6 Things Marriage Teaches You About Leadership

6 Things Marriage Teaches You About Leadership

I once spent a day with a group of ministry friends and mentors. All of whom have been leading their organizations for a long time. We had a heartfelt conversation about the challenges of leading in the same organization for most of our adult lives.

As I processed our day together, I realized there are common denominators between leadership and marriage. Most of us try to make our relationships work out, both personally and organizationally. And it’s not easy.

As you read this, know this post comes out of my experience. I realize many marriages don’t make it. I realize that I will have a hard time understanding those dynamics. I’ve been married to my wife Toni for 23 years. We have not always had an easy marriage, but we are both so thankful that we decided to work through the issues.

Similarly, I’ve been in leadership with many of the same people for 18 years in the same community. It hasn’t always been easy. But we’ve seen some incredible things together. While these reflections come out of my personal experience, I offer them in the hopes that they help us all filter through the challenges of life and leadership.

1. There is no such thing as casual leadership

As much as we live in a culture where casual sex has become normal for many people, it doesn’t produce strong or healthy relationships. Similarly, there is nothing casual about leadership.

Like a healthy relationship, it takes work, effort and commitment over the long haul. As much as we try to make things easier and easier in our culture, leadership will remain challenging by its very nature. Just like great relationships, it will always take work, effort and commitment.

2. You need to choose between serial commitment and long-term commitment

Someone once told me that commitment in our culture has shifted from life-time monogamy to serial monogamy; you’’re with someone exclusively for a few years until you move on.

Take a look around you. Many leaders approach leadership the same way. They’re with an organization for 3-5 years, and then they move on.

I’m not saying that’s always a bad idea. But most of the people who make significant impact in an organization stay at least a decade. If you think about most ministry leaders you admire and who have transformed their organizations and communities, most have been there their entire lives.

3. It’’s easier to leave than it is to work through your issues

This is the gut wrenching part. Every leader I know who has been in leadership for a long time has been tempted to leave, tempted to pursue other interest and hit cruise control. In other words, been tempted to have an affair on what might be their real calling.

Very few couples who make it over the long haul do so because they have “no issues”. They stay when it’s easier to leave.

4. There will be some joyless seasons

It’s not all dancing and singing all the time. Every leader I know who is in long term leadership has either had to scale significant organization issues or even personal crises. God uses dark nights of the soul to grow us and shape us.

But here’s the promise. If you’re being faithful, your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience.

5. Wise people realize that they are the problem

Many relationships fail because one partner says the other partner is the problem. I lived like that in my marriage and in my leadership for a season until I realized that I’m the problem. In fact, the longer you stay in a relationship or leadership, the more you will have to come to terms with the grinding truth that you are the cap on progress.

That’s why serial relationships and serial leadership is so wide-spread. Leave soon enough and you never have to look in the mirror. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Wise people understand that embrace that they are the problem. I tell myself almost daily that I am the problem in leadership where I serve, and that potentially God might work a solution through me.

Wise people also seek help in identifying their blind spots and problems by gather mentors, counselors and friends around them to help them spot their issues. They are also wide open to hearing about problems from the people they work with.

6. There is certain joy that only happens after years of being together

When you are able to work through your issues in a marriage, everything gets better. There’s a certain joy that comes in being with the same person for 23 years. We know things about each other that no one else can know. We can read each other better than anyone else can read us. The deep pleasure in simply being together grows every year. There’s an intimacy that only time can deliver that is almost hard to put into words.

That’s one of the things I love about working with some of the same people for years and years. There are stories whose mere mention brings a smile to everyone’’s face. The trust runs deep. And there’s a joy in knowing you’ve been in this together for so long and it’s making a difference.

What’s your experience? Do you see parallels between love, marriage and leadership?

Reposted with permission. Originally posted here.

6 Ways to Undermine Your Influence on Social Media

6 Ways to Undermine Your Influence on Social Media

You probably see it every week. Leaders who undercut their influence by something they’’ve posted online. Sometimes they blow it completely through one or two dumb moves. Sometimes you end up thinking “I’’m not really sure I want to follow them anymore.” But you’’re not exactly sure why.

Loss of influence can be subtle, but it’s real. And it’s so easy to do, if you’’re not careful. Because of constant— exposure, social media makes influence easier to gain and that much easier to lose.

Almost every ministry leader is on social media today. So is almost everyone they lead. The opportunity to squander your influence is that much higher. Often, we do it without even realizing it. How do leaders undercut their influence on social media? Here are six subtle ways I’’ve seen it happen.

1. Portraying a life everyone suspects isn’’t real

It’’s so tempting to portray a perfectly manicured life. But everyone knows your marriage isn’t perfect and that your kids aren’t really as magnificently brilliant or wonderfully behaved as you let them on to be.

Bragging has become an online staple for many. Whether it’s kids’ awesome report cards, your house that can almost look like glossy mag/Pinterest/cable TV, or the selfie you and your spouse took on your date night.

But dig a little deeper and you’d discover:

  • You tweeted the two A’s, on the report card, but not the C’s.
  • The house only really looks showcase when you hold the camera at just the right angle just before sunset and as long as the dog doesn’’t photobomb the shot.
  • The selfie was taken a half hour after the fight ended.

We’’ve all been there. What’’s the key to building authentic influence online? It’’s being real.

You probably don’’t want to disclose every high or every low, but you do want to share a slice of everyday. The truth is most of us are pretty average. And average resonates. People want to know you’re real. Because if you are, they can relate to you. Oh, and God has a habit of using ordinary people.

2. Overdisclosing your struggles

So portraying a perfect life underdiscloses your struggles. But does being real mean you should overdisclose them? Not in the least.

When you overdisclose your struggles, you help nobody. When you talk about your long list of problems or what’s wrong with the world, you can miss the fact that you’re not in a conversation with anyone on those issues. You’’re just pulling a dump and run.

These three rules have helped me figure out when to talk about something publicly and when not to. Just because you need to tell someone your struggling doesn’’t mean you need to tell everyone you’re struggling. Tell a friend, and keep your phone in your pocket.

3. Posting when you’’re emotional

Nothing good happens when you’’re angry. When you’’re emotional, you rarely say things you’re proud of later on. So please don’’t tell us about it.

Sometimes you see emotional status updates.” I don’t know about you, but it makes me think the person just wants someone to take the bait and ask what happened or, more sadly, that the person doesn’’t have anyone to talk to.

If you start throwing some store that didn’’t process your return well, some leader or some other victim of your anger under the bus, it makes us wonder what you’’re saying about us when we’’re not the room.

If you’re angry, process it. Don’’t tweet it. Go to sleep. Wake up the next morning and my guess is your anger will be gone. Your status update won’’t be though. Unless of course, you never published it. Much smarter.

4. Playing politics

When ministry leaders jump into partisan politics, they lose influence. I’’m Canadian, so I realize I’’m likely suspect on all fronts here. But God isn’’t a Democrat or a Republican. He’’s God.

As a ministry leader, I’’m called to lead all people. Even the people I disagree with.

When you play politics online, you squander your influence. So I don’’t. We have people who vote in every direction at our church, which I think means we’re being the church.

5. Say something publicly instead of privately

You’’ve seen those status updates:

  • Some people are impossible to deal with!”
  • “I wish people would just….”..
  • I can’t believe that this person…

It’’s easier to say it publicly than it is privately, isn’t it? Absolutely. For all of us.

But great leadership demands that difficult conversations happen privately, not publicly. Talk to the person you’re upset with, not about them. Go direct.

6. Talking only about yourself

Who i’s your social media about? Is it all about you? Are you talking with others? Showcasing something bigger than yourself? Celebrating others?

We are all narcissists in one form or another, but social media has given us a platform to take self-indulgence and self-absorption to a whole new level. We are in the middle of the rise of the selfie-generation. With it comes a curse: a life devoted to self ultimately leaves us alone.

If you want to leverage influence well, spotlight others, even the people you lead.

A lot of us admire Donald Miller, but one of the things that makes his work so great is that he so often showcases others. He even redesigned his blog to feature many writers. I love that. Don’’t make it all about you. Your influence will grow.

How about you? What do you see that undercuts influence?

Reposted with permission. The original article can be found here.

Why Many Church Leaders Struggle With Their Faith

Why Many Church Leaders Struggle With Their Faith

There’’s a secret many leaders won’’t readily tell you. One of the most difficult aspects of Christian leadership is keeping your relationship with God fresh and alive. It’’s amazing to me that a frequent casualty of Christian leadership is a leader’s personal walk with God.

I have had to regularly engage this battle for two decades now. So have so many leaders I’’ve talked to. I realize if I don’’t engage the battle, I’’ll lose it. How does it happen?

The Struggle Starts Innocently Enough

Drifting away from the God who loves you happens innocently enough:

  • You start out in ministry with enthusiasm and passion.
  • You get ‘burned’ a few times by people and the challenges of leadership. Your heart grows a little hard.
  • You confuse what you do (your work) with who you are (a follower of Jesus). The line between what is personal and what is vocational become blurry.
  • You end up cheating your personal devotions by reading the passage you’’re working on for Sunday. Or not reading much scripture at all.
  • You end up so focused on strategy and execution that the mystery and supernatural aspect of Christian leadership gets lost.
  • The services you lead become technical and clinical rather than life-giving and awe-inspiring because you’’re focused on executing them well.
  • You find yourself singing words that used to mean something and preaching words that once sounded more personal and alive than they currently do.
  • You still believe in your head, but you’’ve lost your heart.

I have drifted into or close to that territory in seasons, and as soon as I do I realize it’s a terrible and unsustainable place to be in, let alone stay in.

A Searing Question

I have tried to keep this issue front and center in my life because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who gains the world (or even a small slice of it) and loses his soul. A few years ago I landed on a question that forces me to be 100% honest about where I am with God.

The question: If I wasn’’t in ministry tomorrow, what would be left of my faith?

In other words, if ministry came to a dead halt:

  • Would I still passionately love God?
  • Would I have lots left to pray about?
  • Would I want to lead people to Jesus?
  • Would I wake up grateful?
  • Would I still confess my sin?
  • Would I live out of an overflow of my relationship with God?

If the answer to these questions is “I’’m not sure” or “no,” I have a problem.

And so, I try to foster a personal relationship with God that runs independently of anything I do in Christian leadership. I try to remember that God loves me, not what I produce. That in the end who I am matters so much more than what I do.

So What Helps?

There are several components to staying healthy spiritually over the long term. You need a close circle of friends for support and accountability.

  • You need to pray.
  • But here’s what I find. It’s so simple you might dismiss it, but I can’t. It’s just always true:
  • The more I engage the Scriptures, the more I engage God.
  • When I read the Bible personally, I grow closer to God. When I skip or skim, I don’t.
  • And this is also the area in which I find many leaders and so many Christians struggle.

Whatever you do, keeping your relationship with your Saviour fresh and alive is critical. After all, if your relationship with God dies, you lose your authority to lead, not to mention your passion and joy.

What has helped you? What would you add?

Reposted with permission. This article originally appeared here.

How to Stop Working 7 Days a Week

How to Stop Working 7 Days a Week

by Carey Nieuwhof

I was reading feedback recently from some church leaders who attended a conference I spoke at, and one comment I saw stopped me in my tracks. We asked the question: What is the one problem that——if you could solve it——could revolutionize your ministry?

His response: To stop working 7 days a week.
My heart went out to him.

I don’’t think I know a single ministry leader (or business leader for that matter) who hasn’’t struggled with working too many hours. And I know far too many who never take a full day off.

While I think overwork will always be a struggle for most driven people (it has been for me), I think it’s almost an epidemic among many ministry leaders.

So how do you recover from it? I’’ll share some insights from my journey and would love to hear yours.

Two Truths No One Can Really Argue With

First, two things that are simply true in leadership:

You will never be done. This may not be the case when you start. I remember beginning in ministry in some very small churches and thinking “how on earth am I going to fill 40 hours?” I actually called people to see if there was more I could do.

As we grew I never suffered from the problem of boredom again.

In fact, a church of 100 can place just as many demands on ministry leaders as a church of 1000.  Sometimes more, because in a church of 100 people assume you have all the time in the world for them.

You think you will make up for the demand by working more hours, or by working smarter, but that’’s a dead end street.

So just admit it. Say it out loud. No matter how many hours I work, I will never be done.

The problem with needs based ministry is there are always more needs. You probably got into ministry because you care about God and about people. And you want to help meet people’s needs.

I’’ll never forget what my friend Reggie Joiner told me when I first met him. The problem with needs based ministry is there are always more needs.

If your goal is to respond to every human need out there, you will never sleep. Just know that. You are fighting a battle you will lose every time.
And the biggest losers will be your family, whose needs will be ignored in the process.

7 Practical Tips to Help Your Stop Working 7 Days a Week

So how do you de-escalate your hours, not make people angry and actually have time to refuel? Well, this journey has taken me years, but here it is in seven bullet points:

1. Preplan your calendar with ‘slots’ for everything you need to do
About five years ago I moved to a fixed calendar. It’s the only reason I’’m still sane today and can do what I’ve been called to do. By a fixed calendar I mean I pre-plan what I’’m going to do and not going to in advance.

I book no meetings as a rule on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are message writing/series planning days. I also do much of the administration I need to do.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are meeting days. I meet with our staff and if anyone else is going to meet with me, it will be in the slots available on those days.

The power of this system is that when someone asks if you’’re free to meet with them, you can honestly tell them you are not. Your message prep is extremely important, and if it’’s in your calendar, you can tell them that unfortunately you’’re not free Monday. If all you have is nothing booked it, you will almost always tell them you’’ve got nothing going on and you’’ll meet them.

And you’’ll do your sermon prep on Saturday when you should be home with your family. And, by the way, your congregation will suffer because you didn’’t spend the time you needed to on your message.

2. Book down time in your calendar
Slot in family time, personal time, devotional time, exercise time, and time to just be. Write your day off in your calendar.

Then when someone asks you if you are free, you say, ““Unfortunately, I’’m not.”” Again, if you think rest isn’’t important, ask the question again once you’’re in full fledged burnout (here are 9 signs you’’re getting there).

And if you have pre-determined slots available for meeting people in the weeks ahead, you can offer them one of those.

3. Learn to ask yourself, “Is it truly an emergency and can only I help?”
If you lead in a larger church, this isn’’t the issue it used to be. But when our church was smaller, people always looked to me for pastoral care. (We’’ve switched most of our care to groups and outside counseling, a move I can’’t recommend highly enough.)

The challenge is everyone who asks you to meet with them wants to meet with you now because it’’s so important and they’’re in crisis and only you can help.

In those moments, remind yourself that what feels like an emergency to them might not actually be an emergency.  Their marriage didn’’t get terrible overnight, it’’s been sliding for years. Ask one more question, and you might discover that X has been in the hospital for a week and will be there for another week.

Too many church leaders give up their personal time and family time for crises that aren’t really crises.

And then ask yourself (especially if you want your church to grow), am I the only person who can really help? Truth is I am sometimes the person who can least help. They need a counsellor. Or a doctor. Or someone from their community group to visit.

If you are the only person who can help, try this: ““I’’m sorry to hear that. I have some time available Monday, can we meet then?”” You’’ll be shocked at how many times the person immediately says, “”Sure, no problem.””

4. Power down
The problem is just as much you as it is them, isn’’t it. You’’re addicted to your phone. I am.
So power down. When I’’m truly off, I sometimes move my mailbox app to a third screen on my phone so I don’’t look at it.

Be unavailable. People expect you to be off. So be off when you’’re off.

5. Tell people the truth—…they’’ll be happy for you
Maybe this is just me, but for years I felt guilty about telling people I was taking a day off. I know, only crazy people think like that, but I’’m a crazy person. Sometimes I would say things like “I’’ve been working for a month without a day off so I really need to take it.”

Seriously. What is wrong with me that I need to justify time off?

So next time you’’re off or need to be off, just tell them, “…”Oh you know, that’’s my day off. …Can we do it another time?””

You know what? They’’ll be thrilled for you. At least normal people will.

6. Create categories of things you will no longer do
As your ministry or organization grows and you have more responsibility, you need to regularly decide what you are simply no longer going to do.

The best way I know how to do this is to think in categories.

I schedule lots of time for my direct reports and elders.
I schedule less time for everyone else.
I leave time open for unchurched people.
I have limited time for outside church leaders, but make a few slots available every month.
I don’’t do counseling.
I don’’t as a rule do pastoral care except for our staff and elders.
I don’’t do many weddings or funerals.
I don’’t attend local ministerials, but will meet with other local pastors of like minded churches.

I realize many people will disagree with these choices, but they have helped me lead a larger church that’’s generally very healthy. And I have time for myself and my family and time to pursue hobbies like writing. Plus it allows me to spend the majority of my working time doing what I’’m best at and what adds the most value to our church.

7. Learn to Say “No” Nicely
I hate saying no. I’’d love to say yes to everyone. But I would be dead and they would not be helped.

I wrote this post outlining a six step strategy on how to say no nicely.

I also need to confess that I have a secret weapon. I have a great assistant, Sarah. Sometimes I joke I pay her to say no all day long. She’’s so good and it and so nice that when she says no on my behalf, people feel like she said yes. I’’m not kidding.

The transferable principle is that if you’’re in a larger organization and can support an assistant, find one who excels at saying no and setting boundaries, nicely.  It’’s an amazing gift—…not just to you, but to the entire organization. And if you don’’t have a budget for that, my guess is you can even find a volunteer who will help you by handling your calendar.

And again, if you have no staff, follow this procedure.

A final word: this needs constant revisiting. I’’m about to review all my outside and inside commitments again next month and start cutting again. You are never done. As more opportunities arise, you need to be relentless in what you say no to—…even if you say it nicely.

I hope this helps.

What has helped you stop working 7 days a week?

Surviving the Pressure

Surviving the Pressure

by Carey Nieuwhof

How’’s your marriage?


I’’ve been fortunate to be married to my wife Toni for over 22 years. And we’’re experiencing more joy and satisfaction in our marriage than we’’ve ever had.

But we almost didn’’t make it.

There’’s a lot of pressure on marriages and families today. We’’ve felt it. Intensely.

Life and leadership put a lot of strain on a marriage. Add kids and jobs into the mix and the pressure sometimes can get ultra intense.

I wish I could say I have an ideal marriage, but I can’’t.
I wish I could say we never fight, but I can’’t.
I wish I could say I’’ve led my family perfectly, but that wouldn’’t be true.

Recently at Connexus Church, where I serve, my wife Toni joined me, and together we shared the message. As part of a series on love, we talked as openly and transparently as we could about the very real struggles we faced. About seasons in which she didn’’t think our marriage was going to make it, and about seasons when I wasn’’t sure how we were going to get through.

Like many couples, we started out strong, but the busy-ness of life, the pressure of ministry and our own baggage and issues interfered to the point where we both felt our marriage was broken.

We weren’’t sure how to fix it, or whether it was reparable, but we both refused to believe God had given up on us or our family. So we pushed through.

I hope our story will encourage you like it encouraged many in our congregation.

I know . . .
How tough leadership can be.
How exhausting (and exhilarating) ministry is.
How guys don’’t like to do the things we tell other people to do.
How easy it is to quit.

But both Toni and I have come to a place where we are so thankful we didn’’t quit.

Although we went through seasons where our emotions were painful and made us want to escape, our emotions eventually caught up to our obedience.

But for your reference, here are the seven things we talked about in the message that helped us make it through.

While we we’re hesitant to say we’’ve got it figured out, we want to share them in the hopes they might help you like they helped us:

1. We had dates nights. We saw evenings with each other as investments, not expenses. Although we sometimes felt guilty for time away from the kids, we knew that one of the best gifts you can give your kids is a healthy marriage.

When it got really tough, I began to resent date nights because they would turn into ‘date arguments’, but I’’m so glad we pushed through that. Prioritize your spouse. No matter what.

2. We prayed for our marriage. Again, I wish I was the hero. But I wasn’’t. Even as a pastor, something inside me resisted praying out loud with my wife. We did manage to pray together, and we both believe with all our hearts that it is Christ who has kept our marriage together. A cord of three strands is indeed not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

3. We sought Christian counseling. You can see a pattern developing here, but it was easier for Toni to seek help than for me to do so. I’’m sure it was pride. But good, Christian counselling, among other things, helped us to stop the cycle of blame and replace it with responsibility.

4. When we hit impasses, we went to a third party. Having a handful of people (and a small group) you love and trust is a God-send, literally. We are grateful for our closest friends who prayed for us and helped us.

5. We took divorce off the table. This should probably be in 82 point font and underlined. Out of obedience, we refused to quit. I believe God wanted us to press through, so I did. And I kept thinking about the story I wanted God to write for my kids, family, and ministry. Divorce was off the table.

6. We worked to build an authentic friendship. Sure, we were great friends when we got married, but many people go through a period for a decade or so where you so focus on the kids you almost have to reintroduce yourself when that season ends. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re friends. We’ve become great friends (again) and are really excited about the times ahead, now that our kids are getting older (21 and married, 17 and in high school).

7. We put our obedience ahead of our emotions. Sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if you don’’t feel like it. And eventually, our emotions caught up with our obedience. All the hard work and our trust in Christ paid off, and we are in a season now where I think we’’re reaping the harvest from the good seed we sowed in a tough season. We’re both incredibly thankful.

Toni and I share this in the hopes it encourages you.

While our marriage hasn’’t been easy, it’’s been so worth it.

We’’re at a place where we had always hoped to be, but didn’’t know how to get to. And our emotions have caught up with our obedience.

What’’s helped you? What are you learning? What remains as your biggest struggle?


This article originally appeared on Carey’s blog. Reposted with permission.

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