No is a full sentence, but its so hard to say!

Cancel, No, Symbol, Sign, Wrong, Mark

I have a hard time saying no. How about you? As an introvert and non-confrontational person disappointing people is not in my list of to-do’s.

One of the books I have been reading this year is titled Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. It is the best, most practical leadership book I have read in a while. One of the chapters focused on how to say no and was extremely helpful. I share some principles here in the expectation that you can glean some practical advice that is helpful this week.

Four Ways of Saying No (The Power of a Positive No, Harvard professor William Ury)

1. Accommodation. This is when you want to say no, but say yes instead. I have noticed that when I agree to do something and my heart is not in it, the task takes longer. Always. Multiple accommodation drains.

2. Attack. As a pastor (and I suspect other occupations as well) I sometimes feel that people believe I’m just sitting at home waiting for others people to come up with tasks for me to do. When you are constantly accommodating it destroys margins and elevates grumpiness & stress. Instead of saying a simple no we lash out with phrases like “don’t you know how busy I am?” or “I can’t believe you had the nerve to ask me that!”

3. Avoidance. The millennials call it “ghosting”. It’s when we don’t respond and avoid talking to the person that is making the request believing they will eventually ask someone else. This seldom works. One of the reasons we do this is because of our deep-seated fear of disappointing. Problem is that when you ghost someone not only are they going to be disappointed you will also make them upset. Avoidance usually compounds problems.

4. Affirmation. This is the best way. Use the sandwich method.




I will give an example. People ask me to review their book manuscripts pretty often. This is how I reply:

YES: Thanks for writing, I am so glad you have written this book! 

NO: I am unable to review your book. (IMPORTANT: don’t use the phrase “at this time” knowing full well you don’t intend to do it. Just say no. Most people will respect that.)

YES: I have written a blog post of publishing books that I share here with you, and I hope your book is a blessing to people.

I hope we realize we are already experts at saying no because every yes is a no to something else. We just have to get better at owning your No’s so that you can live your life proactively, purposefully and successfully.

I hate running. That’s a strange statement since I run 5-6 times a week. Someone compared running to hitting a hammer against your head. It feels good when it stops. Yet I continue to do it. In the last 3 years I have learned the following lessons that hopefully can bless you as you transition into the new year. The fact is that 2019 is here. No matter how good )or terrible) 2018 was, it is over. I am not much for resolutions, but I do believe in principles that guide your decisions. So, here are three principles I learned from running for a better 2019.

1. Do it.
It has been said that there are no statues built in any major cities to committees. Opinionology is not a spiritual gift. Talk is cheaper than an after Christmas, Christmas tree. I understand the value of planning, but at some point, implementation has to happen. Perfection is in fact our enemy if that is the threshold you are using in order to start whatever project is in your mind. When I started running, I ran ½ mile a day. I did not have perfect form or appropriate shoes (I have Hokas now, the best!). Yet I ran. I see this happen in other areas as well. I have a couple of friends who are writers but haven’t published a book yet because of infinite revisions. At some point you have to turn the book in and allow editors to earn their money. Action > perfection. Do it.
2. Do it now.
I have never enjoyed the first mile of any of my runs. Whether its hot days, cold days, with or without food in my stomach and after taking a pre-workout supplement. It’s the same thing every time. “I hate this. Why am I running today? I ran yesterday. I’ve run more than ________________.” Yet I run. At some point we have to understand that procrastination is lies with a better sounding name. It doubles as deceit. We lie to ourselves when we say we will do it tomorrow. Now > any other time. Do it now.
3. Do it well.
This is the balance with point #1. At some point during the running experience I decided to make some improvements. So I asked experienced runners for their secrets, I ran with people who were better than me and bought Hokas, compression socks and a foam roller. I followed Hal on twitter and listened up when runners spoke about their experiences. Last year I ran the Chattanooga marathon and took 12 minutes off my best time. It was still slow, but it was better. A friend who runs told me that you can take time off your PR (personal record) every year for the first 10 years you run. I have found that to be true. If I am going to do it, and do it now, I might as well do it with excellence. That is different than perfection. Excellence > perfection. Do it well.

Whatever your plans for 2019 are, remember the three phrases.
Do it. Do it now. Do it well.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NLT) Whatever you do, do well.

Guest speaking for the win —  November 30, 2018

I was invited to speak for an event some time back. They requested I be picked up instead of renting a car ( a savings of $150). I was picked up by a family with a child that kicked my seat. Repeatedly. This is small potatoes compared to some horror stories I hear from the road, not only from the guests but from the inviting organizations.
If you are in ministry, at some point you will either be invited or invite someone to speak at your organization/school/church/event. Having been on both sides, let me spare you some pain and misunderstanding and help you make the process as painless as possible
I have written on this before, but I see my work is not done! Here are some practical tips to make everything run smoothly.
If you invite:
1. Treat them fairly. People make sacrifices to be at your event. Treat them with respect and eliminate the mindset that saves $100 by putting them up in a member’s home and flying them Spirit but guarantees they won’t be back.
2. Have reimbursement ready. I have no idea how many times I have made my travel arrangements, sent a expense report months in advance, only to be told after finishing the event that my check will be in the mail. Please don’t do this.
3. Invite early. The better the speaker, the earlier the invite. Last minute invitations are usually a sign of unorganized planners.
4. Don’t guilt trip. If they say no, respect it. Don’t shame them. Don’t slander or spread gossip on social media. Move on.
5. Be clear. Most invitations in our church come with zero understanding of what a suitable honorarium will be. It would be helpful if you told the guest ahead of time. Saves misunderstandings later. Once again, especially with young pastors, treat them right, don’t take advantage of them and don’t give cards to them with nothing inside.

If they invite you:
1. Please have a bio ready. This is not hard. Do it.
2. Respond, respond, respond. In our office we have stopped inviting people because they don’t respond. Like at all. Not a good look. Administrative assistants are hard workers and hardly recognized. Their work looks bad because you won’t get back with some basic information. Why would you do this?
3. Be clear on expectations. See #5 above. I never allow people to make my reservations for me because of really bad past experiences. For example: The kid that kicked my seat because the inviting organization didn’t want me to rent a car. They saved $150. I saved a spot for them in this blog.
4. Don’t agree to every invite. Prayerfully consider if God will have you go.

Hoping this gets better, fast.
What are some good experiences and not so good you have had?

Never run out of illustrations

Nothing like a great story to engage listeners, affirm a principle and make a sermon memorable so people will remember on Monday what you gave them on the weekend.
One common challenge for speakers is having good illustrations. Here is a foolproof method of never running out of illustrations.
First, three principles:
1. The best illustrations are personal. Well done personal illustrations make you relatable and that’s key in communicating in this day and age.
2. If you want to impress them, always talk about successes. If you want to impact them share some failures. You’re not the hero.
3. Keep your ears and eyes open. Most of the illustrations I use have come as a result of personal observation and a listening ear.
4.  The best illustrations are things you have learned and lived and your audience have learned and lived. The further out you move from that particular quadrant, the less effective you will be. ( I found this online but do not have the source, and can’t find it, not original with me but it’s very helpful)

Four steps:
You need a blank piece of paper and a pen. (or a computer screen)
1. Write the words MY LIFE really big.
2. Surround the words MY LIFE with categories of said life: Parents, house, marriage, love life, school, sports, religious, middle school, high school, friends (the categories are endless)
3. Then pick ONE of them. Write as many illustrations on the categories you remember. For example let’s pick school. I would write something like this:
First day. Day my dad told my teacher she could spank me. When a guy copied off my paper, including my name. My first girlfriend that didn’t know she was my girlfriend.
4. Then rinse and repeat for every category.
By the end of that process, you may very well have a book in your hands.
Your life is way more interesting and relatable that you give yourself credit for.

Now go speak. Your audience awaits.

Board, Step, Each Other, Following, In A Row

Before you read, (or after) listen to this podcast 33 minutes on this same topic.

There is a lot of talk about change these days, but not much change happening. I have had the blessing of transitioning a couple of congregations to become more missional. Here are seven things that worked.
1. Reaching > keeping. The first step is to make sure you understand that the church exists for those “who aren’t here yet”. A missional leader understands that although we would like to keep everyone that presently attends, the reality is that some people are allergic to mission. They will prefer for things to remain as is. Therefore, you must decide to structure, fund and program based primarily (notice I did not say exclusively) on those you want to reach.
2. Trial balloon. Sometimes people resist change not because it’s bad but because they are unfamiliar. Try something short term. It gives people an opportunity to process and for you to analyze and evaluate.
3. Keep lines of communication open. Do this with three groups. People you lead. People you serve with. People who lead you. Most administrators are open to change but really skittish about surprises. Over inform. Don’t take criticism personal. Grief over change is real and manifests itself in people lashing out.
4. For vs Against. If you implement change driven exclusively by your anger to ________________, many times it will fizzle. The best change is driven from what we are for. Change that comes as a response only, will not be sustainable when what you so vehemently oppose does not exist anymore.
5. There is no going to next level without attrition. I wish it wasn’t so. If the people who brought you here could take you there they would have! Exceptions exist, but they are called exceptions for a reason.
6. Be ready for emotional pain. This something I was not prepared for. Change implies loss, and loss implies pain. Make sure you have a mentor, a counselor, a prayer life and take your vacation. Sometimes the pain is relentless. One of the first things that pain will make you do is question if what you are doing is the right thing.
7. Surveys. Whenever change happens there is going to be a loud minority who uses phrases like: “A lot of people” “No one likes…” First of all “a lot of people” is usually just me and my friends. Second, when do you surveys it gives you a comprehensive assessment of the reality of the whole, not just the vocal minority.
What have you encountered as you try to make your church more missional that has worked? Share in comments below.

Dave Ramsey describes gossip this way:

Gossip is complaining about a problem to people who can’t do anything about it.


Working and leading organizations for the last 25 years has given me a first-row seat to gossip and its nefarious effects. Whether you are a leader or employee, here are some reasons why gossip should be at the top of the list of things to be avoided, right next to cancer and being a fan of the Red Sox.


1. Kills organizational culture.

People that complain kill healthy culture. Imagine it this way. Your values and vision are like delicious enchiladas. Your organizational culture is like the plate the enchiladas are served in. (Feeling hungry yet?) Gossip is like rat droppings on the side of the plate. No matter how many vision statements, mission initiatives or printed goals you have, if you have rat droppings in the plate no one is happy. Your job as a leader is to eliminate the droppings.


2. It focuses on the problem not solutions.

Notice how chronic gossipers concentrate on complaining rather than finding solutions. You are hired to fix problems not just to complain about them. Gossipers seldom go to work on the problem or direct their complaints to people that can fix the problem. I believe from experience that they get a sense of power and control when they are in the possession of some information no one else has. More of a power trip than a conscious desire to help.


3. Gossip as masquerade.

People that talk about other people reveal deep insecurities and possibly unresolved hurt. I have never met a gossiper (not an exaggeration, an actual fact) who did not have something to hide. Since it takes one to know one, usually people judge in others what they most struggle with themselves. Gossipers are full of secrets. Their house has a lot of closet space.


What can we do:

1. Repent.  We have all gossiped one time or another. The first step is to admit it and repent.

2. Confront. When you hear someone gossiping you can throw gas or water into the fire. Confront the gossip. My mom had a notebook where she asked church gossipers to write down complaints. It’s pages remained mainly blank. If you allow gossipers to share with you with no push back, they will confuse your listening with consent and use you in their conversations with others.

3. Release. One gossiper can bring down the moral of many. In the church we usually hire fast and fire slowly when it should be the other way around. The difference between dissent and gossip is a plan. Gossipers just want to complain. No need for that. We teach people how to treat others. By not confronting and releasing we affirm gossip as an acceptable value.


What ways do you deal with gossip? Share them in the comment section below.



Five things to expect when planting a church
A while back, I had the chance to sit down with several young adults and listen to their thoughts on the church. It was a very candid conversation. Some were faithful in attendance, while others were not. Some had rejected the church of their youth altogether. All wanted to talk. From the conversation, one clear lesson became evident, especially from the ones that attended church: We are interested in participating – not being spectators.

One of the best ways to provide prodigals a way to reconnect is planting churches that are ready when they come back and happy that they are there. I want you to prayerfully consider whether God is calling you to plant a church that prodigals can come back to. To be absolutely transparent, I have found seen it much harder to improve an establish church than it is to start a new one with prodigal welcoming DNA imbedded in it. Births > resurrections.

If you plant a church that reaches all, but that is intentional in welcoming prodigals, you will encounter the following:
*Expect resistance. I have not met many new churches (or any church plants for that matter) that have been started with complete acceptance. I have planted six myself, and I have never experienced total support from either the mother church or neighboring congregations. It’s safe to say that not only are they opposed, but they experience a higher level of opposition from church members that are concerned about music, their own youth leaving, and the “Why do we need another church?” rationale among others. Expect resistance, but it’s worth it.

*Expect lack of commitment. It’s naïve to expect a generation that has been told for so many years to stay on the sidelines, to all of a sudden understand what it takes to play the game. Most of these churches take years to develop leaders. Don’t get frustrated by the lack of buy-in. Continue to train and empower. It’s worth it.

*Expect slower growth than ethnic churches. Ethnic churches usually experience rapid growth. This is not the same in the native culture and you should not feel bad because you aren’t baptizing 100 every year like the Spanish or Haitian church down the street. I have been tracking new churches them for over 15 years and have not seen one explode with thousands joining it in the first five years. That is not to say that they are not out there, but I have not seen them. Yet, most of them have grown, stabilized, and are winning their peers who count themselves in some of the least reached demographic in North America. Keep looking for ways to do evangelism. It’s worth it.

*Expect mistrust. It takes time to gain their trust. Many of them have been hurt or neglected by the church of their parents if they ever had a church at all. It takes longer to trust. Millennials have unprecedented access to information, and believe they are as much of an expert as any adult in a particular topic. You don’t get their trust; you must earn it by having patience, deep relationships, and by backing up what you say. Once you get their trust, it’s worth it.

*Expect conversions. Most of the churches I have been tracking have experienced real, unchurched conversions – not just biological or transfer growth. Seeing someone come to faith in Jesus is an experience like no other. It’s worth it.

What do we do?
We start new churches! This, to me, is the most successful way of reaching prodigals. There are several new churches in the NAD. Here is a sampling:
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Two characteristics are common to all of these churches:
1. They minister to a younger (although no exclusively), multicultural crowd.
2. They were not in existence 15 years ago. None of them. Most of them not even 10 years ago.


I took many classes in the seminary. My favorite classes were biblical languages. (by favorite I mean the opposite of favorite. Like the Red Sox.) I took Greek. Hebrew. You know, stuff you use every day. After 25 years in ministry, no one ever has called me at 3am for help with verb parsing. Most of the problems I encountered were people problems.

I am not discounting deep theological study. It grounds you. It is helpful. What I am suggesting is that in most any job leadership development is necessary yet often ignored. I took ONE class in leadership. Yet most of my failures as a pastor had to do with a lack of leadership knowledge. So, I pledged to become a better leader. I read. I went to John Maxwell conferences. I spoke to leaders I respected and listened to recordings of presentations.

If you want to grow as a leader, here are three ways you can start growing today.
1. Relentless responsiveness.
A recent study found out that companies that responded to customers (or potential customers) inquiries in 60 seconds had over a 90% success rate in connecting with them. Wait 5 minutes and it drops to 60%. The average company responds to customers in 40 hours. People who get back to other people, may it be through text, social media, call or email have greater opportunities for connection going forward. Do you get back to people?

2. Read.
You may have heard that leaders are readers. I have never met a successful, transcendent leader who does not read. If you read, you will probably be ahead of the game. Reading destroys calcification of ideas. Even if you start with a chapter a day it makes a difference. There is no valid excuse not to read with all the different ways you can get book content into your gray matter. How much do you read? If you need some suggestions, email me. I will respond. It wont be in 60 seconds, but before 40 hours!

3. Practice you no’s.
Let’s try this together. Repeat after me. All together now: NOPE. No. Negative. Jamas (that’s Spanish for never). Not today. Never. I often hear leaders telling me “I don’t know how to say no.” Yes you do, because with every yes you automatically say no to something else. You are well versed in saying no. Unless it’s an invitation to a romantic date with your significant other you should only be saying yes to 10% of invitations that come your way especially if you are the SENIOR leader. Most people that demand an answer NOW are not really after your best interests. They are most likely mostly interested in what you can provide, not you. How hard is it to say no?
Let me know your thoughts. Share any leadership hacks you may have in comment section.

Bonus! 10 minutes planning your day the night before saves around 1 hour the next day.