Taming the Monster of Sunday

Suddenly Matt Keller is everywhere. Or maybe it's just that now that I've read his book, The Up-The-Middle Church, I recognize his name when I see it...and it seems I see it everywhere.

His recent post on the ARC blog is a home run, on the subject of "Taming the Monster of Sundays":
One of the most taxing things about being a lead pastor is the drain of having to come up with completely new, creative, thought-provoking, challenging, engaging, funny, life-changing content every seven days. I like to call it the Monster of Sunday. It’s always licking at your heels and if we, as the primary communicators of our church, can’t figure out a way to tame that monster, it will eventually become our undoing and hold us back from reaching the full potential of our calling.

Over the past eight years, I’ve learned a ton about my rhythm as a communicator. Hopefully these tips will help you as well…

1. Learn your personal rhythm.

My personal rhythm is six weeks. After that, I need a change. If I speak more than six weeks in a row at Next Level Church, my creativity, drive and passion begin to sag. I know I’m not giving our people my best. Consequently, as a rule, I will not speak more than six Sundays in a row.

2. Get out of your own reality.

In order for me to remain creative, I need a change of perspective. Therefore, I build into my yearly schedule the opportunity to travel and speak in other churches a few times a year. Being away from home, helps me keep the greater vision of the local church in my mind. Otherwise, I can get tunnel vision.

I highly recommend for pastors to “sow into another man’s field.” For me this looks like developing relationships with pastors who are “a couple of steps behind us” and offering to pay my own way to come and invest in their church for a weekend.
When I travel and work with other churches, I learn from them as well. I get fresh ideas and perspective when I get out of my own pulpit.

3. Get four to six weeks ahead in message preparation.

One of the ways I avoid the Monster of Sunday is by staying four to six weeks ahead in my message preparation. We short-change our content and our people when we write messages the week of. There are just some creative ideas that need time to marinate. And writing a message on Saturday afternoon isn’t sufficient time for that to happen.

4. Learn to write to 80 percent.

When I say that I’m four to six weeks ahead in message prep, this is what I mean. I have a goal to have the main points, verses and illustrations laid out (or 80% of the message) weeks in advance. This gives me peace of mind knowing that on any given week, I’m simply microwaving the message up to 95% on Monday morning, rather than trying to start from scratch every week.

5. I write on Mondays.

The common theme for most pastors is to want to jump in front of a bus on Mondays, but I have found that if I can get in the zone and think of it as a continuation of the day before, I’m actually capable of some pretty amazing creativity. Some benefits of locking in my message on Monday:

I feel extremely productive. Doing what I do best on Mondays, rather than all the to-do list stuff, makes me feeling like a million bucks and sets me up for a more productive week.

I don’t feel as swamped later under all the details of church. Church work can drain you. And carrying the pressure of Sunday’s message on your shoulders while I’m dealing with detail stuff during the week can be overwhelming. Details put me on edge, which is not good for my team.

I have a clear mind to lead and make decisions. When the pressure of Sunday is off, the more confident I feel in my decision making. The bigger our church gets, the more pressure I feel on a decision making level. Having a handle on Sunday early in the week, empowers me to make important decisions during the week.

6. Learn to see “sparks” everywhere.

For any communicator, the distance from zero to a creative spark is infinity, but once you have the spark, the rest of the content for a message can flow pretty quickly. If you have to communicate on a weekly basis, you’ll have to develop the art of seeing sparks for messages everywhere. I see sparks everywhere, so much so, that there are lots of messages that I never have opportunity to develop or preach anywhere. But just developing the discipline of seeing the sparks helps me as a communicator.

The second key to seeing the sparks is having a place to put them once you see them. That’s where the Wall of Sundays comes in for me. Whether I use them or not, at least I know I have somewhere to put them.

7. Use a Wall of Sundays to organize your thoughts.

The way to see the long-range rhythm of your year is to have a place to put your creative thoughts when they come to you. We started doing this about three years ago and our wall of Sundays has become life to me and our team. I have to see things big and as a team, we need to plan ahead.

Here’s a picture of our most current Wall-of-Sundays.

8. Practice your messages.

Some pastors will say they want to “make sure the emotion of the moment comes through on Sunday,” or that “you can’t rehearse the anointing.” But I think that’s just an excuse. You wouldn’t say that to your worship team. If we want our worship team to rehearse and come prepared, then so should we. It took me awhile to get used to practicing my messages out loud, but for me, there’s no better way to actually get the content into your mind and spirit.

I can’t tell you how many times I will be practicing my message in my home office on Saturday night and hear myself say something a certain way. In those moments, I’ll actually stop and say out loud, “That didn’t sound right. Don’t say it that way again.” Then I’ll go back to the beginning of that section or story and practice saying it a different way.

By the way, for those of you who do multiple services, remember, first service is not your practice. We can either sweat in preparation or bleed in battle. I don’t know about you, but I would rather sweat in preparation.

The Result:

As a communicator who now speaks 150 – 200 times/year as well as writes consistently, it is vital that I have a sustainable rhythm for message preparation and content. There’s no way I could live out my calling otherwise.

If you’re a communicator, begin to strategically work on developing your own rhythm. It will serve you well for years to come.

About the author:

Matt Keller (@matthewkeller) is the lead pastor of Next Level Church in Fort Myers, FL. Matt blogs regularly at www.MattKellerOnline.com and is the author of the book, The Up the Middle Church; Doing Ministry One Yard at a Time available at www.UptheMiddle.com.
I gotta say, I do some of those things, but this post really inspired and challenged me to do better. For example, we work a year at a time in our message planning and two weeks ahead in message writing....but I'm gonna try the whole working-four-to-six-weeks-ahead and writing-to-eighty-percent thing, and the wall of Sundays idea. They're all great ideas. Thanks, Matt....again.

Sun Stand Still

Great title. Great theme. Great challenge.

Steven Furtick's book, Sun Stand Still (What Happens When You Dare to Ask God for the Impossible) is well worth the cost to buy and read. However, reader beware: you may want to be sure it's worth losing your calm, complacent Christian life.

Furtick, the lead pastor and founder of the growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, snagged my interest and enthusiasm in the first chapter, where he warns:
This book is not a Snuggie.
The words on these pages will not go down like Ambien.
I'm not writing to calm or coddle you.
With God's help, I intend to incite a riot in your mind.
Furtick largely delivers on that promise, even for this reader, who has walked with God and pastored and written for decades. I still learned much and was incited, as he promised. I've already begun praying "Sun Stand Still prayers," as he urges.

I also loved it when, also in the first chapter, he says, "if you're not daring to believe God for the impossible, you're sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life. And further still: if the size of your vision for your life isn't intimidating to you, there's a good chance it's insulting to God." His second chapter ("Prayer That Stops the Sun") and third chapter ("Page 23 Vision") just added to the momentum, enough to carry me through to the final chapter, in which Furtick prayed several "Sun Stand Still prayers" for me. And for you.

Not only is Sun Stand Still a challenging and inspiring book, Furtick and his associates have made it part of an important movement. The related website, www.sunstandstill.org, offers links to download the first chapter free, to submit your own "Sun Stand Still prayer" online, and download valuable resources (short film series, group study curriculum, sermon aids, etc.) to disseminate and reinforce the book's message.

(This book was provided for review by the publisher, Multnomah Books)

All in the Family

Not sure how new the "new pastor" really is....

Church of the Week: Montclair (NJ) Citadel Corps

Today's church of the week is The Salvation Army's Montclair (NJ) Citadel, at 13 Trinity Place in Montclair, NJ. When Robin and I were transferred by The Salvation Army to National Headquarters (then in Verona, New Jersey) in 1987, for the first time in our married lives we had the opportunity to choose which of many fine Salvation Army churches in the area to make our church home. We landed at Montclair, where we enjoyed fine fellowship and outstanding worship and preaching from 1987-1991.

For many years now, the Montclair Citadel Band and Songsters (choir) have been among the best in the country. We were so blessed to enjoy top-quality brass and choral music nearly every Sunday. Robin played in the second cornet section during our time there...and I TWICE sat in for an official band photo, once in the trombone section and once in the tuba section. They never let me play (they were too smart for that), but I was IN the band, doggone it! Back then the corps hall looked like this (above)...well, at least the platform...

This fine corps recently dedicated a beautiful new corps building, on the same location--but considerably larger (29,000 square feet). We haven't been there, but many friends still faithfully attend and serve there...and our friends Larry and Janet Ashcraft recently took up a new appointment as the corps officers there.

After You Preach

“Be strong, and let us use our strength for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” 1 Chronicles 19:13

My brother pastor, now that you have preached and led in worship, you are tired. Good. You laid it all down. You stood strong in God’s grace, you used your strength for the people of your God. You have done your part. Way to go.

Now give it all to the Lord. He will do with it what seems good to him. And go take a nap. Next Sunday will be here soon.

After you preach is a post from: Ray Ortlund

We Will Give

Jesus gave his blood for us; what shall we give to him? We are his, and all that we have, for he has purchased us unto himself can we act as if we were our own? Oh for more consecration! and to this end, oh for more love! Blessed Jesus, thou dost receive with favor the smallest sincere token of affection! Thou dost receive our poor forget-me-nots and lovetokens, as though they were intrinsically precious, though indeed they are but as the bunch of wild flowers which the child brings to its mother. We will give thee the first fruits of our increase, and pay thee tithes of all, and then we will confess "of thine own have we given thee" (Charles H. Spurgeon).

Margin Drains

Matt Keller (author of The Up-the-Middle Church) will be hosting a live, FREE conference call tomorrow morning (Thur., Sept. 23rd at 11 a.m. EDT) on the subject of margin for pastors and those in leadership. A few days ago he blogged on the subject of margin drains. He identified four deadly margin drains:
1. Violating the Sabbath. Nothing will drain you like a lack of a day off. But this one is a subtle one. The enemy of our souls love to get us so busy that we have to violate our sabbath. It’s like changing the oil in your car. Don’t do it for 5,000 miles and nothing will happen. Don’t do it for 10,000 miles and no one will notice, still. Don’t do it for 25,000 miles and your car will breakdown on the side of the road.

The same is true with our Sabbath, we can neglect it for quite a while with seemingly little or no consequences, but eventually it will catch up with us and bite us.

2. Schedule Creep. Put simply, adding without subtracting can eat your lunch. As your church grows, so will it’s calendar. If you don’t strategically subtract from it, you’ll end up running yourself ragged.

3. Not having Pre-Determined Boundaries. Plain and simple, if we don’t set our boundaries, someone else will. The problem for most of us is that because we’ve not pre-decided on what we will and won’t do, we end up allowing the emotion or pressure of the moment to dictate our commitments and obligations, and we pay the price.

4. Our Inability to say no. This is a tough one, because we all want people to like us. But if we don’t learn the art (& it is definitely an art) to saying no to people, we’ll be at their mercy to the detriment of our own margin.

And here’s the thing about saying no, we have to learn the art of saying no, without excuse. This is killer hard. Because we feel the pressure to have a “good” or “legitimate” excuse. But there’s something powerfully mature about being able to say no with no because. Just Thanks, but no. That’s a tough one.

To participate in the Conference Call:

Call 888-350-0075 on Thursday at 11 am EDT then enter the code 7479514 .

Revival is Obedience

We call a lot of things "revival" these days. But Bishop Festo Kivengere, whom I heard speak in 1976, knew revival. Here, in a 1976 interview with Christianity Today (which I found on Ray Ortlund's blog) Bishop Kivengere describes the decades-long East African revival...and puts in perspective some of our pitiful so-called "revivals":
CT: What is the East African revival, and why has it lasted over forty years?

Bishop Festo Kivengere: Can I explain? This is a question I have been asked repeatedly for over twenty-five years, and all I have ever been able to do is to share what I have seen. The only explanation I can give is that it is God’s work. It is not a technique. It is a movement that cannot be contained. It is renewal within renewal. It is an attitude toward the Lord, toward the Bible, toward the fellowship, and toward the Spirit. It has always been open to a fresh touch.

CT: What does this revival mean to the people involved in it?

FK: It is when Christ becomes a living, risen Lord in the life of a believer. For the non-believer, it is when he is brought into a confrontation with Christ and accepts him as Savior, thus completely changing his life morally and socially. In other words, revival is when Christ becomes alive in a life, changing that life. The person is born again, and if he has previously had that experience, then his life is changed in such a way that it affects all his relationships.

CT: Is it visible to an outsider?

FK: Absolutely! Go back to a village a week after a man comes to the Lord in a meeting in the market. The whole village knows something about it. He has paid the debts he owes. He has gone to people he hated and said, “I’m sorry. I’m a changed man.” He has apologized or asked for forgiveness. He’s now telling them what Christ means to him. He has carried his new belief into his business practices. In other words, it isn’t something he sits on as a comfortable experience. If anything, it is terribly uncomfortable.

CT: How has this differed from other revivals in history?

FK: It may be the continued willingness of those who have been revived to be renewed by the Spirit of God. At the Kabale convention last year, celebrating the fortieth year of the revival in that area, we heard up-to-date testimonies from people who were brought to Christ as early as 1930. They had tremendous freshness; yet they had been winning souls for thirty-five or forty years. They have remained open to what the Spirit may want to say to them in the present situation. They learned that when they got into a rut God had to turn them out of it so that they could breathe again. The tendency to get into certain patterns can stifle the work of the Spirit and create pockets of hardness. Continued breaking and bringing new streams of life have been the means God has used.

“The Revival that was and is: an interview with Festo Kivengere,” Christianity Today, 21 May 1976, pages 10-11.

What Are You Reading?

Not pictured: The Divine Hours, which I use daily for prayer, and Spurgeon's Daily Help, which is on my iPhone (and also used daily).

Dangerous People Hiding in Your Organization

One of my strengths in ministry is also one of my greatest weaknesses. It's this: I tend to think the best of people. I'm not trying to make myself seem better than I am. I just honestly and naturally tend to believe that people--especially people in the church--are motivated by love for God and others. I truly expect "Christian" people to act rationally, to want to get along with others, to NOT be sneaky, spiteful, resentful, or abusive. But of course those expectations are often dashed by people in the church.

Enter David Foster. The gifted preacher and pastor David Foster is one of the bloggers who leads and pastors me, though we've never met. I subscribe to his blog (hey, come to think of it, why don't you subscribe to mine?). A few days ago, he posted the following which is typical of his direct and inspired thinking and communicating:
Churches, organizations, businesses, anyplace where there is a mission and a passion to extend that mission and its influence, are places populated by people, at first, just a few true believers. And as the mission takes hold, and as you grow larger and larger, more and more people begin to populate the organization.

There are two kinds of people that hide in every church in America that will ultimately take you down. One, the bad person; two, the bored person.

There are bored people in all organizations. These people really don’t know what to do, except they do know what they want. They want credit. They want attention. They want power. But they don’t know how to get it. They can’t perform. They don’t add anything to the organization. The problem with them is they look good, sound good, smell good, and they interview great. If you’ve got bored people in your organization, get them out now, today, tonight. They will try to overthrow you. I know. I’ve had it done, and it’s painful.

The truth is bored people are easy to identify. Every bored person in one of my organizations that has ultimately hurt me I could have identified and dealt with. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to be viewed as a bad guy. And ultimately, that’s exactly what I was viewed as, because bored people have to justify their behavior by demonizing the leader.

The hard person to identify in your organization is the bad person. For those of us who are Christians, it is hard to find it in our heart that there are really any bad people. I am not talking about people who are lousy at what they do. I am talking about people who are corrupt at their heart. They have no motives. They are not motivated by power or recognition. They are just bad. And the only thing they care about is tearing things down and sowing discord, distrust, and dissension.

You probably have some bad people in your organization, at least one. If it’s a large one, maybe several. You need to guard yourself against them because they are like a cancer. They spread and they infect other people who are otherwise happy, excited, and on mission.

This is a call to my pastor brothers and leaders of America. Please don’t be naive. Be at the wheel, diligent and alert. For just as much as the Sunday morning service is your responsibility, so is the well-being of the organization, and weeding out those who would harm it. At the end of the day, it is not about the leader. It’s about the people; providing a place where they can find God, grow, and reach their full, God-ordained, God-blessed, God-given redemptive potential.

Standing for the Greatness of Others

From the excellent leadership blog of Michael S. Hyatt, chairman and executive officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers:
I don’t know too many normal people who find it easy to confront others. I sure don’t. I always go through an internal debate in my own head. Surely, this isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe I should just let it slide? or Someone needs to tell her. Wouldn’t I want to be told if I were in that situation? And on it goes.

I once asked Ilene Muething, a friend of mine and a consultant to our company, how she worked up the courage to confront and challenge some of the powerful CEOs I knew she coached. I had a difficult time imagining myself doing it.

She told me that it was tough at first, but over time it got easier. Usually, she just reminded herself of a few simple truths that gave her the courage to speak up. Her insights were extremely helpful to me, too. Of the many thing I learned from Ilene, this has been one of the most valuable.

Whenever I need to have a potentially difficult conversation with someone, I remember that:

What I have to say is important. If I am struggling with whether or not I should say it, this is generally a clue that I need to speak up. In that moment, I am seeing something or sensing something that is important and needs to be said. The risk of not speaking up is greater than the risk of speaking up.

They need it to go to the next level. Clearly, if they could see it on their own, they would have already changed their behavior. The fact that the behavior persists is an indication that this is a blind spot. They need help—my help!—to go to the next level.

They can handle it. Too often, we see others as weak and fragile. We are afraid that if we speak up they will shatter into a thousand little pieces. But this is simply not true. We need to think of people as giants. They can handle it, particularly if we “speak the truth in love” (cf. Ephesians 4:15).

It really comes down to taking a stand for the greatness of others. People have way more potential than we often think they do.

They can change, but unless we find the courage to speak up, they may not have the opportunity.

Question: Is there a potentially difficult conversation you need to have? What would have to be true for you to lean into it and speak up?
(Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mevans)

Church of the Week: First (Scots) Presbyterian, Charleston, SC

The First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Meeting and Tradd Streets, is one of many venerable churches in Charleston, South Carolina. The first congregation was made up of twelve Scottish families who left the Independent Church of Charles Towne in 1731. The present church, built in 1813, features the Scottish Seal etched in stained-glass over the main entrance.

Symbols of its Scottish affiliation can be seen throughout the structure, with the seal of the Church of Scotland in the stained glass windows and the thistle, the symbol of Scotland, in the wrought iron grilles.

Like many other buildings in Charleston, the church was damaged by the 1886 earthquake, as well as a hurricane the year before. First Scots Presbyterian is one of more than 1400 historically significant buildings within the Charleston Old and Historic District. It remains a fully functioning church today (see their website here).

Sunday Night Rejoicings

Sunday after Sunday, I say this, but it just happens that Sunday after Sunday, I'm blessed by the pastors and people--and GOD--of the church I pastor. Today has been no exception.

Our InMotion children's ministry launched their new format, complete with many of the teachers and participants in thematic costumes, and I wish I could have been there to enjoy...and take pictures. Great job, all of you!

In the worship celebrations, the worship music, led by Under Cover, was--as always--utterly uplifting and upbuilding.

John Johnson planned and delivered the most imaginative message I think I've ever seen. He actually constructed a silo in the auditorium (on the left in the photo above; sorry for the quality, but the photographer is not the brightest bulb in the box) and delivered the first ten minutes or so of the message from INSIDE the silo, and had a video feed that showed him, contained and isolated in the silo, speaking to us from the big screen! He also had (thanks to Guy Moore and others on the tech team) a SECOND camera that he could switch back and forth from to show us the cozy confines of his self-imposed cell. After he introduced the topic of consideration--how many of us tend to prefer isolation from each other rather than engagement and vulnerability and community with each other.

Then followed a dramatic video that was just delightful--and powerful--that drove home the point even more. Then John--real, live, and in person--took the stage to give just the right challenge and persuasion, that I pray prompted many to become involved in one of Cobblestone's many journey groups. John concluded with a video promo for our next series, "The Blessed Life," starting next week, and a benediction.

As the 10 a.m. celebration let out, Cobblestone's journey group leaders were ready...people entered the atrium to the unprecedented sight of Cobblestone's finest (journey group leaders and other volunteers; the group leaders all wore bright yellow safety vests to make for easy identification) doing the electric slide!

Once that was (mercifully) concluded, people were able to snack on all kinds of goodies (include a fountain of chocolate) and browse displays and games set up by the journey groups, find out more about each group, and sign up to indicate their interest in any or all of them.

As hectic as this morning was for me, I was nonetheless able to welcome a couple newcomers, pray with a couple folks, and connect mightily with God throughout the morning. Thank you, Lord!

And the excitement continues: in a little over an hour, the official launch of "The Third," our 7 p.m. Sunday worship experience designed for students and twenty-somethings. Last week was in many ways the most exciting "Third" yet, and I'm praying for a great launch, thanks to God's power and the cooperation and effort of The Third's leadership team.

The Original Lie

We talk a lot about original sin, but have you ever stopped to consider the original lie? Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But how did the serpent tempt them? He suggested that God may be holding out on them. Maybe He didn't want them to eat that fruit because then they'd be like him. In other words, the serpent tries to get us to doubt the omni-goodness of God. He plants a seed of doubt. Maybe God is withholding something. And when we doubt God's desire to bless us we believe a lie, the original lie (Mark Batterson).

(painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope)

The Truths We Don't Believe

I've been thinking a lot lately about all the verses in the Bible we don't really believe. We SAY we do, but it seems from all appearances inarguable, undeniable, that our actions and habits reveal our disbelief.

For example, the Bible says, "The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" (1 Corinthians 12:21). In that verse, Paul is speaking about the interdependence of each of us, as members of the Body of Christ, on the other members of the Body. But, shoot, we say that all the time. We even say it loudly and proudly. And we certainly say it with our actions, when we give up on someone, or turn away from someone, or leave a church in a huff. Because we don't really believe 1 Corinthians 12:21.

Neither do we believe Jesus' words, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). If we believed those words, the church in the U.S. would give far more than 1.7 percent of our income toward the Lord's work, as research says we do.

Another verse we don't believe is this one: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Timothy 5:17). If it said "double criticism" or "double suspicion," we would be much closer. But double honor? I don't see elders and pastors being accorded that kind of honor, at least not in our culture.

Take Jesus' words in Matthew 5:22: "I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." We don't really believe that. Let me say it again: we don't believe Jesus' words. We nurse our anger, we're proud of it. We spread it around. We refuse to let go of it. We can't possibly believe that we are subject to judgment, or we would certainly act differently.

Or, "if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). Dang, if we truly believed those words of Jesus, if we REALLY thought our Savior spoke truth, we would act a WHOLE lot differently! Shoot, some of us even pray every day, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," and ACT as if those words have absolutely no meaning! We are inviting judgment on ourselves with our words and our actions when we don't forgive.

And, by the same token, can we honestly say we believe Jesus' words: "In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2)? Oh my. I am constantly amazed--flabbergasted--at people who can be so "righteously" angry at a brother or sister for the very things--the VERY THINGS!--they are blind to in themselves.

I had a dear brother, a long-time friend say to me not long ago, "I don't think I'll EVER be able to forgive some people." And he KNEW as he said it (I know, because I asked him) that he was condemning himself with his own words, revealing a spirit in him that may be worse in God's eyes than whatever offenses he is holding against others.

How can we do such things, how can we act in such ways, in light of what the Bible teaches, what Jesus so clearly--bluntly--said? It can only be one thing: we don't believe. We can't possibly call ourselves "believers," let alone "Christian," under such circumstances. Can we?

Can we?

Your Faith is Toast!

You might think it's a joke. You might want it to be a joke. You may even PRAY for it to be a joke.

But it's not. It's toast.

See it here at http://jesustoasters.com/

The Up the Middle Church

Matt Keller won my heart right away in his book, The Up the Middle Church, and he kept my heart and mind engaged all the way through. He writes,
We love to hear the stories of churches that start in faith, and within a few short months are living the long bomb....thousands in weekend attendance....We dream of what it would be like to be a part of something God visits that way....

But their story is not my story.
Matt is a highly successful pastor (as most tend to measure success) and his Next Level Church in Fort Myers, Florida, is a highly effective church. But he shares openly and vulnerably from his experience of falling in the trap most church planters and church leaders succumb to of wanting to be a "long-bomb" success story...when they would do better to follow an up-the-middle strategy.

Boy, could I identify with Keller and his story. And most of what he said resonated with me. I highlighted broad swaths of the book. Some of those:
Up-the-middle churches design effective programs that serve their "most likely to attend" audience. Too many churches design programming based off past church experiences, not present-day realities. "We always had that..." or, "We did it that way in my last church," statements that have no place in an up-the-middle reality.

We are committed to being for every church in our city. We filter all of our communication with the community through the lens of one question: "Could any of our language be construed in any way as competitive or negative toward another church?" If the answer is yes in any way, then we rework it completely."

Protecting the culture of your church requires having some hard conversations....As a new or small church, you inevitably have some well-meaning Christians who begin attending but have a preconceived idea of what they think church should look like....You'll feel the temptation to bend or compromise your culture in order to appease or keep those people....However, protecting the culture you feel led by God to create is your responsibility.

Because of pressure or desperation, too many pastors compromise the culture of their church in order to accommodate an individual or small group of people.

One of the biggest keys to self-care is being okay with getting away.

At the end of the day, it's not about how many people were in the seats, or how big the offering was; it's about the lives that were changed. In redefining success, this one must hit us the hardest....Never underestimate the lives that are being changed every week.
Keller and his church are not where I am. But they've been where I am. And by God's grace, I pray they are where we are going.

If you are in ministry--whether as a church planter, a pastor, elder, ministry leader, or in some other role--I highly, highly recommend The Up the Middle Church. And if you're starting a church (or have started one), consider it required reading.

The Greatest Miracle in Acts

All these years as a Bible student, teacher, preacher, writer, and pastor, and something big just occurred to me in the last few days. You know what I think the biggest miracle in the whole book of Acts was? Perhaps the greatest miracle in the Bible? Maybe in all of church history?

Not the tongues of fire or the gift of tongues (Acts 2:3-4). Not the healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-8). Not the healing of Aeneas (Acts 9:33-34) or even the raising of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41).

I think the greatest miracle is one that apparently happened over and over in the early days of the church. It's recorded in Acts 1:14. And again in Acts 2:1. And Acts 2:46. And Acts 4:24, and 5:12. The miracle is described in Acts 2:1 in just nine words:
"They were all with one accord in one place."
The early church is repeatedly described as being "in one accord."

I wonder if that's the miracle that engendered all the other miracles. I wonder if the Holy Spirit worked so mightily in those first days of the church BECAUSE of the church being in one accord. I wonder if THAT miracle made all the OTHER miracles possible, even commonplace. They weren't arguing about worship styles or hair styles. They weren't judging each other or jealous of each other. They weren't petty, piqued, or peeved with each other. "They were all with one accord in one place."


That is a miracle.

It's one I've never really recognized before as a miracle. But it deserves to be recognized. And repeated.

I don't know if I've ever experienced that "in one accord"-ness. Maybe in the earliest days of my church, Cobblestone. And, indeed, I think that "in one accord"-ness resulted in miracles. But, as will happen when human nature wins out over God's nature, we've lost that. But I pray with my whole heart: God, please do it again.

Church of the Week: Asbury College Auditorium

In the years prior to my brother Larry's 1977 graduation from Asbury College (now Asbury University), I had occasion several times to visit him there and attend chapel services (held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 a.m.) in Hughes Auditorium (dedicated in 1929).

It is a beautiful auditorium in the best traditions of Methodism:dark wood paneling, cream-colored plaster walls with a balcony on three sides, lovely stained glass windows, a fine pipe organ. As I recall, the acoustics are wonderful, and many of the finest preachers in history have spoken here. Hughes Auditorium was also the site of the student revival that began on February 3, 1970 and lasted for 144 uninterrupted hours.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

"The only thing that matters," wrote Paul in Galatians 5:6, "is faith expressing itself in love."

This weekend, at least, God's people at Cobblestone Community Church have shown themselves to be "1Thing Matters" kinda people. And, just in case I haven't mentioned it before, I love my church. I rejoice in my church. I am committed to my church. Let me tell you why.

Yesterday (Saturday) began bright and early with the InMotion Children's Ministry Fall Workshop. Children's Director Shena Ashcraft planned and pulled off a great day of fellowship and training for children's ministry volunteers. One of the sessions was Pastor Tim Tice of GracePointe Community Church in Oxford (below) teaching on How to Lead a Child to Christ. The workshop also provided an introduction to the new OverDrive format for the Fall, which I am excited to see! Thank you so much to Shena and all the volunteers who attended and pitched in for this event!

While the InMotion Workshop was going on, a group of us left The Loft for our monthly Second Saturday outreach. We headed to the two Farmers' Markets in Oxford to hand out free bottled water to the vendors and the customers. While it started in the rain (below), by the time we made it to the uptown market, the rain had disappeared and we were blessed to give away the rest of the waters (about 100 total) while enjoying beautiful September weather. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who reached out in love to our community.

By the time we made it back to The Loft, Cobblestone Women's Connection's Coupon Swap was getting underway. Guest speaker Charlotte Wood offered financial counsel while the participants snipped and swapped coupons (below). We also had a blast blessing the women in attendance with donated items we had received from Hallmark; it was like Christmas morning in September!

I was also so blessed by our volunteers Angie Abner and Debbie Stumph, who put in much time and effort Saturday afternoon cleaning the Loft with loving care! Thank you both for your work!

And then it was Sunday. The Lord's Day. Oh my. Thank you, Gary Antonius and outreach committee for brainstorming "G56 Day," and thank you Cobblestone Leadership Team for approving their plan to "close the church" and send the Church out into the community to express their faith in love. What a day this was!

It started with an inspiring, tear-inducing (for me, at least) set of worship by Under Cover (above). I've said it before, I'll say it again: you guys bless me!

After singing and giving our worship to God, we all headed out into the atrium, where stations were set up for people to join in one of ten or so outreaches that were planned for the day. I wish I had pictures, but it was delightful to see people choosing their outreach! Thanks SOOOO much to Gary and his team and all the team leaders--and EVERY volunteer--who made me so blessed and proud of Cobblestone Community Church! How I praised God to see people pouring out of the Loft, into cars, and off to outreach sites, where they conducted goody-bag giveaways on the Miami campus, Free Car Wash in Tollgate Mall....

....(actually a "$1 car wash; people think they're paying $1, but when we're done, we give THEM a dollar!)....

....along with car washes in Brookville and McGonigle, and door-to-door giveaways and a block party at Parkview Arms Apartments, where we gave away a donation of brand-new clothes we'd been given....

...and climbed trees....

and played with kids and hula hoops....

...and fixed and served free food....

...and also at the Oxford mobile home park, where we did a door-to-door goody-bag giveaway (this is just one of many teams)....

...and several teams performed cleanup tasks around the mobile home park....

...AND a cookout with games and free food...

....AND then there were two outreaches in which Cobblestone volunteers made loving visits to the residents of the Knolls and Liberty Nursing Home in Oxford....

And then, to top it all off, a Con Brio/Under Cover hybrid worship band (Con Cover? Under Brio?) and Andrew BROUGHT IT in The Third tonight, our first "Third" with professional bus service for students to and from Shriver Center!

Oh, how I praise God for a church that is "taking it to the streets," as our orange outreach shirts say. Thank you to all my brothers and sisters who made this such a beautiful weekend; YOU were the sermon this weekend! And thanks, God, for the beautiful September weather you provided (and the refreshing Saturday morning rain!).

How (And How Not) To Use Facebook for Ministry

People tease me about my active (some would say overactive) use of Facebook. Some aren't teasing.

I have posted on this blog about how Facebook makes me a better pastor (see here). So Tim Challies's blog post (here's his blog) entitled, "How (And How Not) To Use Facebook for Ministry" was a good read.
Facebook. In so many areas of life it’s no longer an if, no longer an option. With 500 million users it is quickly becoming a near-essential tool for families, for businesses and yes, even for churches.

The good news is that Facebook has a lot to commend it; there many things it does very well and thus there are many ways in which Facebook can assist pastors and other ministry leaders. The bad news is that there are also (and inevitably) ways in which it can hinder ministry if not used well. Today I want to look at Facebook as a ministry tool and suggest a few ways in which it can help and hinder. Because of practical limitations I cannot tell you how to go about setting up an account, but at least I can give some suggestions on what to do once you’ve already joined and started to be active.

One of Facebook’s great benefits for you, as a ministry leader, is that it lets you be where your people are. If you are like most pastors, you will find that your church members are not only members of Facebook, but that they are active members. This is where people socialize, where they entertain themselves and where (occassionally) they discuss serious issues. This is not to say that you need to be on Facebook in order to effectively minister to your people, but it does give you one more way of interacting with them, and one that can be very effective. Facebook is at its heart a social media, one used to coordinate communication and this is where you will find that it assists ministry. However, there are a few areas in which you will need to be cautious.

Use Facebook to Supplement Real-World Ministry
As you consider using Facebook in your ministry, or as you consider how you are already using it, spend a few minutes thinking about what Facebook has replaced. It is generally true of new technologies that they do not just add something to life, but that they also replace something that is already there. In the case of Facebook, it may well be that it is replacing real-world face to face ministry. Facebook builds social connections and in some ways enhances them; but it can just as easily diminish them as it replaces offline life with online. There is always the temptation to take the easy route (Post “Happy Birthday” on someone’s wall instead of calling him; Send an email instead of meeting him for lunch). Be sure that you are not allowing Facebook to be an easy way of getting around difficult ministry. And make sure you are not using it to disincarnate yourself, to remove your physical presence from people’s lives.

So as you use Facebook, be careful to use it in a supplementary way, a way that supplements your real flesh and blood contact with the people you are seeking to serve. Use it to share event information, to get people remembering last week’s sermons and thinking toward next week’s, to get people singing the songs you sing and praying for what needs to be prayed for. Use it to share photographs of great events and to encourage people to make contact with one another. The ways it can supplement ministry are nearly endless. But all the while use it to push yourself toward, not away from, face to face contact.

Learn, But Don’t Be a Stalker
There are parts of the shepherding ministry that are active and parts that are passive. This is to say that in many cases you will inadvertently encounter information relevant to your ministry—things you need to act on. You may be told by a mutual contact that there is an important date coming up in another person’s life or that someone has committed a grevious sin. You did not go looking for the information; rather, it came to you. There are other times that you will be more proactive in seeking out information. You may approach a person and ask how he has been doing recovering from a surgery or you may ask him how he has done in the battle against a particular sin.

Facebook can help with both of those components of ministry, with both the active and the passive. But you will need to guard against the temptation to be constantly trolling for information (negative information in particular), to go looking at vacation photographs to see if something is amiss (“She shouldn’t be wearing that on the beach!”), to read walls to find errant messages and responses (“Whoa! That sounded a bit snarky!”). There are times you can use the information you encounter in a way that will bless and encourage and there are times you can use that information in a way that will seem downright creepy. The societal rules about what we may do with information we encounter on Facebook are still being written; until they are, be careful. It may be that you will offend people even as you seek to help them.

Use it to learn about the lives of the people you love, to encourage them, and just generally to be aware of what they are doing in life. But do not use it to stalk them; and be careful how you introduce information you’ve learned from Facebook into real-world conversation.

Be Aware
Be aware that much of what happens on Facebook is public and be aware that what is public and what is private seems to be in constant flux as Facebook matures. Posting “Had a great time last night!” on a friend’s wall may just be a little confusing (especially if that friend is a woman). Also, be careful as well that you do not assume too much from information you encounter about others on Facebook. Because much of what you will encounter will be torn from context, you will need to use that information very carefully. Believe the best whenever it makes sense to do so.

As much as Facebook can grow community within the church, it can also hinder it. When you post photos of an event that only ten or twelve families were invited to, understand that all of the families in the church will see them and all those who were not there will wonder why they were not invited. Be aware of those aspects of Facebook that will alienate people and convince them that they are outsiders. I’ve said it before: I didn’t know how much fun my friends have without me (and how often they have it!) until Facebook came along!

Be Present but not Always Present
Though Facebook can be a valuable tool for the pastor, it is a tool that is far more often used to waste time than to redeem time. Your congregation will be glad to see that you have a presence on Facebook, but they will be dismayed if they see that you have a constant presence. if they see that you are continually commenting, chatting, posting notes, interacting and racking up high scores on Bejeweled Blitz, they will come to believe that you are spending your entire day there. Even if that is not the case, you will want to be very cautious to give them no reason to think that you are wasting your study time or sermon preparation time stalking them on Facebook. So use it, but use it carefully and sparingly.

Don’t Play Farmville
Just don’t. It’s stupid and it will make you stupid.

Managing Perceptions as a Leader (Pt. 3)

No leader can neglect the challenge of managing people’s perceptions. It is not primarily the employee or volunteer who is responsible for accurate communication; that is the leader’s responsibility.

So what can a leader do? How can I prevent inaccurate perceptions and destructive reactions? The research suggests a broad and diverse array of actions.

1. Take responsibility for how your words and actions are perceived. Personal performance coach Joe Matthews suggests that new results must stem from new actions:
If you wish to create a new result, you must first design a new action. Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again, expecting a different result." King Solomon said, "As a dog returns to its vomit, a fool returns to his folly." If you don't like your results in a given area of your work or life, pay careful attention to what you are now doing. Then cut it out. Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away."
It is frustrating to deal with misunderstandings and misperceptions as a leader, but the wise leader will take it upon himself or herself to use search for and find new ways to communicate, ways that will prevent or reduce such problems in the future.

2. Make sure you know the people you lead. As we discussed in the previous posts on this subject, peoples’ needs and desires shape their perceptions. Therefore, it is incumbent on a leader to take the time and trouble to get to know the people he or she is leading and hopes to communicate to. What are they motivated by? What might their concerns be? How are they likely to react? Do they have enough background to rightly assimilate the information you hope to impart? Are you relying on a purely cognitive approach, or have you given thought to the motivations and emotions of your listeners?

3. Listen to rumors. I hate rumors and gossip. My natural tendency is to ignore them. But Dr. Robbins advises differently:
Rumors can be a major distraction for employees….Studies have found that rumors emerge as a response to situations that are important to us, where there is ambiguity, and under conditions that arouse anxiety….Astute managers acknowledge the existence of the grapevine and use it in beneficial ways. They use it to identify issues that employees consider important and that are likely to create anxiety. They view it as both a filter and feedback mechanism by highlighting issues that employees consider relevant….Managers should monitor grapevine patterns and observe which individuals are interested in what issues and who is likely to actively pass rumors along. In addition, managers need to reduce the negative consequences that rumors can create. If you come across an active rumor and think it has the potential to be destructive, consider how you might lessen its impact by improving organizational communication.
One of the most effective means of minimizing destructive gossip and rumor is to speak directly with the person or persons who are spreading it. This isn't always possible, and it should always be done gently but firmly. Sometimes, however, it can often help people who are thus confronted remember to be more careful about such things in the future.

4. Make redundancy part of the communications strategy. Doug Turner, consultant and president of RSI Consulting, wrote the following in the context of pastors and church leaders casting vision regarding church stewardship, but it is nonetheless wise counsel pertaining to communication in general:
Churches often struggle because redundancy is not part of their communication strategy. In other words, communicating an update on the ministry requires so much more than one announcement or newsletter article.
Too often, I make the mistake of expecting people to “catch” a message on the first (or second) time around. But that seldom (if ever) happens. Communication becomes more effective as it is repeated, preferably in multiple forms and via multiple media.

5. Choose communications channels intentionally and wisely.Obviously, some communications tools are better than others. Robbins points out:
Evidence indicates that channels differ in their capacity to convey information. Some are rich in that they have the ability to (1) handle multiple cues simultaneously, (2) facilitate rapid feedback, and (3) be very personal. Othera re lean in that they score low on these three factors. For instance, face-to-face talk scores highest in channel richness because it provides for the maximum amount of information to be transmitted during a communication episode. That is, it offers multiple information cues (words, postures, facial expressions, gestures, intonations), immediate feedback (both verbal and nonverbal), and the personal touch of “being there.” The telephone is another rich channel but less so than face-to-face communication. Impersonal written media such as bulletins and general reports rate low in richness. Email, instant messaging, and memos fall somewhere in between.

The choice of one channel over another should be determined by whether the message is routine or nonroutine….Managers…can communicate nonroutine messages effectively only by selecting rich channels.
6. Pay constant attention to sound communication techniques. Kenneth Gangel lists eight suggestions for improving communication. The wisdom of these principles should be even more obvious in light of the contributing factors mentioned above:
Avoid verbal instructions alone. Use written memos or e-mail to reinforce and clarify oral communication whenever possible.

Use informal settings to facilitate dialogue. Try to break down the barrier that sometimes exists between a leader and the team.

Use careful planning before any group presentation. A pastor confronting the board with a building project, for example, should have carefully thought through how he will make the presentation, what possible questions might be raised, and how he will answer them.

Try to speak to small groups whenever possible. We can enhance good audience contact by limiting the size of the group.

Know the audience. Understand your team and speak directly to them.

Know your subject matter well. Do not attempt to bluff your way through a presentation.

Attempt to establish rapport with your people. Spend time with them; know and understand their problems and needs; and demonstrate interest and Christian love toward them as persons.

Be sincere. Genuine sincerity can cover and atone for a multitude of technical errors.
Some of us do these things intentionally, even instinctively, in our preaching ministry...but too often we neglect them in other communication.

7. Communicate to address not only cognition, but also motivational and emotional processes.This is the biggest "takeaway" from the research, for me. I need to get better at doing more than simply sharing information on a cognitive level. Learn to address people’s needs, desires, fears, and hopes. Don't assume that just because you hear and process information cognitively, everyone else does.

8. Rely on feedback to gauge the effectiveness of your communication, and the recipient’s understanding. Donald P. Ely, a leading thinker in instructional technology, points out:
The degree of success which a given message has achieved can be determined by feedback. Feedback provides a teacher with information concerning his success in accomplishing his objective. The feedback may be covert or overt. A perceptive question stemming from the message is one of the simplest examples of feedback. The learner who asks a pertinent question indicates his degree of understanding. Most feedback is more complex, particularly in the case of value judgments and attitude changes which may not be as easy to process. A teacher should attempt to elicit feedback to determine how well he is achieving his purpose.
Months ago, after running into (seemingly) one misperception after another, I started the practice of frequently concluding a dialogue with the questions, “What have you heard me to say during our time together?” and “Do you feel confident that I’ve listened to you, and heard what you’ve had to say?” This seems to have had an immediate and marked effect on the effectiveness of my communication.

Obviously, it is impossible to manage people’s perceptions with 100% accuracy. Even 80% or 90% may be unrealistic. But It should be realistic for any leader to vastly improve his or her effectiveness in this area. There will probably always be some who will—for any number of reasons—receive a message in ways the leader never intended. But I hope that will become rarer...as I become better at communicating so as to anticipate and shape perceptions.

Managing Perceptions as a Leader (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, I began a three-part post on how to manage perceptions as a leader. I've been amazed on occasion at how people (even those I've known and loved for a long time) perceive me and my actions, as well as those of other people, and so have wanted for some time to learn more about how (and why) perceptions are formed, so that I might become a more effective leader by anticipating and shaping people's perceptions.

I've learned that, for whatever reason, I have long tended to view leadership and communication as a basically simple, linear process, I've learned--by experience and by research--that these things are far from simple or linear. The interplay between communication and perception involves multiple interactions, behaviors, and considerations that may not be immediately or easily apparent to a leader.

What is a leader to do, then? How can a leader—and a Christian leader, in particular—view and manage perceptions in such a way as to prevent confusion, conflict, and failure in an organization?

Communication between two individuals is never a simple and straightforward sharing of cognitive information; much less is communication in and to groups as simple as most leaders think. Research indicates multiple factors that contribute to create distance between what a leader or communicator intends and what a perceiver receives.

1. Over-reliance on Cognition. Manuel London, Ph.D., associate dean at the State University of New York’s College of Business (Stonybrook), helpfully identifies a long-standing over-reliance on cognition as an impediment:
[Recent] discoveries have moved the field away from thinking about person perception as rational, information-driven processes (referred to as "cold" cognition), toward considering the influence of motivational and affective processes or "hot" cognition (Zajonc, 1980). Indeed, it is now evident that prescribed models of social judgment (e.g., Cooper, 1981; Lord, 1985) are, at best, heuristics. But because researchers were guided by these models for so long, they assumed more cognitive-based explanations for the outcomes of person perception than warranted.
In other words, it is a mistake for a leader to expect listeners or followers to react with “cold” cognition to his or her communication, in whatever form. In fact, it may be more accurate to expect that the greater part of a person’s perception will stem from “hot cognition” (which will be defined shortly) and even non-cognitive sources.

2. Over-abundance of information. Donald E. Broadbent, the experimental psychologist and pioneer of cognitive psychology, showed in his book Perception and Communication that much difficulty arises from communicators presenting (consciously or unconsciously) multiple messages to listeners or readers simultaneously. He says:
1. Some central, rather than sensory, factors are involved when two messages are presented to the ears at the same time.
2. The effects vary with the number of possible messages that might have arrived and from which the actual ones are chosen (i.e., the rate at which information is arriving is important).
3. When some information must be discarded, it is not discarded at random. Thus if some of the material is irrelevant it is better for it to come from a different place from the relevant material, or to be louder or softer, or to have different frequency characteristics: or to be on the eye instead of the ear.
“What seems to be impossible,” he concludes, “on the basis of the considerable body of evidence we have examined, is to handle more than a critical amount of information in a given time.” Therefore, one could reasonably expect, if an attempt is made to share information in a disjointed or overlapping manner, that the listener or reader’s perception could well be at variance with the communicator’s intentions.

3. Sin patterns. Ken Sande, president and founder of Peacemaker Ministries (www.peacemaker.net) posits the possibility that critical judgments of a speaker, writer, or leader’s communication may be attributable to the sin that infects all humanity (and, likewise, in the case of critical judgments on the part of the leader toward the hearers or readers). He writes:
When Adam sinned, he corrupted the entire human race. He passed on to each of us an inherent tendency to sin, which includes a natural inclination towards mistaken, negative judgments. This inclination is revealed throughout the Bible. The Old Testament offers many examples:
• After the Israelites conquered the promised land, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh returned to their allotted land and built an altar by the Jordan. When the other tribes heard about the altar, they assumed the worst and rashly assembled their troops to go to war against their brothers. Fortunately, before a battle began, those who had built the altar were able to explain its legitimate purpose and avoid bloodshed. (Joshua 22:10-34)
• In 1 Samuel, we read how the high priest made a hasty, critical judgment. When Eli saw Hannah praying in the temple, moving her lips but making no sound, he concluded that she was drunk. Only after harshly confronting her did he learn that she was communing with the Lord in a way that put Eli to shame. (1:12-17)
• Even King David made critical judgments. When he fled from his son Absalom, a man named Ziba brought David a critical report regarding Saul’s son, Mephibosheth, saying that he had turned against King David. Without waiting to hear Mephibosheth’s side of the story, David passed judgment against this innocent man and turned all of his property over to a false witness. (2 Sam. 16:1-4; 19:24-30)

The New Testament also portrays this pattern of making critical judgments.
• When Jesus was doing miracles and healing the blind, the Pharisees stubbornly closed their eyes to the good he was doing and interpreted his actions in the worst possible way, saying that he was actually serving the devil. (Matt. 12:22-24)
• In Acts 21:26-29, we see that Paul meticulously followed all of the Jewish customs as he prepared to come into the temple. Even so, the Jews assumed the worst, jumping to the conclusion that he had defiled the temple and should be stoned.
• As 1 Corinthians 10-11 reveals, the Apostle Paul repeatedly was condemned falsely, not only by the Jews, but also by people from within the Christian community. Like many church leaders today, he learned the hard lesson that servants of the Lord are often misunderstood, criticized, and judged by the very people they are trying to serve.

But we don’t need to look back thousands of years to see people making critical judgments of others. Just think how easily we ourselves believe the worst about others’ motives or actions.
• If someone delays answering a letter or fulfilling a commitment, we assume too easily that he is avoiding us or evading his responsibilities. Could it be that he’s been in the hospital recovering from a serious accident? Could he be overwhelmed by other responsibilities?
• If our children do not complete their chores on time, we conclude that they are being disobedient. Could it be that they are secretly wrapping a special present for their mom’s birthday? Could they have gotten distracted, and a simple reminder would help?
• If an employer fails to give us a raise, we assume she is unappreciative or greedy. Could she be struggling to keep the business going in the face of increasing competition and operating costs?
• If someone at church seems unfriendly, we assume she is proud or aloof. Could it be that she feels awkward and unsure of herself, and is hoping someone will reach out to her?
• If the elders do not accept a proposal we make, we may conclude that they are narrow-minded and do not understand or appreciate our opinions or needs. Could it be that God is leading them to give priority to a different ministry?
• If church members raise questions about policies or new programs, church leaders may conclude that the members are stubbornly unwilling to consider new ideas or stretch themselves to grow. They may even be labeled as rebellious troublemakers. Could it be that they have legitimate insights and concerns that deserve a careful hearing?
4. Bias and prejudice.The prevalence of bias and prejudice in the human heart and mind is also a potential source of inaccurate perceptions or interpretations. Hastorf and Cantril (1954) famously studied perceptions of a Princeton-Dartmouth football game; viewers at Princeton saw Dartmouth players commit more rule violations, and viewers at Dartmouth saw an abundance of penalties on the Princeton side. A person’s predilection toward certain loyalties, attitudes, beliefs, personalities, habits, etc., will affect his or her perception, often imperceptibly.

The Bible says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Every human perception is subject to some bias or prejudice, both generally (about a certain race or class of people, for example) and specifically (about an individual or an organization). These biases and prejudices may have some basis in reality, but cannot be fully knowledgeable, as God’s judgment is.

5. Cultural differences. A team of Canadian and Japanese researchers have recently published studied how eastern and western cultures assess situations very differently:
Across two studies, participants viewed images, each of which consisted of one centre model and four background models in each image. The researchers manipulated the facial emotion (happy, angry, sad) in the centre or background models and asked the participants to determine the dominant emotion of the centre figure.
The majority of Japanese participants (72%) reported that their judgments of the centre person's emotions were influenced by the emotions of the background figures, while most North Americans (also 72%) reported they were not influenced by the background figures at all.
Dr. Stephen P. Robbins, a prolific and best-selling textbook author in the areas of management and organizational behavior, states it succinctly: “Culture…defines what’s acceptable to subordinates.” This extends beyond the cultural differences between east and west, or nationalities. It applies also to cultural differences between faith background, blue collar versus white collar, etc.

6. Personalities, power plays, perspectives, and purpose. Mike Anthony (quoted in Kenneth Gangel’s book, Team Leadership in Christian Ministry), identifies four causes of conflict in churches. Inasmuch as conflict often arises from poor communication, miscommunication, or misperception, these may also be useful as possible contributing causes to a gap between intentions and perceptions. Anthony writes:
In the eyes of most pastors and board members, there seem to be as many sources of church conflict as there are people in the congregation. The longer I am in the ministry, the more I discover! In speaking with pastors and board members over the years, I have identified a few causes of strife common in most churches: personalities, power plays, perspective, and purpose.
7. Motivation.Dr. Dan Burrell, professor at Liberty University and Boston Baptist College, defined motivation in the context of leadership:
Motivation is recognizing and utilizing the inner motives (drives or needs) of a person to get him to want to do what needs to be done. The leader should recognize that there is a cause (usually an identifiable one) for the way people think and act. People act the way they do because of a cause, and good leaders will seek to understand the cause-effect relationship behind the actions of people. The causes for actions will be based on a person’s value system, needs, and goals.
As I think about it, much of the miscommunication I have engaged in and contributed to may be attributable to a failure to adequately connect with the inner motives of the person or persons I was trying to lead. London’s work, cited above, goes into great detail on the subject of motivation as one example of “hot cognition”:
Given the pragmatic nature of person perception, the cognitive structures, processes, and strategies used by the motivated tactician are thought to depend on his or her motives in relationship to the situation. Two general motivational states relevant to social perception in applied contexts include those that deal with the costs of being indecisive (expectancy-oriented motives) and those that deal with the costs of being wrong (accuracy-oriented motives; see Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Either of these stems from forces in the environment that motivate perceivers to seek to make accurate or "quick and dirty" decisions.
London goes on to identify motives that make salient the costs of being indecisive and motives that make salient the costs of being wrong. In the case of the former, he says, “In general, the costs of indecision increase whenever resources are limited. Here people will engage in more cursory, superficial processing in which "information search is curtailed, inconsistencies are ignored or seen as affirming, and snap judgments are justified" (Fiske, 1993, p. 175) and adds that “Basic research suggests that when the information processing environment reaches a certain level of difficulty, social perceivers are likely to rely on tools, such as stereotypes, in their "cognitive toolbox" (Gilbert & Hixon, 1991; Macrae et al., 1994).

8. Emotion. London cites Forgas (1991) and Kunda (1999) in stating that people’s perceptions will also be “heated up” by their emotions. A person’s perception may be a partial reflection of his or her mood at the time; people generally perceive things more positively when they are in a good mood and more negatively when they are in a bad mood.
London also identifies four “interpersonal and social factors” that may influence a person’s perception. He lists:
1. History of the relationship (e.g., between the communicator and the perceiver);
2. Similarity of target and perceiver (i.e., the degree to which the perceiver identifies and feels affinity with the target of the communication);
3. Status, power, and hierarchy (London suggests that “individuals of lower status or in a subordinate position will be more diligent in their information processing”);
4. Accountability (London states, “Being accountable to a third party, or having to justify a decision, also causes perceivers to process information more carefully”).
Obviously, multiple and varied factors may contribute to create distance between what a leader or communicator intends and what a perceiver receives. It should also be clear that no leader can reasonably expect to navigate the challenges and difficulties of managing the perceptions of others with one hundred percent effectiveness.

But I hope that an awareness of the contributing factors can at least help reduce misunderstanding and misperception between us and the people we lead. If not...well, never mind.

And, while I'm sorry this post has gone on so long, I think I can be a little more concise tomorrow, when I share eight ways I hope to do better at managing perceptions in the future.