of the organization. They typically have carved out more time for prayer, study, reflection, and conversation with key lay leaders. 1st chair leaders drive the direction in terms of budget, ministry priorities staffing, and key meeting agendas. They also have the power of the microphone every weekend. I have learned there are a couple of conversations that 1st chair leaders can be very defensive about – preaching and vision. (FYI, preaching length is a common joke nearly every where I go. I want to talk about preaching on generosity in another blog, so no comments about length here.)

I do want to talk about unclear vision. Most 1st chair leaders believe they have a very clear vision. They believe they talk about it, direct towards it, and communicate it repeatedly. My experience is that most churches have very unclear language about their vision, which creates a muddy situation. I live in Birmingham, AL and we have always had former Alabama and Auburn athletes in our community. They are dads and coaches in our local rec leagues. I typically divide them into two categories. Some dads who were the lesser athletes make the better coaches, while the better athletes make the lesser coaches. One group had to learn it and the others were just born doing it.

My experience is that 1st chair leaders spend so much time living the vision internally that they really struggle in converting it to understandable, strategic, and measurable language that is easily transferable to others. Without the language you do not have the necessary handles and ramps that 2nd chair leaders need to direct implementation. Then, because there is not clearly defined language, the vision language is constantly changing. First chair leaders do not readily see this, but 2nd chair leaders are confused and frustrated.

When I sit in the 1st chair, I have to constantly remind myself to clearly and specifically articulate vision using a consistent language. I think about it so much, I just assume everyone else gets it. But, they don’t because I am not communicating consistently or clearly.

Frustration #2: Noise Resulting in Reactionary Leadership

First chair leaders rarely receive the truth about themselves and their organization. I know that can sound shocking, but play out the scenarios. You continually interact with different types of people. First, there is the lay person that likes to be critical and continually offers their opinion. Second, you have the staff member that is respectful of your authority and doesn’t want to create professional tension. Third, your key leaders know you are busy and dealing with a lot of fires, so they do not want to bring something to your attention. Fourth, your family members have a mixture of personal expectations and hurts. (Maybe another day I will write a blog about how the pastor’s family members influence the church privately more than 1st chair leaders realize.) All four of these relationships are not presenting completely helpful truth.

Now, the second and third group in the scenario above contain very truthful and helpful information. However, it usually never makes it to the pastor in a direct and understandable fashion. Staff members typically dance around it and key leaders never get to the conversation until it is almost too late. Then when you mix in the shepherd nature of the pastor along with some relational insecurities, audiences one and four can become very powerful forces.

When you have an unclear vision that is now mixed with fires cropping up, the nature is to react. One reaction leads to another reaction, which leads to another reaction and before you know it, you may have created five different action plans while trying to solve one problem that simply lacked clarity and truth.

Please visit this link for the last two frustrations: http://auxa.no/1stchairfrustrations.


April 17, 2014

5 Frustrations of 2nd Chair Leadership (Part Two)

photo 2This post concludes a series on frustrations of 2nd chair leadership. To view the first part of the series, please visit http://auxa.no/1gGpMma.

Frustration #3: Stubbornness

You can’t fight culture from the 2nd chair – you must adapt to the passions of the 1st chair. It really is a waste of time to talk about how to get your leader to do things differently. That really isn’t your job. Your success will be found in discovering the valued parameters of the leader and learning to thrive within instead of without. I beat my head against the wall too many times. The older I get the more I realize how many different ways people go through life quite successfully. Adapting without losing yourself is a learned art.

Frustration #4: Relationship

The 1st chair leader needs you and may not know how to tell you. Many senior leaders are pretty isolated, lonely, and unaware. They can run on empty, live with blinders, and be very reactionary. Learn to be a calming, encouraging, and a supportive influence. Not everything that is said or felt on the surface is true. You need to take a long, patient look. 1st chair leaders need true fans. They have plenty of the fair weathered type or those who are looking to get something in return. Learn to be a genuine friend and this will be the platform for some great conversations.

Frustration #5: Success

Redefine your personal success in the 2nd chair. When you sit in the 2nd chair you are expected to help people succeed all around you, both above and below in the organization. Your success should not be defined by how long you work or how many fires you put out, but how you help others. This means you have to measure your success much differently. Helping your 1st chair achieve the vision is very different than helping the office manager thrive. It is easy to become either the hero running into the flames, or the garbage dump who deals with all of the junk. You too can become an isolationist alongside of the 1st chair leader.

Here are some practical takeaways to help you address these common frustrations:

  • Practice the skill of checking in informally with your 1st chair to get perspective. Learn to think like a shepherd as well as a farmer.
  • Take the time to meet with a coach, manager, or musical director that understands the art of leading different people to become one team.
  • Take time to understand the depth of what makes you unique. Create your workweek to allow these characteristics to flourish inside your culture.
  • Pray daily for your 1st chair leader.
  • Personally manage a limited number of people who are or can quickly become leaders of others.

While our nature is to be self-focused as humans, the 2nd chair requires quiet strength that gets really jazzed by the success of the organization as a whole over a long period of time. In the end, my frustrations were more about me than others. But no one enjoys talking about that.

April 16, 2014

5 Frustrations of 2nd Chair Leadership (Part One)

Chair 150x150I have been in ministry for 30 years and have spent a good bit of time sitting in both the 1st and 2nd chair of responsibility. While I am a natural born leader with a rebel independent spirit deep in my soul, I really enjoy influencing others to be successful. When I was young in my career, I was described by a successful corporate leader as living with a “rocket up my rear.” (Only he didn’t use the word “rear.”) Naively, I took that as a compliment, but later I realized he was trying to make a point to help me improve my 2nd chair skills.

As I developed in my career and became a 1st chair leader I learned several things. It was kind of like the difference I felt the first time I realized that being married without kids was totally different than being married with kids. All of a sudden I knew so much less about parenting.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to saddle up alongside of frustrated 1st chair and 2nd chair people. I have realized that most are driving towards the same goal, but not always riding in the same car seeing the same view. I am not sure of all of the reasons why there is such a big disconnect from two chairs sitting so closely together, but I thought I would provide some help.

I will share my list to help 2nd chair leaders get a little more comfortable in their seat. (It may even encourage some 1st chair leaders though I intend to share a list for them next week.)

Frustration #1: Assumption

The phone of the 2nd chair rings often, but it is not the same call that the 1st chair is receiving. My eyes were opened to how different the problems were when I became a 1st chair leader. As a 2nd chair leader, I received many calls about tasks and the solutions were pretty straightforward. I thought like a farmer, do the tasks in the right order and good results will naturally occur. As a 1st chair leader, the calls were about deep hurts connected to staff, church, and ministries. The problems were more complex than I knew and they were relentless. I had no clue how much the phone rang, how many late nights, and how many deep emotions were involved. This can way heavy on a 1st chair leader that is a passionate shepherd.

Frustration #2: Deception

The 2nd chair can be successful in its own right, but it doesn’t mean you could do a better job sitting in the 1st chair. Early on in my career frustration was always so high for me (remember I had a rocket up my rear). My mind was constantly racing with how I would do things both more efficiently and proficiently. Then, both staff and volunteers would fuel the fire with their own tensions and opinions. These frustrations kept me on edge, and while I was a productive team member, I could have been so much more effective. Try to not let your mind be consumed by unproductive thoughts or harbor the hurts of others. You are a sounding board to help with process. Process can be hard to see at times and is very under appreciated, but it is the main job of the 2nd chair.

Please visit this link for the last three frustrations: http://auxa.no/QgJ6N0.

March 24, 2014

5 Questions for Living Small and Dreaming Big

Todd McMichen Chief Campaigns Officer Auxano

Todd McMichen
Chief Campaigns Officer

Church growth and impact over the last decade extends beyond the mega-church and multi-campus congregations we most often hear of. During this season, the small church has been on the rise as well, freed from past restraints of limited resources and under-developed vision. New paths of innovation and technology are driving a new wave of exponential impact. Small churches are finding ways to leverage bi-vocational staffing. Some are giving away as much as 50% of their resources. Others are seating less than 400 in one place, but reaching thousands every Sunday, across campuses and online.

These churches are just as likely to exist in small towns and impoverished areas as they are in rapidly growing metropolitan suburbs. For many church leaders, it is a great time to live small and dream big. Here are some of the ways and the reasons why.

1. Does your church possess a focused ministry toward discipleship results?

Technology is available to all today and simplicity is in. Because so many resources are readily available online, small churches can produce high quality programming in worship, children, students, and small groups. Larger churches are also deprogramming to streamline and narrow their ministry focus. The smaller church is simple by nature, the larger church is seeking to become simple by choice. Church ministry programming is more similar today than ever.

2. Does your church have a leadership pipeline designed to raise-up the next generation?

Creative use of bi-vocational or volunteer staff is expanding. In the past, bi-vocational ministry was relegated to small towns or poorer congregations. Today, more churches are strategically empowering and training a less expensive volunteer and bi-vocational work force. The typical church dedicates up to 50% of its income to personnel. Once facility and operational costs are taken into account, ministry resources are often less than ideal. It is important for churches to have adequate staffs, but in this season, it is equally important to train and equip many volunteers to serve in high capacity leadership roles. When a church can focus 25-35% of its income to staff, leaving a greater amount for ministry and community investment, the results are exhilarating. The identification and development of future leaders is a near-constant need.

3. What committed partnerships does your ministry possess?

Trusted local and global partnerships are common. Smaller churches need the power and influence of outside organizations to have the opportunity for expanded impact. In the past churches acted more independent, were less trusting of “para-church” organizations, and more loyal to their denomination. Now, many of these walls are broken down and cooperative partnerships across faith tribes are becoming the norm. Committed ministry partnerships allow a small congregation to experience a large impact both locally and globally. They also permit large churches to be more effective with their resources.

4. Do you have a plan to reach more while building less?

Smaller buildings create more cash flow. One of the major contributors to limited financial resources is church debt. When congregations wisely under-build in order to multiply services, a tremendous amount of resources are released for new ministries, staff positions, mission opportunities, and multi-site development. Ministry is more fun when you have more liquid resources. As land and building costs continue to increase, more efficient use of space and dollars will become the norm. Even large churches are learning how to multiply in smaller venues.

5. How is your church making disciples according to its unique calling?

Uniqueness is being celebrated. As recent as thirty years ago, every church looked the same. Worship offerings were the same from times, styles, and programming. As the church became more contemporary, only a few popular ministry models were adopted, because few knew how to create a different kind of church. Today, we have entered a time when leaders are dreaming biblically sound visions, in fresh ways. These visions are being lived-out down the street and around the world. Technology brings everything in real time and allows us to get there quickly. Like never before, the eyes of church leaders are open to explore their unique vision and calling. Success is now measured in disciple-making and community impact, rather than building size or budgets.

There has never been a better time to lead the Bride of Christ. Large or small, urban or rural, local and dispersed, every church can make an impact locally and globally. How will the questions above challenge you to live small and dream big?


December 12, 2013

Campaign Results Worth the Wait

Legacy Project logoIn our fast-pace, ever-changing society, learning to wait is a long lost art. However, in a county seat town, sometimes that is what is required to succeed. First Baptist Church in Cordele, GA purchased acreage in 2001 with the thoughts of launching “one church in two locations.” Only there was a snag: a 51/49 split vote – not on the acreage purchase, but on the ministry model. So, the wait for clarity began.

Over a decade later, the city, schools, roads, and commercial expansion have developed around the property. It is now near ground zero at the intersection of 4 counties. The land is paid for and now the vision becomes even clearer: the church is to relocate and launch a much-needed regional ministry model.

This would be both a challenging and amazing journey to relocate this historic church to its new future home. “The Legacy Project” was born to help navigate the course. It began with crafting compelling language around the vision to help guide the process. A second worship service would be launched. The vision would be branded and the congregation engaged in a life-changing discipleship journey.

Now, it wasn’t all downhill from there. Obstacles were assumed as people processed this bold venture, but no one would have expected a robbery at the church, multiple break-ins at the pastor’s house, or emergency surgery of the pastor’s son. (FYI, these are not normal campaign happenings!) In spite of these challenges, the church experienced incredible results.

When asked what was the return on investment beyond the dollars raised, Pastor Ray Sullivan said, “Vision Clarity was #1. I thought I had it, but boy did we need it.” He added, “I understood vision, but did not know how to articulate it. Now our people are getting it.” This was just the beginning. There was a 10% increase in worship attendance, 20% in small groups, new guests increased, and a stronger desire to engage in spontaneous one-on-one discipleship among the men. This all bolstered confidence among the leadership and the expectation that God wanted to do even greater things. Oh yeah, they even exceeded their financial goals, cleared their land, and will be in their new location next year. It was worth the wait.

Video animation of FBC Cordele’s new campus

November 14, 2013

Personal Clarity First

toddmcmichenThis year I have spent reading, re-reading, and reading again the thoughts of Brother Lawrence recorded in “Practicing The Presence of God.” It’s a short work; actually, it is four short conversations containing principles he practiced. Brother Lawrence was born poor, uneducated, and lacked acceptance by society. He joined the military to have a roof and some food. Then he was wounded and discharged. He received what he termed a supernatural experience of personal clarity from God at the age of 18. It involved something as simple as a leafless tree in the winter. It appeared to lack purpose, meaning, and life. It could not provide shade, produce fruit, or safely cradle a bird’s nest. Yet, the tree was fulfilling its God-given purpose in its season. Even still it contained real life to be expressed in a different way on a different day in a different season. This image spoke directly to Brother Lawrence about his life and God’s powerful purposes.

I have been in ministry for nearly 30 years and have lost my way many times. As a teen when I experienced “the call”, my passion and focus were clear. Then, I began working for the local church and my vision became clouded by things like ministry activities,  people’s expectations, and my own insecurities. I am thankful for the repeated experiences to draw me back to my anchor, a powerful sense of clear calling.

My daughter is a senior in high school. She is on the journey to discover herself and God’s plan for her life. As she pursues colleges and fields of study it has been a frustrating experience of sequential “No’s.” As she hones in on her life direction she recently volunteered at a leading children’s hospital. At the end of the day, she came home and said, “I have clarity.” What peace and affirmation it produced.

I have now been a ministry leadership coach for the past 13 years and a lack of personal clarity is one of the most significant challenges ministry leaders face. Information is overwhelming, new models, and extravagant stories are being churned out on a regular bases. What should be liberating, can quickly become confusing, defeating, and depressing.

There is real freedom, joy, and power in discovering personal clarity. Try starting there before you attempt a great vision for your ministry. You can find a ministry vision easily enough, but it won’t produce personal fulfillment or even the joy of obediently investing your life.

Clarity Thoughts:

– Think of the yearly seasons (winter, spring, summer, and fall). Which season most represents where you are today? Describe the season, its purpose, and how you can better fulfill God’s dream in this season.

– Make a list of your unique strengths, passions, gifts, and experiences. How much of your life is oriented for you to perform in your zone?

– If you were given the privilege of living for the kingdom calling without the weight of daily duties, personal insecurities, or expectations of others, what would be different about your week?

March 12, 2013

Giving Trends You Need to Know

Giving Trends

As I reviewed the Giving USA 2012 report*, I found it interesting that religious giving continues to decline, falling an estimated 8.1% from 2009-2011. This is not a new trend. Adjusting for inflation, we have seen a steady decline in this sector overall for some time.

The significance of this has been masked because religion is still the largest category of charitable giving reported, representing $95.88 billion of the total $298.42 billion. However, church leaders need to pay closer attention to the downward trend and consider the reasons why. Read More

January 16, 2013

Raising Hope in Vegas: The Big Journey

Vance PitmanRaising Hope in Vegas: The Big Journey

In 2000 when Vance Pitman put his “yes on the table” he had no idea the journey God would have for him. One morning, sitting at the kitchen table in the deep south, Vance felt compelled to tell God “yes” without ever knowing the question. This “Yes Man” would then go on the biggest journey of his ministry life. He moved his family to Las Vegas and planted Hope Church. Twelve years later, thousands attend on 2 campuses every weekend, multiple churches have been planted across the country, and the Hope Church team serve as leaders in global engagement. Yet the journey has been crazy. Read More