Are You Praying?

 
 
 

In my NIV Bible there is a heading at the beginning of Colossians 4 entitled “Further Instructions”. I strongly suspect the apostle Paul would not have picked that subtitle for this section of Scripture. Here’s what it says:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Colossians 4:2-4

In verse 4, Paul commands us to “devote ourselves to prayer”. He included two elements of prayer in the same sentence: “watchfulness” and “thankfulness”.

What is so disturbing is how easy it is for us pastors and leaders to do the complete opposite. We become so overwhelmed, distracted and busy that being ‘watchful’ and ‘thankful’ is clearly far from our mind. We fall into the trap of self-reliance, exactly as our mutual enemy plans. We’ll preach to our congregation on the virtue’s of prayer, and then forget to do so for the ministry God has entrusted us to lead. Sure, we’ll pray briefly in the morning or at night; most of us have some sort of regular and hopefully meaningful devotional life. But, perhaps you, like me, tend to slip and slide away from this critical responsibility we hold.

Have you devoted yourself to prayer for the ministry you help lead? Do you bathe your plans in His Presence?  Are you tapping into man’s wisdom or the power of God in your office and team meetings? I suppose the more revelatory question simply is, “When was the last time you spent more than 30 minutes in prayer specifically for your church and congregation?”

Asking for Prayer
What is even more humbling is that Paul wasn’t afraid to ask for prayer either. In fact, he often asked people to pray for him and his ministry. He gave specific requests and he assumed that the people he asked would, in fact, pray for him. There is no indication at all that he was embarrassed, ashamed, or self-conscious about soliciting others to pray for him.

Yet we often are embarrassed, ashamed or self-conscious about asking. After all, aren’t we the designated leader? Shouldn’t we have everything all together? Shouldn’t we be mature and spiritual enough that we don’t really need the prayers of others? Won’t asking for prayer create doubt about our leadership in the eyes of those with whom we lead?

In reality, those are all very sad questions. They all presume that we are capable of fulfilling our calling by ourselves. Paul never seemed to make that presumption. Neither should you or I.

Have you asked others to pray for you and your family? Do you divulge the challenges, difficulties and fears you are facing to people who will lift them up to the Lord? Again, the real test is “Who do you KNOW has prayed for you this week?”

Image Source Unknown.

The Rhythm of Failure

Craig Groeschel

Do you remember when you learned how to ride a bike? How about your first few times trying to tread water? What can you learn today from that experience? Perhaps it’s time for you to go back to the basics all over again. You still remember how to ride a bike, but I wonder if you’ve forgotten how to learn how to ride a bike?

This is my fear for many pastors and church leaders. They’ve forgotten about the rhythm of failure. Failure is critical if you want to learn to do anything new. There’s a rhythm within failure that equips and stimulates new ideas and growth.

It goes something like this:

  • You try.
  • You fail.
  • You learn.
  • You adjust.

This morning I watched this 10 minute clip from Craig Groeschel. I was encouraged. I needed to hear what he had to say about failure. Among other things, he shares four things we need to take risks and embrace failure in the church.

I think you need to watch it too. Why not stop what you’re doing right now, put this on full screen, turn up the volume, and give yourself a quick leadership lesson. Perhaps you’ll want to forward this video on to the other leaders in your church as well. You won’t regret it.

Character Driven or Emotion Driven

Many years ago our church hosted a five minute radio show on a local radio station with our Senior Pastor at the time, Pastor Mike Cavanaugh, giving a short teaching.

One day while out driving with my family, Pastor Mike came on the radio and shared the below comparisons between Character Driven People and Emotion Driven People. It impacted and challenged me so much that I wrote it out and for many years kept it posted on the wall in my office as a personal reference.

I recently read Galatians 5:22-23 and this little teaching came back to my mind. I thought you might find it meaningful as well.

 

 

  Character Driven People
  Emotion Driven People
  Do right, then feel good
  Feel good, then do right.
  Are commitment driven.
  Are convenience driven.
  Make principle based decisions.   Make popularity based decisions.
  Action controls attitude.   Attitude controls action.
  Believe it, then see it.   See it, then believe it.
  Ask, “What are my responsibilities?”   Ask, “What are my rights?”
  Are steady.   Are moody.
  Continue when problems arise.   Quit when problems arise.

A Moment with Robert Morris

I had the great honor to have spent a few moments with Pastor Robert Morris and his wife, Debbie, this past week during Elim Fellowship’s Leadership Conference. As the Service Producer I had the chance to touch base with him on his needs/plans during each of the sessions as well as to engage in just a few moments of friendly banter. I treasure these moments. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of doing the same with Bill Johnson, Jack Hayford, David Ireland and Larry Stockstill.

I wish I could have spent more time with them. However, I think I spent enough to at least get a first impression of their personality and character. Here is a summary of some of those ‘first impressions’, particularly regarding Pastor Robert.

Humble.
Robert unapologetically preaches with authority and confidence. He told the audience that he had a measure of authority and confidence as well – especially in the area of giving and finances. Yet his attitude was not haughty or proud, in my opinion. I think one mark of a humble person is an awareness of his strengths and the confidence to engage those strengths with confidence.

Transparent.
Transparency is a quality I highly value and admire in others. When I speak of transparency, I’m speaking of that inclination to be exactly who you are no matter what venue you find yourself in. In other words, you’re the same in the back hall as you are when on-stage. You don’t have two persona’s. You simply are who you are, wherever you find yourself, whether in public or in private. I saw Robert’s love for the Word of God, sense of humor, and desire to please the Lord in the green room just as much as we saw it on-stage.

Accepting.
I’ve been around enough “important” people to experience the unpleasant feeling that I am invisible or unimportant despite being present and accounted for. (Note: I am not speaking of the other great leaders mentioned above.) From the moment I met Pastor Robert I never felt like he somehow considered himself above myself or anyone else with whom he spoke to. In fact, in watching him interact with the few people who made their way to him before or after the service I saw the same exact thing. He seemed to genuinely consider others just as valuable as the next guy.

Understand, I don’t know Robert Morris personally. These were just the general impressions I got in my few interactions with him. I’m inclined to believe that my impressions are fairly accurate. I don’t think humility, transparency, and acceptance are traits that are easy to ‘fake’.

What about you? What are the ‘impressions’ people get upon first meeting you? If you were to evaluate YOURSELF in the above 3 traits, how would you rate yourself? In fact, what people in your life do you think would honestly say those three characteristics describe you?

I don’t know about you, but I aspire to excel in these areas of my life. I hope you do as well.

One Sentence Can Change Your Life

One sentence. That shouldn’t be too hard to write, right? It’s just a handful of words. If you are reading this right now, it’s likely you could be writing a sentence. So I have a challenge for you. Some of you will probably read this challenge and think it’s an interesting idea – but not do it. You are busy and although this is a good idea (perhaps even a great one), it’ll save for a rainy day when you have the time. We all know when that day will come. So try this out, right now if possible.

The Challenge: Write out your job description in one sentence.

I think you should be able to do that. If you can’t, then I respectfully suggest that you are very likely busy doing a lot of things that may not be touching the most important thing. Remember Jesus’ words to Martha?

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.'” Luke 10:41-42

How many things are you ‘doing’ that aren’t really needed? How would you know? One of the best ways is to write out your primary purpose in the ministry context you find yourself in (whether you are a pastor, elder or usher). You should do it in one sentence though. It needs to be short, clear, and concise.

You’ll need to think about it a lot first. You’ll probably start with a paragraph (or maybe a page); but don’t break the rule – one sentence only.

Here’s what I think you’ll discover about yourself and your ministry, perhaps even your calling...
A lot you didn’t realize. I think you’ll discover that you are doing many things you shouldn’t. I think you’ll find out that the things that are really important for you to do are sitting on the shelf to get done, ‘someday’. Here’s a scary thought: you might actually find out that you really don’t know what your supposed to be doing.

Try it. If you succeed, please either post your sentence here or email it to me at transformingleader@elimgospel.org. I would love to read it and celebrate with you.

Note: Andy Stanley talks about this very idea in his podcast entitled, “High Performance Teams“. Good stuff.

Image compliments of floortje at istockphoto.com.

Creating a Trust Culture

Have you ever had a volunteer, employee, or friend tell you she would do something, and then totally bomb out and not do it – even to the point of not TELLING you she wasn’t going to do it? Have you ever done that yourself? When that happens, trust is broken. Trust should be an extremely important and well-guarded part of your church and ministry. If you don’t have it, then I respectfully submit that your ministry is in a very dangerous place.

Jesus highlighted how important it is that we be in honest and open communication when he said in Matthew 5, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Jesus is expressing here that the broken trust in this relationship is critical to fix, right away. Stop what you are doing (even worship) and go reconcile.

I listened to Andy Stanley talk about this yesterday and felt the need to encourage you to listen to it as well. Please consider taking 25 minutes out of your day today (before you forget and get too busy) to listen to this podcast by Andy entitled, “Trust vs Suspicion”.

Click Here to Listen to “Trust vs Suspicion” by Andy Stanley.

If you are interested in subscribing to Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcast you may do so right here.

Pastor Jack Oats

image compliments of Matthew Stumphy

I know you have a given name and title at your church. I’m sure you are proud when you hear them spoken (most of the time at least). However, is it possible that you could also go by the name Pastor Jack Oats. If so, you are very likely ignorant of the fact. If you aren’t ignorant of the fact, then perhaps you need therapy.

OK. That wasn’t very helpful. You are free to go by the name “Pastor Jack Oats” if all or most of the following is true:

  • You preach every Sunday of the year.  Bonus: you lead worship each week too.
  • You teach every Wednesday of the year.
  • You also teach a Sunday School class almost every week.
  • You create the bulletin and/or sermon note-taking guide each week. Bonus: you make the PowerPoint too.
  • You run sound on Sunday mornings.
  • You count the offering each week (with or without someone else present).
  • You are available 24/7 to your congregation in case someone needs to talk.
  • You order and organize the Sunday School curriculum. 
  • You provide ongoing counselling to several people each week.
  • You lead the youth ministry on Friday nights.
  • You created and maintain the church website.
  • You organize and run VBS every summer.
  • You do a lot of the cleaning and mowing around the church. Bonus: shoveling too.
What do you think? Does that hit pretty close to the mark? Does this describe a good chunk of your weekly activities? If so, then I hereby dub you, Pastor Jack Oats. How did I know? Just check out the first word of every bullet above. You.
Andy Stanley has said, “Devoting a little of yourself to everything means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing.” 
Here’s the deal, YOU can’t do everything Pastor Jack Oats! (aka: Pastor Jack Of All TradeS)

“WAIT! You don’t understand! I serve in a small church and have to do all of those things!”

I know there’s a chance I may have just offended a few of my readers. Please understand that I’m not trying to offend. I am trying to challenge. I know you have a lot of responsibility and there are a lot of things you need to do. I know that often you are the ONLY person who can or will do them.

However, sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut in thinking that you are the only one. The fact is, if you have a congregation of 12 people, it’s possible to ‘spread the responsibility’ of ministry around. (I didn’t pick the number randomly . . .) I’ve come across a few pastors over the years who:

  • Have gifted people in their church, but don’t think to ask them to serve.
  • Assume everyone is too busy to do some of the things they do.
  • Are afraid to ask others to get involved.
  • Enjoy doing lots of things and are unwilling to give them up to others.
  • Want to be in control and prefer to do things themselves.
  • Don’t trust others to do things the way they want them done.
  • Believe they don’t have time to recruit and train others to do things. It’s easier to do it themselves.
  • Believe they don’t have anyone in their church who can do the necessary tasks.
Friend, if this is you then I urge you to reconsider. There are gems sitting in your pews and in your communities who God has called and gifted to serve His body alongside you. It is His plan that you equip your people to do the ministry. That is what you are called to do. It is a holy and biblical mandate from God himself (remember Ephesians 4:11-13)

Pastoral Ministry by Paul

Have you ever talked with someone about something and just assumed they knew what you were talking about? Probably. I suppose you wouldn’t know if you think they know what you’re saying. Hopefully, that’s not a ‘weekly’ experience for your congregation on Sundays! I was reading 1 Corinthians the other day and came across the below passage. It’s a great Scripture full of all kinds of good stuff. However, I stopped and began reading between the lines, specifically asking myself the question, “What can I learn about pastoral ministry from this excerpt?” I was mildly surprised with what I learned.

6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:6-11

Putting the passage in context, Paul was reprimanding the Corinthians for acting like babies (verses 1-2). Evidently, they argued a lot over who they should really be ‘following’, Paul or Apollos (verse 4). Paul was reminding the church to get their priorities straight and set their sights on Jesus Christ.

OK. So that’s the context. Now I’d like to pull out a few interesting facts (and raise a few questions) out of the content.

  1. Paul acknowledges that man has an important part to play in the work of God (verse 6) In this case, planting and watering. If you were to take a guess, which part do you think YOU play in the ministry you help lead? Planting or watering?
  2. The church body should not consider the planter or the waterer as the focal point of their attention or lives – but God alone (verse 7) Paul considered this attitude an immature one. Earlier in the passage he said that they could only be given milk, not solid food, because of their pettiness in these areas. Does your congregation spiritually rely on you as their pastor, or on God?
  3. Only God can prosper the work of man (verse 7) In Isaiah 30:1 God warns, “‘Woe to the obstinate children,’ declares the LORD, ‘to those who carry out plans that are not mine.'”  It is quite possible to be planting and watering seeds, and staying quite content and busy while we are at it, but NOT see anything grow. Is God making things grow in your ministry?
  4. The planter and waterer have unique roles and purposes in the church (verse 8) I suspect it would be easy for us leaders to fall prey to thinking that the role we serve is the most important or perhaps even the only role there is. I think it’s also possible that we leaders may try to take on both the role of planter AND waterer. Paul seems pretty adamant that they are unique functions. Are you making room in your ministry for differently gifted people to shine and fulfill their calling?
  5. There are rewards associated with the work of the ministry (verse 8) Cool. We all like the idea of having rewards for our work. Of course, this passage also implies a judgement. In verse 14 Paul writes, “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss, he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” Umm. Can I just say, he’s talking about you and me here. Are you giving your all for the work of God or do you take your role for granted?
  6. The work of the ministry is just that . . . work (verse 8) Paul states pretty simply that it’s work. Ministry is not a walk in the park. He called it “labor”. The thing is, many pastors have a choice whether or not they will actually ‘work’ or not. I know it’s not true for most, but I’ve come into contact with enough to know that ‘work’ for some pastors takes place Friday through Sunday and the rest of the week is counted as an extended sabbath. Do you serve your church body with integrity? Are they getting everything you have to give?
  7. God is working alongside us (verse 9) How humbling to realize that, according to Paul, we are God’s fellow workers. I love that. It means God is on staff too. He’s working right alongside me. He’s not doing my job, He’s doing His job. I get to be part of what He’s doing by partnering with him and fulfilling the function He designed me to fulfill. Do you acknowledge, honor, and call on God as an integral part of your ministry each and every day?
  8. God has included us in the building of his church (verse 9) Again, how humbling. The object of God’s attention in this passage is HIS field or HIS building. Paul is talking about the church right there; that’s the bride of Christ, His beloved. And God has invited US to participate in preparing His bride for her wedding day. Do you view your congregation through your own eyes, or the eyes of Christ each day.
  9. We are to serve as experts in God’s work (verse 10) Paul described himself as an expert or wise builder. I suspect he considered Apollos in the same light. Experts don’t come cheap. Experts are the result of thousands of hours of learning and experience. Experts are rare. Most people stop at the Novice phase because it’s just too hard and too uncomfortable to press through to become an expert. Are you an expert in your role as a minister of the gospel? If not, why not?
  10. The work of ministry MUST be taken seriously and carefully (verse 10) Be careful how you build! Watch your doctrine closely. Serve the church humbly. (Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”) Keep Christ central. This passage also says in verses 12-13, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is.” If Christ visited your office today and told you what you were building on his foundation with, what do you think He would say?

Leaders are Readers

There was a time when I absolutely dreaded reading anything besides fiction (including the Bible, I am embarrassed to say.) I would occasionally be assigned to read some book on leadership by my boss at the time, Mike Cavanaugh. It would sit on my desk at work or my nightstand at home unread for weeks at a time. Every once in a while I would open it up and give it a token effort, perhaps getting through the first 2 or 3 chapters. Then Pastor Mike would kindly but firmly give me some extra incentive, like remind me that quarterly reviews were coming up soon. Ugh. So I would finally plot the appropriate hours and plow through.

As is often the case, the book usually ended up being a great help to my life and ministry; but it was a bear to get through! Perhaps you relate. Maybe it’s not a motivation issue so much as a life management issue. When are you supposed to find time to read in the midst of everything else going on in your life!

You’ve probably heard people quote Harry Truman, “Not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader.” I would qualify that statement by adding, “every growing leader is a reader.” I am so glad to say that I’ve finally figured out ways to incorporate reading into my life and ministry. I’d like to share some pointers with you; perhaps one or more of these ideas will help you as well. Some of you may be interested to know that I don’t set time aside specifically  to read each day or week, yet I get a lot of reading done each month.

Learn how to skim.
This is a skill I have developed over the years that has served me very well. For some books, blogs, or articles, I will simply skim over them. I have successfully “skimmed” 300-400 page books in just a couple of hours and sometimes less than that. I can still tell you today what I learned from some of those books. Sometimes I will skim a book first, and then read it word for word later. Skimming is a lot easier than you think (as opposed to speed reading, which is an acquired skill.) Here are two articles I would recommend that will give you the basics:

Determine when to read and when to skim.
I evaluate every book I read to determine if it’s a “really read this book” or a “skim and get the meat book”. Sometimes I will decide to skim a book and realize within the first chapter or two that this is a “really read this book.” At other times I will “try” giving a book a solid word for word and find I am just not interested or motivated, so I switch to the skim method. Here are a few of the criteria I use to make this determination:

  • A leader I highly admire/respect requests or recommends the book: READ. (Pastor Josh suggested I read the book, Next Generation Leader, by Andy Stanley. I read it and now highly recommend it.)
  • The content is very engaging and interesting to me: READ. (I started to skim the book, Crucial Confrontations and found it so engaging that I ended up reading through it word for word.)
  • The content is important to me (though not necessarily engaging): READ. (I found the book Getting Things Done sort of hard to read, but I knew the information was important and would help me, so I read it all the way through.)
  • I want the information, but don’t have time for a full blown read: SKIM. (Sometimes if I’m preaching or teaching in a few days I may skim to get some extra info on a topic. If I found the book really engaging, I’ll set it aside to read through more in-depth later.)
  • The author hasn’t impressed me in the past, but I know he/she has something good to say: SKIM. (For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get into Max Lucado’s books, though he’s a best selling author, so I’ll often skim his books for the good stuff instead.
  • I have already read the material before, but want to remember what it was about or get some quotes/illustrations: SKIM. (I recently skimmed the book, Thinking for a Change, by John Maxwell which I read last year in order to prepare for a lesson I was about to teach.)
  • The topic is something I am already very knowledgeable in or the material is stuff I already know: SKIM. (I read a blog a while back that was talking about a key principle I’ve already learned and implement from the book Eat That Frog, I skimmed through that article.)
  • The topic is not something I need to be well-versed in or I already know the gist of the book: SKIM. (I have the book Drive, by Daniel Pink on my reading list. I’ve already watched him present the content from this book, so I’ll likely just skim it.)
  • The book has been sitting on my bookshelf forever and I’m dreading reading it: SKIM. (I purchased the book, Brain Rules more than two years ago. If I actually get to it, I’ll likely skim it. If I don’t read this book within the next year I’ll likely just give it a 15 minute leaf through and either sell, give away, or throw away.)

Notice that I have more criteria for skimming than reading. You’ll also realize that not only do I skim quite a few books, but I also read more than just books every week. See below.

Strategically mark up books when you can.
I know and have used a myriad of methods for tracking information in books, or marking them up for future use. I’m still not sure which methods are the best. I have taken notes from books and created my own “cliff notes” on some books. For others I’ve highlighted/underlined and placed a number next to sections with notes on the back inside cover telling me what that particular section/highlight was about for future reference. I am a big believer in underlining key sentences, highlighting headings or sections I want to stand out, and writing in the margins several words that summarize the selected text for easy retrieval. The point is, find a method for marking up books so that you can quickly get the meat out of it when you need to.

Go digital.
If you already own an Blackberry, iPhone, Android phone, an iPad or a phone with regular internet access, then I urge you to begin taking advantage of the digital options available to you. For example, you have the basic tool you need to begin reading blogs (see next point). Additionally, Amazon will let you download kindle apps for free on your blackberry, iphone, ipad, or Android phones, which can then be used to purchase and read audio books. This year alone I have read about 5 books on my phone using the kindle app. In fact, I read the entire book, Crucial Confrontations, on my phone each night during a 15 minute slot in my day when I was doing nothing else, but didn’t have a book handy nearby.

Discover the power of blogs.
This is the original reason I wrote this blog today. I know many pastors and leaders who are afraid of the word “blog”. It’s an unknown so it’s intimidating. It’s something for the younger generation, right? Not true. I’ve discovered that reading blogs is one of the best ways to stay fresh on just about any topic or issue without stealing time. In fact I read an average of 10-12 blogs a day (sometimes as many as 25), all within chunks of time when I wasn’t going to be doing anything else important anyway. Here’s a couple ideas to get you started:

1. GOOGLE READER: If you aren’t a blog reader yet, then I recommend you start with Google Reader. Yes, there are a myriad of other readers out there, but you’re already intimidated so just trust me and start here. It’s very easy. If you already have a Google account then just log in and find “Reader” on the “More” drop-down. If you don’t have an account, it’s free to set one up. Once you get to the reader, just click on the “Add a Subscription” button and perform your search and then subscribe (for example, type ‘transforming leader’ or ‘Wayne Hedlund’ to find my blog). Once you start playing around with it you’ll discover it’s quite simple to use. You can then set the page up as a shortcut on your desktop or a favorite you visit regularly and wala, you’re on your way. You can also download an app on your phone giving you easy access to your blogs.

2. Blogs and Email: Let me just say something about the idea of subscribing to blogs via email. Just about any blog worth reading will give you that option. If you really don’t have regular internet access, then this is the way for you to go. A couple of suggestions:

  • If you use Outlook 2003 or earlier for email, create a folder labeled ‘blogs’ and then create a rule that pops all your subscribed blogs into that folder. If that’s too complicated for you, simply drag the blogs into that folder for reading later when you have time, instead of mucking up your inbox.
  • If you use gmail, then do the same thing but with the label functionality. I don’t know about other email applications on the web, but most of them will allow you the ability to create rules, filters, folders, and labels.
  • If you use Outlook 2007 or later, read more about the built in RSS reader. This is how I got started as a blog reader. Again, don’t worry about the intimidation factor. Like just about everything these days, once you’ve learned how to do it, you’ll be amazed that you waited so long to take advantage of it. Try this online training to learn more.

Here’s the main thing you should understand about blogs if you are new to them. Don’t read every one. That’s right, unless you’re only subscribed to mine (joke) you’ll want to look through the list of blog titles that pop up in your reader or email each day or week and decide which ones sound or look interesting to you. You’ll then skim or read those as you see fit and mark the rest read. Every once in a while (almost daily for me) you’ll find one you really like and want to either forward or keep for future reference. If that happens, I recommend you take care of it right then, or it will likely not happen at all

Take advantage of dead time.
This may seem obvious, but it actually takes diligence, preparation, and intentionality to take advantage of the dead time in your life (time that you aren’t really doing anything valuable). One of the best ‘dead time’ tools is, as I already mentioned, a phone with reading materials available on it like e-books or blogs. If that’s not available to you, I recommend you try to keep one or two books with you at all times that you can pull out to read whenever you have a few minutes. If I stay focused, I can read a whole book in one month just by taking advantage of the white space in my life.

Become a bathroom reader.
Uh, well I just covered this above, but thought perhaps it was worth mentioning specifically. Most of us can often spend anywhere from 4 to 24 minutes on the throne. Other than the obvious, there’s not much else to do in there. It’s a great place to get some reading done. Even the four minute sessions can be valuable if you pick the right kind of book – one with short chapters. For instance, I read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and Axiom from start to finish in the bathroom. Find a good book that will work, or some magazines that are relevant to your life or ministry, and just leave them in the bathroom. Don’t read them except when you’re umm, you know, busy in there.

Kill your guilt.
I used to get so frustrated with myself if I didn’t finish a book or if it took forever to read. I’d even feel guilty if I was reading the book (which someone else told me was awesome) but thought it was real boring. My suggestion . . . don’t be so hard on yourself. Some books are going to hit you as amazing, relevant, and inspirational, others won’t. Don’t worry about it.

Read a whole book in 8 pages (or listen in 20 minutes.)
OK, I guess you won’t actually read the whole book, but there is an awesome way to get all of the relevant highlights and major points of hundreds of popular books on leadership, management, marketing, etc. Last year we stumbled across www.summary.com. It’s not a christian organization, so far as I can tell, but it has been an awesome resource to our team at Elim Gospel Church. Basically, you pay the fees you feel are appropriate for your situation and find yourself with access to all sorts of great book reviews. You can download them as pdf’s – each one being 8 pages long or you can listen to someone read the summary in a 20 minute period by downloading the mp3 version. You can even subscribe to them in a blog if you want. For me, I occasionally walk to work. It takes me almost exactly 20 minutes. I can listen to one book review in that one walk. It’s awesome.

Read while exercising or commuting (audio-books).
You already know about audio-books. I actually don’t utilize them myself too often, but have several friends who do very successfully. Audio-books are perfect for your 15 – 45 minute commute, for when you exercise, or when everyone else is watching that program that you just aren’t interested in. I also know that the national literacy rate is about 14%, which means some people just don’t read very much. Additionally, I have friends who can read fine, but hate doing it. Audio-books are a great alternative.

How about you? What other ideas might you suggest on how we can stay sharp as readers and leaders?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Images courtesy of istockphoto

Being Spiritual

George Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge

I spent the last month focusing almost solely on “Being Strategic”.

What about “Being Spiritual?” Where does God fit into the mix? Important question. The answer to that question will ultimately determine “the path” you take in all of your plans. God has always been very clear that His purposes and His will are what we should be seeking, not ours.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purposes that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city the guards stand watch in vain.” Psalm 127:1

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3

Job gives us a great reminder that we should always remember to submit our plans, ideas, and dreams to the Lord. It’s vital that every step we take is God inspired and God ordained.

“Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Job 38:1-3

Here’s my challenge for you . . . . Pray. . . . Seek God. . . . Dedicate yourself to listening to His voice. . . . Fast.

Recently my pastor was speaking to our leadership team about prayer. We are gearing up right now for our second annual 21 day fast beginning in January. We’re calling it “Fast Forward 2011”. Check out some of these quotes from Pastor Josh’s message to us:

  • “Prayer is the single most resisted activity by the enemy.”
  • “Prayer is one of the highest forms of spiritual stewardship.”
  • “Jesus said, ‘Without me you can do nothing.'”
  • “Prayerlessness is not because of busy-ness, it’s because of pride.”
  • “Prayer is the ultimate surrender.”
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