Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Laying Waste to Time-Wasters

While I don't normally write about the specifics of administrative matters, I want to talk a bit this week about making the most of a busy schedule.  More particularly, I want to address that co-worker, parishioner, or small group member who seems to do nothing more than waste your time.

It sounds heartless I know.  But its reality.  I'm responsible for an organization that collaborates with more than 60 churches in the Baltimore-Washington area.  More than 10,000 evangelical Christians worship in those churches every Sunday.  I have to keep this Association moving in the right direction, and I can't do it if I grant every meeting requested, or if I spend all my time responding and reacting to others' requests instead of being a proactive leader.  And if you lead in any capacity, this is true of you as well.  

You simply cannot allow your time--possibly the most precious commodity you have to give--to be stolen by people and events that will keep you from doing what you know God has called you to do.  It may seem cold, but the fact is that the world is full of time-wasters--people who will suck the life out of you, and the effectiveness out of your work, or your ministry.  When you allow that to happen, everyone you serve suffers for it.  Conversely, when you refuse to give in, it may seem at first like the time-waster is suffering.  But in reality, maybe he or she will learn as lesson as well.

In my experience, there are three predominant types of time wasters:

The Clueless:  These tend to be the most innocent of the bunch, mostly because they never seem able to nail down a specific purpose for wanting your attention.  "I need to have a meeting with you," is their very simple and typical approach.  When you ask them what they want to address, the best they can usually come up with is something general.  "Oh, I just want to talk with you about what's happening in my ministry."  Usually, its less specific than this, which means when you finally meet, you will likely talk about nothing substantive.

While you may think yourself compassionate for enabling their ambiguity, the reality is that by granting said meeting, you are feeding the myth that your mere presence and casual conversation will actually accomplish something for this person.

Be forewarned:  Once you start to draw tighter lines around when you grant a meeting, the clueless will be offended.  Usually, this is due to their perception that you are there to "be their friend." Truth is, I have many friends in the organization I work for.  But I'm not paid for my friendship.  I'm paid to run the organization, and this same principle is true regardless of your field of employment.  Don't fall prey to the clueless time-waster.  Instead, keep on course with what you are called to do.  And in the process, you might help them more than you or they realize--mostly by helping them get a clue.

The Unmotivated:  I've had many coaching relationships over the years.  Most I look back on with fondness and thankfulness.  But a few I simply look back on in frustration, because they did not use my time wisely.

I remember one young man who would ask to meet with me every couple of weeks.  We mapped out a "life plan" for his twenties that included the completion of his wedding plans with his fiance, eliminating his student loan debt, buying a home, and securing a church family for he and his new bride.  A year later, he had accomplished precisely none of this, yet still wanted to meet with me to "talk about the plan."

Unmotivated people are in many ways like Bob Wiley from the movie "What About Bob?"  As portrayed by Bill Murray, Wiley was an agoraphobic and hypochondriac who never left his home--except to see his therapist!  For Bob Wiley, the therapist visit WAS the end game!  He never intended to improve his own life or get better.  As a result, he brought his therapists down with him.

Don't let the guy from "What About Bob" steal your time.  If there is no forward progress, stop taking meetings with them!

The Anthropocentric:  For most of human history we believed that we lived in a "geocentric" universe, where the Earth was at the center, and everything revolved around it.  Then the 17th century came along and with it, the Copernican revolution.  Because of our observations of space, we now know that we live in a "heliocentric" solar system, with the Sun at the center, and the Earth being merely one of nine planets that revolve around it.

The universe is a big place, and the earth now has more than 7 billion people on it.  And occasionally, you will meet someone in your work or ministry who thinks all those people revolve around them--including you!  This is the anthropocentric time-waster.

This is the caustic, self-centered individual who expects you to drop whatever you are doing whenever he or she calls.  My work load includes roughly 150 emails daily (those are just the ones that make it past my staff, who get hundreds more!), many, many phone conversations, and a professional calendar that tends to stay booked solid at least two weeks out.  If I abandon the routine that allows me to address all of this simply because of the demands of one person, I'm not being fair to others in our network.

This is the person who doesn't blink when you tell them "I'm unavailable at that time."  Its the person who responds to your list of availability with an "alternate" choice you haven't given them.

Anthropocentric time-wasters get you off track, and off mission, primarily by their constant demands for you to compromise your schedule, and constantly react to others as opposed to being intentional about moving forward and doing your job.  Don't let these people hijack your life.

I'm sure there are other categories of time-wasters that could be given here, but the three above broadly describe the various kinds of people you will encounter who can get you off track.  Once you have identified them, how do you deal with them?

Principle 1:  Written confirmation of meetings and their purpose.  Don't ever, ever set a meeting with someone without confirming what it is you hope to accomplish.  Agree together on the agenda and goals, and do it in writing!

Principle 2: Expectations as to meeting outcomes. This is simple mutual accountability.  At the end of every staff meeting, those who work for me take away assignments, and so does their boss!  We all walk away knowing there is an expectation on each of us that those assignments will be completed before our next meeting.  

To be a good steward of time, you can't just know what you want to get done during the meeting.  You must also know what actions are expected to be generated as a result of the meeting.

Principle 3:  Refusal of subsequent meetings until prior commitments have been met.  Don't let Bob Wiley get away with coming to you over and over again while he accomplishes nothing.  If after a limited number of times together, it appears the other party is intentionally spinning their wheels, turn them loose in the ditch!  Just because they have no desire to get out of it doesn't mean you must be stuck there with them.

This doesn't mean that you don't leave the door open for them to come back.  But it does mean you are putting expectations on them BEFORE they can come back.  Several times in response to requesting a meeting I have asked "Have you accomplished X and Y since we last met?"  If the answer is no, then my response is simple.  "Well, once you get that accomplished, give my office a call and I'll be glad to meet with you about the next steps."

Principle 4:  Don't let it get to you.  Ever been pulled over by a police officer?  I have, and I don't remember a single time when that officer threw himself across the hood of my car in a fit of emotion, or yelled at me, or abused me in any way simply because I was breaking the speed limit.  In every situation, he calmly walked up to my window with his ticket book opened, and asked for my drivers license.

Why?  Because in those situations, the officer had the authority and power.  And when you have authority and power, you don't need to spend your emotions.

Developing a habit to saying "no" to time-wasters so you can say "yes" more often to the organization as a whole will inevitably tick some people off.  They will be annoyed with you.  Some will get upset with you.  In those moments when the nasty emails come accusing you of "not thinking I'm important," don't give in to the guilt trip.  And a sure-fire way to know if you have given in to guilt is if you allow your emotions to get the better of you.

You have the authority over the time God has given you to manage on this earth.  You cannot cede that to people who are demanding, and you don't have to get angry or otherwise emotional with them.  Just be the officer with the ticket book.  Don't be afraid to calmly say "I'm unavailable"  or "we can't meet until you have......" or "we need to clarify our purpose for getting together."

I work primarily with pastors, and though I love them, pastors are the worst at allowing others to hijack the time God has given them.  Of course there are emergencies, and when those emergencies happen, you respond to your people with the pastoral care and concern that they need.  But you also need to know how to define "emergency."  Many pastors have no clue, and as a result, fall prey to the time-wasters, who subsequently restrain them from serving the entire church well.  Your church does not revolve around the most demanding congregants.  It revolves around Jesus.  Make sure you behave accordingly, and you will model Christ-centered time management for your people.

What about you?  Who are the "time-wasters" in your professional life that you have to watch out for, and how are you ensuring that you aren't allowing them to divert your attention and turn you into a time-waster too?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lies, Murder, and Roe: 41 years of Satanic Influence.

41 years ago yesterday, nine black-robed justices handed down a decision that would forever change the moral landscape of the United States.  Since that time, more than 55 million human beings created in God's image and likeness have been murdered within the confines of their mother's wombs.

Is that too strong a statement?  Is it too negative a tone?  Is it too culturally divisive to employ such incendiary language?  Well, let me ask it this way.  If something is bad, do you use good words to describe it?

I understand the moral complexities that come into play where abortion is concerned.  As a pastor of more than 20 years, I have more experience counseling women through the gut-wrenching decisions our society forces them to make than any politician who has ever voted on this issue.  I've sat with the single mom whose budget is stretched thin.  I've sat with the woman who has just been told her baby has down syndrome, or some other dreaded, chronic disease.  I've also sat with those who chose to have an abortion.  Women who have submitted to this procedure are 34% more likely to suffer from anxiety, 110% more prone to alcohol abuse, and 155% more likely to take their own lives, and I have seen the flesh and blood evidence of those statistics in my office.  Anyone who automatically equates being "pro-choice" with "pro-women" is either an idiot or a liar.

The emotional havoc that comes as a result of this now four-decade long culture of death should come as a surprise to no one.  Regardless of the circumstances that gave rise to each decision to  terminate a pregnancy, each abortion is the elimination of a human life.   This is not a matter of philosophical or even theological debate.  It is plan science.  Life begins at conception.  And for the past 41 years our nation has been busy eliminating more than 55 million of those lives.

55 million.

Let that number sink in, because its greater than the current populations of Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, North and South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming combined.    To kill that many people over a 41 year period, you must terminate a pregnancy every 20 seconds--and not stop killing for an entire generation.

Meanwhile, God continues to speak clearly.  "You shall not murder."

Anyone who objectively observes this bloodshed must come to the inescapable conclusion that abortion is not at heart a political issue.  It isn't even a philosophical issue.  It is, quite simply, Satanic.  In John 8:44, Jesus states that Satan's natural language is to lie, and his natural actions are to murder.  Anywhere there is deception and bloodshed on a massive scale, you can be sure our enemy is involved.  Whether it is Herod's murderous rage through a blood-soaked Bethlehem, Hitler's merciless and genocidal paranoia, or the lies of a U.S. President seeking to cast this issue as one of granting women "safe, affordable health care," death and deception can always be found holding hands.

Politicians who hide their moral cowardice with trite phrases like "reproductive freedom" and "women's rights" betray with their own incoherence the unvarnished reality that "I believe in a woman's right to choose" is half a sentence.  If you finish that sentence honestly, then what I've seen in the counseling room over the past 20 years begins to make perfect sense.  Satan has lied to us by telling us that there is a quick way out of a tough situation.  He has convinced us that the presence of moral complexity means that there is no moral clarity.

Meanwhile, God continues to speak with abundant moral clarity. "You shall not murder."

Since 1973, we've been told that this was an issue of women's rights and freedom of choice.  We believed that lie, and the result is roughly 28 million females aborted--and having no "choice" in the matter.  We were told that abortion would be, in part, a solution to supposed population control that would result in great financial costs to society.  We believed that lie, and the result is a workforce that lacks roughly 30 million workers who would be contributing to a social safety net that wouldn't be under such financial constraints with their contributions.

And as these ripple effects of our bloodshed continue to puzzle us, God continues to call out and say "You shall not murder."

We wonder why there is such seeming disregard for human life in society.  Why are women increasingly victims of violence?  Why does it seem that men are increasingly unable to control their lusts?  Why do they eagerly seek sex but avoid marriage and commitment?  Why do they think its OK to abandon their children to poverty and all its effects?  Why all the senseless killing in our schools?  From whence comes this beastly ambivalence toward the sanctity of human life.

Once again, God connects the dots with this command. "You shall not murder."

Our nation is swimming in the blood of its own innocent, and we do so because we have believed the lies of our enemy, who wants to see the bloodshed continue.  There is one way to stop it.  Turn from the enemy.  Stop being complicit in his schemes, and return to Jesus.

This is the great news of the Gospel--that even hands covered with blood can be forgiven.  The single mom who killed her child because she thought there was no other way can have peace.  The thug who drove his girlfriend to the Planned Parenthood clinic because he wanted pleasure without responsibility can be forgiven. The doctor who made millions off of baby's bones can be forgiven.  And the nation guilty of purging 55 million of its most vulnerable citizens--largely for the mere sake of convenience--can be forgiven, healed, and restored.  But the bloodshed has to stop.  We cannot find healing in the one true God while still sacrificing our children to Molech.

41 years.  55 million children.  One simple command.

"You shall not murder."

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Looking for a Pastor? Here are Some Things You Shouldn't Do.

When a pastor leaves a church for any reason, the church will typically engage in a prescribed process to have him replaced.  Churches who belong to traditions that employ an episcopalian or presbyterian structure of governance often depend on their "mother ship" to send them another pastor.  But in the world of congregational churches like those I serve, that duty is typically the responsibility of a search team. 

Our Association is currently experiencing one of those seasons when there are a lot of vacant pulpits, which means that I'm working with more pastor search teams at once than perhaps at any other time since coming to Maryland.  Being on a search team for a senior pastor or other staff minister is a heavy burden.  Much is at stake, and yet too many who serve on these teams feel ill-equipped for the challenge.  

Though there is no "magic pill" for ensuring that you always call the right person, there are some traps in the process that need to be avoided.  Two years ago I wrote a book designed to help search teams avoid these pitfalls, and what I'd like to do here is summarize the content of those pages.

If you are currently serving on a search team, or know someone who is, what is below is just a start.  The resources you need transcend both what is below, and what is in my book.  But when seeking a pastor, all of the following should definitely be avoided--for your own good, for the good of pastoral candidates, and for the good of your church.

Over the years, I've seen 5 common mistakes that Teams seeking a Pastor usually make.  These are things a Search Team should never do, but almost always do. 

1. There is a fine line between communication and confidentiality, and Search Teams cross that line repeatedly.  Most Search Teams understand that confidentiality is important, and they also get that the congregation needs to be kept "in the loop" on the search process.  Unfortunately, clear guidelines are often missing on how to strike this balance, and the result is that many Search Teams say things they shouldn't, and keep to themselves things that need to be said!  

2. They use people with their process rather than using the process to find the right people.  In other words, too many Search Teams become slaves to a process, rather than using that process as the tool.   The process becomes the end rather than the means, and this causes too many Team members to burn out, and too many good candidates to get burned!  Effective search teams make the search process work for them.  They aren't mastered by it.

3. They ask hypothetical questions when they interview.  Any idiot with the IQ of an eggplant can answer a hypothetical question in a way that makes you think he is an expert on every subject!  On this issue, many Search Team "handbooks" are no help either, as many of them are filled with questions that are philosophical and hypothetical, but never allow the Team to see for themselves what kind of man they have sitting in front of them.  If you want valuable and informative answers from a candidate, you need to learn how to ask the right kinds of questions. 

4. They assume the important stuff, and as a result, fail to ask the hard questions.  Nearly 40% of pastors have had an extra-marital affair since the beginning of their ministry.  37% regularly struggle with pornography.  More than 50% admitted that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living (Translation:  They are in it for the money!)  Some list degrees on their resume that they never received--from institutions they never attended!  The most important questions are aimed right at issues like these, and they come right from the texts of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Unfortunately, many times these questions are never asked because a committee assumes that the title "Reverend" means they have a morally straight guy in front of them.  If you want to serve your church well as a search team member, you can't just ask the right questions.  You also have to be willing to ask the hard ones--and expect a straight answer!

5. They don't consider contextual fit, and often hire the "best" candidate instead of the "right" candidate.  The guy with the highest earned degree, the longest run of experience, or the best "track record" in ministry might be the "best" candidate in a stack of resumes, but that doesn't mean he is right for your church.  Don't just look at the candidates.  Look at how and if they will fit the environment and organizational culture of your church.

Again, you can learn more about how to avoid these "landmines" by ordering my book here, or get it on Kindle here..