Never Alone, Never Again – You Decide

You do not have to do life alone. But some of you choose to. I cannot imagine why. Oh, I know…you have many relationships; you know lots of people. You have Facebook friends and Twitter peeps. You know some guys at the softball league or some gals at the monthly business leaders luncheon. You trade contacts and share ideas. You talk about the weather, the kids, the job and the economy.

But are you known? To be known is to place the heart-level truth about yourself into the hands of another person. And to trust they will receive it and guard it. And then to do the same for them. Can you really say that you are known deeply and have others whom you know at the heart level?

It starts small. It means doing some life together – a meal, a coffee, a play time with other moms and kids, reading a book, going to a museum, volunteering together to serve the poor. It is not hard, but it takes some effort.

And it means a conversation – about life and love and hope and fear and truth and the world. Pick a topic and tell a story – your story. How did you get here from there? What makes you smile? What stirs your passions? What gets you really mad? What kind of injustice is so intolerable that you cannot stand it anymore? What about your work gives you a rush; what part of it gives you a headache?

Just talk and listen – really well and real carefully.

But whatever you do make a commitment to never stand alone. Never.

I met a good friend today, someone who has championed the cause of community with me for years, and has helped build it with others around the world. We have been partners, co-workers, and fellow employees. I love him. I think the world of him.

But more important than that, we are good friends. We know the pain and the darkness of one another’s lives; the scary parts and beautiful parts; we laugh until we cry; we spur one another on; we provide counsel and feedback for decisions; we solve problems; and much of the time we simply share a slice or two of life – the good, bad and ugly. We know the gore and the glory. And we still do life together.

We made a commitment a long time ago to never do life alone – never again.

How about you? When will you move beyond the glossy surface of superficial relationships and break through into the depth of relational integrity.

Life matters. And it is VERY short.  What are you waiting for?



Leadership Convictions – Vision & Values

The Starting Point Visions ValuesThe Starting Point for Discovering Vision & Values



Personal convictions are the seedbed for forging a compelling vision and shaping core values. These convictions must never be generated out of thin air or influenced simply by the latest leadership fad or trend. Somewhere deep down in the gut you will discover some things you believe in – some things that are non-negotiable about life, work, love, faith, relationships, leadership and the world. That is where you will find your Vision & Values.


So here are a series of questions first for Vision discovery and clarification.


1)     What does the future look like when things are working extremely well? Not perfectly…that’s idealism. You need a vision that can be rooted in reality. So describe the future when the vision is now a fact. What has changed? What problem have you solved?


2)     What does it feel like to be there? You probably have some sense of what it feels like as you imagine your dream coming true. Yes, what are your emotions? What wells up inside you as you see the vision becoming reality – joy, satisfaction, relief, hope, exhilaration, power, or freedom?


3)     Who benefits most from the vision becoming reality? Imagine the people your team is serving or helping or providing a quality service to. Will it be children in poverty, adults without meaningful work, people with disabilities, a company without quality management, a non-profit that lacks solid leadership? What is happening in these people and among them? What new world opens up for them because of the vision becoming reality?


4)     What change is taking place inside you? How are YOU different because the vision is a reality? What character changes are happening? How are you approaching your work? Have your priorities changed?


KEY VISION RESOURCE: Chapters 5 & 6 of The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner are worth the price of the book – and more – on the process of creating a shared vision.




Now for questions to help shape your core Values


1)     What is true for you? This means, deep down inside you, there are things that do not waver – core beliefs that define how you see the world. These may be the result of experiences, values handed down by parents or mentors, religious convictions, or simply things you just know to be true (treating others with respect is the right thing to do.)


2)     What makes you sad? This is a way of discovering values by looking through a different lens. When you view the world or work or you organization, what makes you sad? What do you wish would change? This is probably related to a value or belief you hold dear. For example, in a team meeting you see a weaker person get belittled by another member of the team. The strong personality of the culprit crushes the weak spirit of the team member, who does not respond in the moment but feels shame or intimidation. The anger you feel is tied to something you believe about justice, fairness, or perhaps kindness.


3)    What brings you joy? Now we flip the coin and look at those events or activities that make you smile. You see a need met, a new product developed, a person helped, an obstacle overcome, a friendship grow or a goal achieved. You smile because something feels good at your core.


4)    What gives you energy? Though similar to “what brings you joy?” above, this is a bit different. Yes, energy can be derived from people or events that bring me joy. But energy comes from other sources – adverse circumstances, a challenge, a loss, a unique opportunity, a new friendship, a family event, a kind of work, a new mission. What gives you a “rush” and makes you productive, excited about your work in the world, and givers purpose to your life?


KEY VALUES RESOURCE: Here is a short Forbes article on values-focused leadership by Jansen Kraemer that highlights four core principles leaders can use to lead from a values standpoint.



Answer these questions and record them in your journal. It will help you identify what’s in your gut, what makes you tick. Your personal Vision & Values will get clearer which will also allow you to sharpen the focus of your work and leadership.


So tell me – what are some of the answers to these questions for you? I’d love to hear what makes you tick and what you are giving yourself to!

Are You Ready for Shared Leadership?

Shared Leadership Dr Bill I am a proponent of a flatter leadership culture. I believe in teamwork, shared responsibility, very little hierarchy and a more collaborative approach. Not only does it work – it works better. While a number of leadership “gurus” continue to act and teach like the Big Dog Leader model is a given (most then are well over age 50), a rising groundswell of leaders are opting out of the model. They are dropping like flies from organizations that thrive on hierarchy and the Command and Control model espoused at most Leadership Conferences.

So I am thrilled to see the changes that are coming. But here’s the question…


Are we – are YOU — ready for shared leadership?


Here are a few things that shared leadership implies. And you might have a few more so join the conversation.

1)    Shared leadership means shared blame. Ok, I know that you intellectually agree, but are you willing to take your share of the heat when things get hot? Or even more than your share?  When I coach organizations building a flatter leadership structure, the “underlings” are thrilled to be handed an oar or two, to row with the crew.  But I wonder if they are just as willing to grab a bucket when the boat takes on water in the storm? Are you willing to take the criticism, the blame for the loss or the downturn, or be confronted about the misfire?

2)    Shared leadership means deeper communication more often.  The more people involved in a process the more talking you need to do. That might mean more emails, more updates, more quick “check-in” meetings like Lencioni advocates in Death by Meeting. You ready for that?

3)    Shared Leadership means longer decision-making. I think this is generally good, but it takes some getting used to. I would advocate that, in the long run, you get better decisions and have less “clean up” to do when the solo leader goes rogue and makes a lousy hire or a bad decision “from the gut” (which is often code for “Let’s do it my way because I’m always right and I am in control). But decisions by a team take longer than solo leadership decisions.

4)    Shared Leadership means giving in and sometimes giving up. Of course, “real leaders” NEVER give up. Mandela is a great one to speak to this. In his book “Mandela’s Way” he has a chapter entitled, “Leading from the Back.” You need to read it. It comes after “Leading from the Front” so he is not opposed to being our front at times. But a willingness to step back and let other leaders have their way is an art that requires patience, trust and humility – a quality lacking in many “Big Dog” leaders. Are you ready to play second fiddle…or no fiddle at all?

5)    Share Leadership means shared success. Are you ready to share the glory, the rewards, the perks, the status symbols, and the “corner” office(s)? Many are not. If you have worked in a place where many people work longer and harder than the “point leader” but they get the special trips, income, organizational resources, power, freedom, vacation time, public recognition, and “benefit of the doubt” when stuff goes wrong, you know how that feels. It is a real demoralizing situation, especially when they pretend to be “a leader among equals” which again is code for “let’s share the problems but I get the goodies.” So are you willing to share the goodies equally among the leadership team? Even bonuses, and other rewards? We’ll see.


Shared leadership is more than an ideal. It is a commitment to becoming a real community of leaders with mutual accountability, vision, goals, trust, responsibility, blame and rewards.


It takes work, but it is really worth it. The team is stronger, the cause is more compelling, the results last longer and the process of “leadership succession” is virtually seamless, because there is no “mega-leader” to replace with another one. Instead, the team grows, changes, and new leaders are added as others move on. It is driven by much more than a person.


Are you ready for that?


Leadership Destroys Community

Leadership Destroys CommunityWhat kind of leadership destroys community and fractures a team? What role do leaders play in the process of fostering (or inhibiting) a sense of unity among team members, group leaders and staff? Here are some pitfalls to personally avoid and to confront in others when individualism trumps community. I have seen too much of this kind of leadership lately, and so I decided to revisit this topic.


Blinded by Vision

A vision is only as good as the reality it produces. Leaders obsessed with an ideal picture of what could be, fail to embrace what truly is. They live on vision fumes. Teammates and followers become frustrated and soon trust in the leader vaporizes. Activist and Pastor  Bonhoeffer famously observed “the one who loves his dream of community more than the community itself destroys the latter.” We could paraphrase: “The who loves his or her personal vision more than the people being envisioned, alienates them.”  It is easy to idealize our cause, mission, product launch, set of values or our service to a needy community, while ignoring the impact of our self-centered vision on the very people we are called to help.


Pre-occupied with Structure

When the model becomes the master community building’s a disaster (a cute rhyme but a deep truth). I have witnessed this in too many places—model-driven versus value-led leaders get obsessed with “the way” instead of looking at the values and processes that get you there. The structure serves the people; the people don’t serve the structure. Fluent teams and shared leadership mitigate against this. Top-down, top-dog leadership models tend to reinforce ineffective structure and promote unhealthy leaders.


Decidedly Irresponse-ible,

Any initiative requires strong leadership from the leadership team designated to carry out the venture. Leaders are “the voice” for the initiative and the guide to others seeking to build it. But there’s more. A leader who shuns the input of others and fails to consider their collective wisdom and insights is no longer responsible, leaving followers disconnected and devalued. This lack of response is the result of a failure – or a desire – to listen with empathy, respect and for the purpose of learning. Michael Hoppe’s Active Listening is a big help here. It takes some humility – and that goes a long way.


Focused on “Self”- Improvement

The inclination to use people instead of empowering them kills any team or community. When leaders make decisions from self-interest or self-promotion others lose respect for those leaders and then passion for the shared mission fizzles. Team leaders design meetings to meet personal needs or interests; staff members focus mostly on numbers and the success of big events; senior leaders make decisions to enhance personal agendas, and all this happens at the expense of the people we are called to lead.


Let’s look at our own leadership approach and style – are we killing the very thing we are working so hard to bring life to? If, so it’s time to change.

Keeping Community at the Core

Community at the Core

I had the privilege of being with some great yet humble pastoral leaders last week at a forum in Atlanta. These 22 men and women are responsible for creating a climate where group life and effective teams can flourish in and through the life of the local church. Some world-renown churches were represented (Saddleback, LifeChurch, North Point) and some lesser known communities (Westridge, Sojourn, and Southridge in Canada) rounded out the list.


Church size, personal popularity, resources published, ministry longevity or the level of creativity were not the factors that made these leaders or their churches “great” in my eyes. Rather, they were successful because they maintained a relentless commitment to becoming a church with community at the core of everything they do.


Why? Because they knew and believed there is no discipleship without relationship! There can be no mass disciple-making using events and programs. Yes, you can create more followers with creative events, spectacular services and dynamic speakers. But you cannot make disciples.


As I listened to these friends and fellow leaders, it was clear that communal life and how it can change the world was truly at the center. It was not an afterthought, an add-on to be considered after focusing on fundraising, events, services, classes, programs and activities. I long for that kind of church.


But to be a place where community is at the core you must first believe that it really belongs there, where God put it and where Jesus lived it. And you must build everything around it. The heart of the gospel is community – the message that the God who lives in community came to restore community with his people through the life, death and resurrection of his son. (John 17:21)



How do we Become a Place with Community at the Core?


Here are some of the key insights that these leaders shared or that I took away as we engaged deeply about what it means for community to be central to the core of a church to catalyze spiritual growth and maximize world impact.


Strategy Matters: Organic growth is cool and new experiments are essential, but at the end of the day you need a cohesive, coherent strategy for building community life. It must not be so rigid as to inhibit innovation, nor so loose as to create unmanageable chaos. But you need one – missional groups, meta-church, life transformation groups, mid-sized communities…the models vary but not the need for a unified, cohesive strategy. And be careful not to over-program. The emerging discussion about Missional Communities was very provocative.


Clarity is King: Why do we do groups? What is our desired outcome? How do people get connected? Where do we find emerging leaders and how do we equip them? There are many questions and problems to solve, and most of them are complex or require real effort. But if you are committed to achieving clarity, you have most of the problem solved already. See Stanley on this.


Culture-Transformation is our Mission. Many Christians either attack the culture or run from it. But we are not called to build a community of navel gazers, obsessed with promoting an insulated, fortress mentality. People are lost, hurting, lonely, fear-filled, poor, hungry, homeless, hopeless, friendless, oppressed, unemployed, wounded and sick. We build community to strengthen the body AND enter the culture with a Luke 4 mindset. In God’s power we are setting captives free, bringing sight to the spiritually blind, offering good news and hope to the poor, and shouting out “God’s favor has come!”


Stories Stir the Soul: Listening to the stories of others and telling our story is a powerful way to connect people and build relationships with those outside our circle. Then we can connect our stories to God’s story.


Metrics Motivate the Mind: You get what you measure, but you cannot gauge progress without some markers. Without measurement there is no management. Plan to measure qualitative and quantitative growth, getting feedback so that you can focus your training and development of people.


Leaders Make a Big Difference: We all advocate the vision of shared ministry, mutual use of gifts, empowering one another to serve, and taking ownership of ministry at every level. But we also know that quality, committed leadership matters.  We want a flatter kind of church structure, and we know that leaders themselves have a big role in making that happen. We have to give more away, take more risks, allow others to fail, and be the first to work ourselves out of a job. See my post about your leadership.


The Good News is the Best News: We affirmed our commitment to the gospel-story of Jesus, teaching His way of being with people, loving others, living a sacrificial life, redeeming us from sin and shame, and putting us on a new path toward abundant life.


I was so proud to be in the room with such an amazing group of servants whose hearts are tender, minds are sharp, and souls long for real change. And who can laugh at themselves (and one another!) in a way that is simply pure joy.


With whom do you gather for this kind of inspiration? 

Where do you get real interaction and thought-provoking conversation?

Where do you discover fresh ideas and see strategies that actually work in real life?  

Not just more speakers and content and information – but real engagement about life and ministry issues that produces lasting change? 




We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

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Groups Where Grace is in Place

 	Groups Where Grace is in Place Sunset on the beach

“It was my first time attending the group meeting, but I have to admit it, it felt more like a job interview.

I was thinking, ‘Do these people like me? Do I like them? What if they really knew me? Would they invite me back? Would I trust my secrets to them — and would they be authentic and tell me their stories?’ It was awkward and I felt judged. I want to be accepted, not analyzed; loved, not labeled.” Not cool.

This time of year affords many opportunities to welcome them home. Jean Vanier in Community and Growth reminds us, “A loving community is attractive, and a community which is attractive is by definition welcoming. Life brings new life.”

But will unconnected members and inquisitive seekers find a home in your little community? Will they feel like Roger in my group, who said, “I am here because even though I do not believe what you all believe, you make me feel like I belong?”

Some group environments communicate “Come in, kick off your shoes, and let’s hang out for awhile” while others warn, “If you meet the conditions and prove yourself to be worthy, maybe we’ll include you. But be careful … we’re watching.” The one factor that distinguishes the two environments is grace. It affects the ecology of the entire group, shaping the environment for everyone who sits in the circle. Sadly, we often affirm the reality of saving grace, but ignore sanctifying grace, the kind essential for all communal life to flourish. For some reason — whether fear, uncertainty, or the messiness of group life — we revert to rules and regulations, conformity and condemnation. It may be subtle — but it’s there. Not cool. Actually, it’s deadly.

What does it look like in a group? Grace speaks and receives truth without judgment. Grace brings resources to sinful and broken people, offering help and support. Grace creates safety that prompts healthy confession. Grace shouts, “I am broken, but I am loved!” When grace is in place, members of the group are “for” one another. New members feel welcomed and existing members willingly put personal agendas aside to accommodate the needs of others.

Here’s a caution. You may fail in the attempt to move from fear to freedom. People will struggle wondering, “When do I bite my tongue, and when do I speak the hard truth? When are we going to confront Mike? Or do we allow him to experience the consequences of his action, and love him along the way? Is Sarah convinced that we really do love her? That we will never hurt her as others have done? Can we fight and still meet for dinner after a meeting? Do we know how to distinguish “it’s bad” from “you’re bad?” The answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “I have no clue.” That’s not how grace works — it’s more art than a science.

Begin with the courage to name reality: “I see … I hear … I feel …” And them respond — that’s where grace is — in the response to shared reality and truth. Guard the messy moments when a heart opens up, when a confidence is shared, when a sin is confessed, when a dream is expressed, or when a wound is exposed. Do not be intimidated. Enter the sanctity of those moments with a holy fear and wondrous awe. Don’t run — God is in the middle of that burning bush.

As a friend of mine said, “People don’t want to join your strategy; they want to join your community.” And they will — if grace is in place. If not, the fullness of life in Christ will never be realized, hopes and fears will never surface, and prodigals will never come fully home. Law always produces death. But when grace is in place, stand back. The sweeping wind of the Spirit is likely to blow, and it may knock you off your feet. And that is cool. Very, very cool.

We’re All in Rehab

We’re All in Rehab (So a little grace goes a long way)


We're all in Rehab














Like many of you we’ve had our share of challenges the last few months. To give you perspective, we are sending our Christmas letter just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. The week before Christmas my wife had a serious fall, broke her leg and damaged some ligaments. This was followed by 2 injuries to my basketball-playing daughter, a junior in high school. Not to be outdone, I followed with a back injury, and my 83-year old mother who lives up the road rose to the occasion by having some health challenges.


In January our living room was filled with walkers, icepacks, ace-bandages, crutches, and a motorized scooter. It looked like a rehab center on steroids. But it gets better – this past week my wife and daughter were in a car wreck on an icy hill. Thankfully they’re fine, but it was a traumatic event fraught with great potential for disastrous results.


Initially, I did not see the rapid-fire stream of text messages popping on my phone – I was teaching a class.  But soon I saw the screen flashing, and what I read was terrifying. Dad!!! Accident!!! Please call!! DAD!!!!! Help! !!!! Call us now!!! Immediately I got hold of my wife and discovered all were Ok.


I left my university office after dealing with the aftermath of the accident, and stopped at our little coffee shop before leaving campus. “Hi, Dr. Donahue, how may I help you?” the student-attendant asked warmly. “Just a cup of coffee. What do I owe you?”


“Nothing,” she replied with a wry smile. “It’s your luck day.” Really? You’re kidding me. Please…my family doesn’t need any more ‘luck.’


I smiled gently back as if to say, “Dear child, you have no idea how wrong you are.”


“No…really. It’s perfect timing. The graduate student who was just here said, ‘I’m buying coffee for the next person who walks up here. Just tell them to have a great day and enjoy the coffee.’”


I had come to the shop looking for a little caffeine; instead I got a double-shot Venti cup of grace. More than what I needed. Much more than I deserved.


Now I really smiled, and she was beaming with joy. She was getting such a kick out of my response, just standing there, a sense of wonder and irony filling my soul…ambushed by grace. She had no idea what was happening but she was pleased with the joy that filled the room along with the aroma of a free coffee.


And, as though that wasn’t enough, I was graced once more as I left the building. The university is not very far from Lake Michigan, and a light, gentle snow was falling. Lake effect snow that can come briefly when the cool winter air meets the moisture off the water.


It was a slow, quiet snowfall. Large, floating flakes that calmly drifted toward the earth. Not a sound was heard as I walked to my car through the forested area that surrounds the parking lot. Quiet, still, peaceful, restful, beautiful.


And there, in the quiet, I heard the Voice…the still, small Voice. No one heard it but me. Because it was just for me.  The Voice compelled me to see a reality that was greater than my circumstances. The grace of God was coming resting upon me like the steady, beautiful snow, blanketing my sorrow, worry and fear with joy, peace and hope.


It was as though God said,


Bill…learn from this snow and experience my goodness and favor. Feel it as it rests on your head and lands refreshingly on your tongue. This is my grace on you.


To be sure, at times I pour it out in one thunderous heap that buries you in love and healing in times of extreme trial and suffering; but this time, there is no grace blizzard in the forecast. This time it comes as a gentle but relentless shroud of comfort, wrapping around your frustrated self and weary heart.


Your steady flow of life’s challenges is now met by My steady flow of grace. Like a small cup of free coffee, or a gentle, quiet snowfall, enjoy the little gifts of grace I am providing for the journey.


And remember…My grace is always sufficient for you.


I needed that. I really needed that.


You see we are all in Rehab. We are all hobbling around on the crutches of uncertainty, anger, fear, loneliness and grief. And we all need grace. Lot’s of it, we assume.


That’s ok. There’s plenty to go around…there’s no shortage of supply…no lack of spiritual resources.


But the good news is we only need a little.


Because a little grace can go a long way.


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.


The Power of Vision: Walking with Buddy the Elf

Power of Vision Image of a Man Flying Dreams and Visions. That is what we are made of.


Really. We are.

The power of vision starts when we are small, and we want to be a firefighter, or when we build a glorious castle from a life-less cardboard box, so amazing that even MacGyver would be proud of the transformation. We are filled with awe and wonder and an ability to embrace the unthinkable and envision the impossible.


I want to be seized by the possibility of a grand adventure, and I long to join Buddy the Elf and say to a wide-eyed audience of fellow visionaries, “I traveled through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, past the sea of swirly-twirly gumdrops, and then, I walked through the Lincoln tunnel.”


Wow! Can I do that, too? Can I travel with Buddy? Sign me up for “The Buddy Vision Tour.”


I have a confession to make. Something inside me wants Buddy as my travelling companion. Yes, I know it is childish. But I’ll take a trip with Buddy over a Carnival Cruise any day of the week.


Because Buddy believes. He unashamedly, unwaveringly, “foolishly” and enthusiastically believes! He radiates joy, humility, wonder, risk-taking, self-denial and an others-focused lifestyle that wins the most ardent skeptics to his vision and the he cruelest critics to his cause.


It’s always Christmas with Buddy, 365 days a year. It is not an event – it’s a lifestyle. Contrast his effusive, obsession with all things Christmas with Lewis’ White Witch who leads her naïve wanderers to a colder, darker destination where it is always winter, and never Christmas. (That would be Narnia, not Chicago in February.)


I want a room full of Buddy’s. I’d rather have overly idealistic, possibility-thinking, belief-obsessed, Elf-like leaders than the woe-is-me, “we are all just losers/sinners/failures” Eeyore-like sad sacks that too often populate our institutions, grad schools, churches and organizations.


I want to be with visionaries.

I want to be with let’s-take- the-hill zealots.

I want to be with let’s-light-this-candle types.

I want to be with fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.


I want to be alive…And that means I want to dream!



There is much to be said about the power of vision!  Are you open to it? Do you use it? How has this mindset helped you accomplish a goal or lead a group to accomplishing what they thought was unreachable?


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

Ten Things We’ve Learned About Teams – From the Harris Twins

When Alex and Brett Harris’ book “Do Hard Things” hit the shelves, it was widely received for its practical wisdom and insights, especially addressing the youth culture. But I think adults can learn much from the observations of these young 20-somethings who started “” organization as 19-year-olds. “A little child shall lead them” applies here. You can read their material but I have adapted it to express ten things we’ve learned about teams for this post.

Ten Things We’ve Learned About Teams











1)     Start with Questions – Am I the one to lead this? What should it look like? What are the pressing needs? What does the team need from me? What kind of leader must I be? What kind of person? Asking yourself some hard questions is a great place to start.

2)     Walk with the Wise – Mentors and experienced others will save you time and much misery. Do not let you passion for innovation overwhelm your willingness to learn from what has already been created!

3)     Don’t Overlook Home Field Advantage – The Harris’ are talking about the literal home because their family serve together to lead in their organization and speak at conferences. But the principle is true – some of your best resources are right under your nose with the people and skills you already have.

4)     Use Technology to Grow Your Team – Stay connected, build platforms for conversations and ideas, use blogs, create team pages and so on. Sometimes ideas come at odd hours or places – you can easily go online and record your thoughts for the whole team.

5)     Treasure Constructive Criticism – this is so true. I have been asking for feedback recently about my teaching, consulting and writing. Despite the fact there are a few “ouches” (hard truths I needed to hear) I know I will be better for it.

6)     Credit is Free if You Give it Away – Pride will sabotage your team. As a leader, if you reward the team for being a team, you can break down the inherent “competition for promotion” that exists among team members. Share the problem; share the responsibility.  Share the credit; share the rewards.

7)     Other People Are Sinners Too – Everyone has faults, not just you. Because of that we recognize that stuff will happen, relationships will get tense, problems may go unsolved for too long and our work will have a level of frustration to it – most of the time! Get a reality check about one another.

8)     Expect a Nightmare or Two – I love this one. Communication challenges, ethical breakdown, surprise failures, loss of key people at the worst time, a new hire is a total washout, the money does not come in, too much money goes out – nightmares abound. I am an optimist, expecting the best from people and the best from a potential new initiative. But I am also a realist and without getting too skeptic (or worse, getting cynical) I am learning to build a “nightmare factor” into my vision for my work and the anticipated progress or impact I can make.

9)     Don’t Give Up – This exhortation is an overused cliché but an underutilized practice; so we need to practice it more than we preach it. The prize goes to those who persevere. If it is good, strategic, novel, difficult and potentially life-changing, you will have your share of enemies and detractors (people and just plain problems). IF there is no resistance, there is no need for leadership!

10) Success Happens (in More Ways than One) – Achieving a desire outcome or goal is one measure of success. In addition to that (or even when you fail at that) there are other measures…parallel successes…that run alongside of the thing you were focused on. Your team grows, people develop, convictions deepen, hard truths are learned, you discover what does NOT work sooner than later, relationships are forged and everyone does better.


I work much of the week with young, emerging leaders. It is fun to teach and train them. It is even more fun to learn from them. The Harris’ are wise beyond their years. We must sit up and take note.


What are you learning from young people? How are you making time and space for listening to them?


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

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Bi-vocational Pastors

Christianity Today is a great resource for leadership articles, you can sign up for their Leadership Journal articles here.  I highly recommend it as a valuable resource.


Here is the full article I was  using when referencing bi-vocational pastors in its entirety  for those who do not wish to sign up yet.


Originally posted on Christianity Today’s “Leadership Journal”


Two young pastors are finding fresh ways to combine pastoral ministry and entrepreneurial ventures.

Chris Kopka


In the mid 20th century, most seminary discussions about the apostle Paul’s tent-making were likely theoretical. Yes, there were part-time pastors—but most of them would never have gone to seminary.

How times have changed! Today, seminarians from even well-known schools are starting to talk openly about the “stark realities” of bivocationalism. Some of the conversation around bivocationalism is driven by the weak job market. Seminary students aren’t exactly bombarded with well-paying jobs upon graduation. On the other hand, some see bivocationalism as a ministry plus, a way to keep one foot planted in the secular world.

Recent research from The Barna Group reveals that over 50 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) and younger Gen X-ers believe some form of entrepreneurship will be part of their career path. I’m guessing young seminarians are no exception.

Because I help start faith-based businesses, I have regular conversations with many young pastors. I have come to see bivocationalism as a gift. My relationships with members of the next generation of bivocational pastors have shown me that even their tent-making efforts are part of their calling.

According to data from the Annual Church Profile, some 8,000 pastors report being bivocational. But what are the most common “second jobs” for these pastors? How many bivocational pastors start businesses versus hold a “job”? Are bivocational pastors thriving or just surviving? We know little about this phenomenon. Yet we can start to answer some of these questions by seeing how two younger pastors in Minneapolis, Tim Schuster and Scott Woller, have embraced an entrepreneurial version of bivocationalism.

Moving in Circles

Tim Schuster graduated from Bethel Seminary in the spring of 2012. During his time there, he worked part-time as a youth pastor. He also planted a church. What started out as the “Midtown Church Project” became a fast-growing community that recently decided to drop the word “Project.” Why? Because they started seeing themselves as a bona fide church, just a few months after Tim’s graduation.

“When people say `plant a church,’ what they actually mean is `start a worship?service.'”

Midtown is an unconventional kind of church. According to Tim, “When people say ‘plant a church,’ what they actually mean is ‘start a worship service.’ Our contemporary notion of church is a group of people, facing in the same direction, where a stage becomes an altar. Then we look at programs, ministry, and service projects as ‘extra credit.'”

Midtown wanted something different. Within 10 minutes of the start of a Midtown “service,” chairs (and attendees) move from facing forward and are arranged into circles of 5 to 10 people in order to facilitate conversation.

Midtown Church is, in essence, a series of conversational circles. Brandon Schulz, a social media entrepreneur, describes Midtown as “the closest church to embodying how social media works, except it’s live, in person.” The relational emphasis doesn’t mean skimping on theology. Midtown is unapologetically orthodox in its teaching and Tim talks boldly about Jesus, sin, grace, faith, and work.


What you won’t see, though, is a sermon or traditional service structure. Tim sees the primary role of the pastor as a facilitator. This stems from the Midtown founders’ shared fascination with self-organizing models. Tim even researched Tupperware parties and “Open Space” business conferences as part of the design for Midtown.

One key benefit Tim sees to bivocationalism is how it’s enabled the church to take a different approach to money. Tim and his Midtown cofounders decided that the pastor would not draw a substantial income from the church (and perhaps none at all). Why? They feared that money might get in the way of forming and deepening relationships, especially in the early days of planting the church.

Tim didn’t arrive at this decision lightly. He was considered for a planting grant from another church, but, because he’d only recently been married, was told he was “not ready.” (A good caution against being too quick to tell young, innovative pastors they’re “not ready.”) In hindsight he’s grateful for having been turned down. Through the grant evaluation process Tim realized he was in a classic struggle between “passion” (for Midtown’s strategy of not forcing economic ties between pastor and congregants) and “paycheck” (the reality that life would be a bit easier with seed funding).

Because of my work in faith-based business development, a friend introduced me to Tim to help him and Midtown’s other three original founders, Eric, Kelsey, and Jenna, find strategic options for the church, including income streams. Most of the business development I do is at the intersection of faith and financial services. This work connects me with many churches and ministries. Still, I found Midtown’s model remarkable.

Tim and I began a months-long series of conversations, thinking through bivocational options. For Tim, bivocationalism is one piece of an overall strategy. As he left his job as youth pastor, he actively sought an income-generating role to support his family that would also leave enough time for him and co-founder, Eric, to devote sufficient time to Midtown. Jenna, the fourth cofounder of Midtown, is now in seminary herself.

I asked Tim if seminary professors had introduced him to any role models, mentors or even examples of bivocational pastors. In short, the answer was “no.”

“If you don’t have a fulltime, paying role as a pastor, it’s somehow treated as a failure,” he said.

On reflection, though, he recalled that I had introduced him to a potential model for bivocationalism in Scott Woller, of Corner Coffee/Corner Church, as well as another entrepreneurial pastor in the Twin Cities. Ultimately, Tim decided to pursue an entrepreneurial path himself.

“Well Tim,” I said “I’m about to feature you and Scott in my writing. Perhaps you can become one of the role models.” Maybe future seminarians (as well as seminaries of the future) will realize that bivocationalism should not be seen as a failure, but in fact can be a successful strategy and a legitimate way of pursuing one’s calling.


Coffee Church

Scott Woller leads a church in the North Loop area of Minneapolis. Corner Coffee/Corner Church is actually two distinct legal entities sharing a single location—and the same vision. Monday through Saturday, Corner Coffee is, you guessed it, a coffee shop. Their product is coffee, although creating a sense of community is the underlying goal.

Given that a fair amount of this article was written in the coffee shop, I’m able to attest to the fact that Scott and his team are accomplishing this goal. Corner Coffee is a for-profit LLC that creates neighborhood jobs. While the coffee shop has never paid a salary for Scott or other church staff, 100 percent of the profits of the coffee shop go toward the church’s operating budget. The church, as a legal entity, is the sole shareholder of the coffee shop. Scott is, in effect, the coffee shop’s volunteer CEO.

Corner Coffee was conceived as a way to plant Corner Church in an urban setting. Being an Assemblies of God plant, members of that denomination would feel theologically quite at home at Corner Church, just so long as they don’t mind the espresso machine hissing in the background. By having a fully-functioning, profitable business six days per week, the separately incorporated church has very low overhead for Sundays, and is able to meet in a comfortable, casual setting. (By the way, it took two years for Corner Church to be profitable. Scott hastens to add that a coffee shop is not a way to make “easy money.”)

Being in a non-traditional environment is crucial for the work of Corner Church. The vast majority of the church’s Sunday attendees are formerly churched individuals, many of whom have been scarred by past church experiences. Some of these negative experiences involve issues with the offering plate. So to grow and reach new attendees, Corner Church must keep a low overhead and strive to keep pressure around giving low, especially for newer attendees. In addition, Scott explains that being held in a coffee shop allows Corner Church to be an important part of the neighborhood. Scott feels meeting in a coffee shop “as church” sends that signal quite naturally.

Scott never wants to have a conversation about why the church doesn’t pay taxes: Corner Coffee does! And he never wants the neighborhood to have a sense that the doors are closed or the parking lots are gated Monday through Saturday. And most of all, Scott doesn’t want the “church community to let their faith become dormant during the week. We want the church facility to encourage people to live out their faith every single day.”

Unlike Tim, Scott did not remain bivocational, nor did he intend to. Indeed, Scott doesn’t think of himself as a classic bivocational pastor. From the beginning his income has come from the church, even though initially it was a very modest income. Scott encourages people to view Corner Church (via the coffee shop) as an “investment,” not just a donation, one that creates jobs in the community and revenue for church replication.

Those investments are paying off. After several years, Scott draws a full income from Corner Church. Meanwhile the revenue from Corner Coffee is strong enough that Corner Church planted a second coffee shop/church this year in another urban neighborhood in Minneapolis, a neighborhood so secular local pastors call it the place church plants go to die. So Scott now has a pastor colleague embarking on an entrepreneurial journey similar to his, with a model that has been proven to work in an urban, secular setting.

Pastoring in a coffee shop presents unique opportunities. Scott can’t hide in an office and he certainly doesn’t face the common tendency for pastors to get stuck in a church bubble. He’s expected to be active in the neighborhood, to live in the community, and to be visible in the coffee shop while doing his work. It’s a different role for the pastor than what Scott was used to. “Growing up, the pastor was this lofty ‘Man of God’ in the town,” he says. “But this role of the pastor as being down-to-earth, a real person, has really become who I am.”

It’s not just him who has benefitted. The church has attracted members seeking greater authenticity and community. The whole vibe of the church fosters dialogue and allows people to be real.

“Instead of sitting inside a church building, wondering how we can get our community to come here, we’ve flipped things around,” Scott says. “We’re putting our church in the middle of the community.” Members of the community can come and enjoy the coffee shop, even if they don’t worship or identify as Christians. To Scott, “that’s the difference between putting a church inside a coffee shop and putting a coffee shop inside a church.”

Recently, a neighbor-customer who has been coming in for many years and had never attended church approached Scott. His mom was in the hospital, and though he was obviously nervous and awkward, asked if Scott would pray for his mom. “This is a non-churchgoer, during coffee shop time, engaging me as a pastor,” Scott said. “I know I would have missed that moment, and many more like it, if I were in a traditional church setting.”

Such stories should make us rethink bivocationalism. Is it solely something to adapt to out of necessity? Or, like Tim and Scott, can we also come to see it as a path to greater ministry success? Many still regard bivocationalism as a second-class calling. But given the current economic woes and the challenges of reaching an increasingly secular culture, perhaps it’s time to rediscover “tent-making” models of ministry.

Chris Kopka is helping launch an integrated business/ministry model around faith & finances with Brightpeak financial.


The Corner Church/Coffee Economic Model

The economic model for Corner Church/Corner Coffee has many moving pieces. The coffee shop is designed to become profitable within 2 years, church expenses start and remain incredibly low (approximately 20 percent of the expenses of most plants), and modest church planting funds are stretched as long as possible because of the low overhead. In time, we begin to take offerings as church members start to embrace principles of generosity. Stressing the church’s active involvement in the community is essential. I’ve found people are ready to give to something they feel really makes a difference. They see our coffee shop/church as being transparent and making a difference where they live and work. That makes it easy for them to give.—Scott Woller