Tag Archives: Church Leadership

Life Lived in Focus

The new year is fast approaching. Somehow it seems like I blinked and it is 2015. In February Cami and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. WOW! Just 2 months ago we welcomed our 4th child, Kaylee Albritton. Even more WOW! We are now a family of 6. Life is busy to say the least. I am sure the same is true of your life as well. Whether you are single, a single parent, newly weds, a growing family, or empty nesters, I am quite sure you find plenty of ways to keep yourself busy.

With so much going on, our brains primary goal is to simply, to take our everyday tasks and send them into auto pilot. This is why as you drive to work everyday or pick up the kids from school, there are times you cannot remember a certain stretch of the road. You know the feeling, when you are waiting to go through the light and turn in and think, I don’t remember passing ________. And it kind of scares you. You think, did I fall asleep? No, your brain was just on auto pilot simplifying our everyday processes.

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In his book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg talks about an experiment where rats were placed in a maze and their brain activity was measured as they made their way through. The first time or two, their brains were running at near maximum capacity. All of their senses were clicking, but the more they ran the maze, the more their brains and senses disengaged from the process.

Our brains ability and capacity to transition tasks to routines, allows us to do more. So while routines are good, stay in a routine long enough and it becomes a rut. And ruts can be difficult to get out of. Especially in ministry. If you have gone to church any length of time you know exactly what I am talking about.

As a leader it is important to avoid getting stuck in ruts. People don’t want to follow some one who is stuck and going no where. One of the ways I try to avoid getting too bogged down in routine is by developing new focus areas as I move into the new year. These areas could use a little more attention both in my personal life and my leadership roles. So here is what I do. You don’t have to do it exactly like this but find a method that works for you.

  1. Define FOCUS AREAS. I would recommend keeping this list pretty short. such as 2 to 3 areas at a time. They can be simple or complex. However, the more complex, the fewer you should tackle at once. In the past, I have focused on prayer, on developing a specific ministry program, church structure, spiritual disciplines, intentional time with family etc. If you struggle with finding them, ask the question, “what are the routines I have turned into ruts?”
  2. Determine a SPECIFIC LENGTH OF TIME. This does not have to be a year long process. Maybe there are four things you want to focus on building and you need 3 months for each. Be specific and write it down. Maybe it is getting out of debt and you know it will be a 3 or 4 year process. You are not tied down to a calendar.
  3. Clarify the WHY. Why are you doing this? Why this focus? Why now? Bring clarity to the process. Have a reason you are choosing to focus on this area of your life.
  4. Define the WIN. Begin with the end in mind. At the end of this specific time period, what will it look like if you have accomplished your goal? This should be short, with one sentence defining what it will look like.
  5. Determine your ACTION STEPS. You have to move. There has to be some muscle behind the mind. Ideas, thoughts and concepts need to be surrounded with action or they are going to ever happen. So what are 2 or 3 action steps you need to take to start moving? Write them down. As you get moving you will add more to the list but just get started. Make them simple. Something you can do right away. Just get started.

All of this is for the purpose of bringing clarity and purpose to our life and leadership. So often we have big ideas, dreams and goals that are never realized. Why? Many times this is simply because we never take the time to clarify what it is we want to do or how we are going to do it. So saturate this process in prayer. Evaluate, Define, Dream, Focus. May God bless your life, family and ministry as we move into 2015 and beyond!

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.

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The Ever So Popular Brain Vomit…

So here is how my typical week goes. Sunday I preach so Monday I am brain dead. On Mondays I typically stick to meetings and administration. Tasks I need to get done, but don’t require a lot of critical thinking. Tuesday, my brain turns back on, somewhat anyway. So I typically spend a large portion of Tuesday locked away in my office studying, praying, meditating and listening.

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So when I go home on a Tuesday my head is so full of information, ideas and stories, and just like a good steak, the ideas need some time to marinate. On Wednesday, I usually start my day with prayer, a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Then I vomit…

Now, I do not actually vomit every Wednesday morning. It’s a metaphor. Okay, so I know its not the prettiest picture in the world, but I think it communicates a point. I call it a brain vomit (other people do too). My head is full of ideas, illustrations, thoughts, stories, commentaries and I need to get all the important stuff out there.

So how does a brain vomit work. Like I said, I sit down at my desk, with my door shut. I take a blank sheet of paper, I turn on the timer of my iPhone for 15 minutes and I go. I write down every single thought that comes to my mind, every story, phrase, verse, etc. that comes to my mind. There is NO filter, I just write it down, even if it doesn’t make sense.

So why is this so important? Far too often our ideas never make it out of the realm of imagination. We have a thought, it escapes us and we really aren’t sure if we can get it back. For me this exercise helps me get everything floating around in my head out on paper. Sometimes thoughts form little streams, other times they never develop, other times they don’t come out in the sermon but in other areas.

Not only do I do this basically on a weekly basis writing sermons, I also do it sporadically with my ministry. So after spending some time looking back at ministry in 2014 and defining your ministry as we move forward, now its time to dream.

Take out a sheet of paper. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Answer this question… Remember, no filter, don’t let money, resources, space stop you. Just write it all down. Think in terms of ministry structure, impact, reach, needs, etc. Write it all down! Ready, set, GO!

Question:  As your ministry moves forward into the future, what would you like to see happen in your ministry in 2015 and beyond.

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.


Defining the Direction

Earlier on in my marriage I had gotten a new phone. It was one of the first smart phones with GPS built in. My wife and I were going out to eat in Dallas for our anniversary, so I put in the name of the restaurant and headed for Dallas. Going from Cleburne, it is easiest to jump on HWY 67 which basically drops you off on the outskirts of downtown.

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As we approached 35W, the GPS began telling me to head north on 35W. I am driving and thinking to myself, “this GPS has no clue what it is talking about.” So, I keep on going thinking it will realize the “correct” way to get there, but it does not. It begins says, Recalculating… make a U-Turn. After the second and third Recalculating, I begin talking to the GPS (as if it could hear me) “No, I will not make a U-Turn!” Finally, after realizing the errors of its ways and my superior intellect, it remaps our trip the way I want to go. We are flying and everything is going good I was right and the GSP was wrong.

About 10 miles from Dallas a warning appears in the middle of the screen, “Warning Construction Ahead, expect delays.” Now, my own phone was mocking me, as if the bright red stream of taillights illuminating the night sky was not enough, my phone needed to rub it in. So we wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually we made it to the restaurant, and yes, the GPS would have gotten me there much faster.

It knew a better way to get there and had a much more complete picture. The problem was it did’t show me the bigger picture. If it had taken the time to say, “Gary, if you go this way you will get there, but you are going to get stuck in Dallas Construction Traffic, so go this way, trust me,” I would have done exactly what it told me to the first time.

As a leader, you have to try to paint a clear picture for people of where you are going and how you plan on getting there. People want to follow someone who has a plan. People want to follow someone who knows where they are going. So if as a leader, you are not real sure of where you are going, or how you are going to get there, or what it is suppose to look like, then you will always have a hard time convincing people to follow you.

Many times the problem leaders in the church face stem from not really knowing where we are going. Leading when you don’t have clear direction as to where you are going is next to impossible. So, as leaders it is really important that we work to define three things. One, where we are heading. Two, how we plan to get there. Three, what will “there” actually look like.

As you are defining the ministry, begin with the end in mind. You are not just building with what you currently have, but what you hope to have. So, below are several questions to help you as you define the ministry that you are leading. It is also very important to revisit these questions on a regular basis, clarifying and redefining as you are growing and learning.

Where are you going?
Who is this ministry trying to impact?
What is the purpose of this ministry?
How does this ministry play into the over mission of Shiloh Road, to KNOW God and make Him KNOWN?

How do we get there?
What resources do we need for this ministry to be successful?
What are the challenges you anticipate along the way?
Draw an organizational chart for the teams and positions you need in place for this ministry to function at its fullest potential?


What does “there” look like?
We will consider this ministry to be successful if…
What will be the first indication that this ministry is no longer effective in fulfilling its purpose?

A few reminders as you engage in this process. 1. Priority of prayer throughout the process. 2. Invite other people into the discussion who are passionate about this ministry. 3. Begin with the end in mind. 4. Think big. We serve a God who is more than enough, who exceeds our expectations. 5. If you want to go deeper into this process, here is a strategy-worksheet_srcc we have adapted for Shiloh Road. It will go much more in-depth into this process of defining ministry.

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.


Looking Back Before Looking Forward

This will be a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.

When I was in Cleburne, my good friend and secretary Lisa Jo alerted me to a bad habit I had developed. I have a tendency to get frustrated with people when I had “throughly and adequately” explained something to someone. Once I realized they did not understand I would explain myself again. This time only slower and louder. The instructions would not change, just my tone and frustration level. I would keep saying the same thing, hoping it would finally get through.
So many times we do this in ministry… What is the plan for the coming year? Same thing as last year. What do we need to budget this year? Same as last year. Sound familiar? The scary thing is many churches and ministries operate like this.

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Here is the problem. We serve a creative God. More than that, you were made in this God’s image. Yes, the God who created the heavens and the earth made you in His image. That means you are oozing with creativity. Most of the time when I tell people that, they respond with, “oh, not me.”

My guess is as a kid you had an amazing imagination, you were a doctor, athlete, policeman, fireman, nurse. You never left your home but could travel around the globe. You had the ability anytime, anywhere to let your imagination fly. My guess is somewhere along the way someone convinced you it was no longer necessary, or maybe even dangerous to have such an imagination.

So we find a routine, we get comfortable and we settle in. It’s life. However, I believe God called you to more than just a routine. He has invited you into his story to serve, lead, and impact the kingdom. His desire is for you to fully engage your mind and your creativity.

Most people think the creative ones just “shoot from the hip” and everything is just thrown together haphazardly, but I would disagree. The most creative people I have come across are planners. The carve out time to think and dream and plan.

There are so many things I am thankful for at Shiloh Road and I am so excited about what God is doing. So as we move forward into 2015 I want to invite you to sit down and evaluate and dream. Over the course of the next 3 weeks, there will be 4 blog posts (Evaluate, Define, Dream, Focus) to help you to effectively and creativity plan with 2015 and beyond. This is not for a grade, you do not have to turn it in, this is simply to help you plan for 2015. You will get an email link for each one, where they will be posted to my blog, garyalbritton.com.

PHASE 1: evaluate
1. What did you do this year? (not in terms of tasks, what did you do that made a difference as we strive to make God KNOWN.)

2. What aspects of your ministry did you enjoy most over the past year?

3. What aspects of your ministry did you enjoy least over the past year?

4. What are the things in your ministry that allow you to serve out of your giftedness? (ie. communicating, organizing, artwork, etc)

5. Are there areas in your ministry that are outside of your giftedness which you could pass on to someone else? You do not even need to have someone in mind. (ie. communicating, organizing, artwork, etc)


DEALING WITH DISCOURAGMENT IN MINISTRY

One thing I have learned in ten years of ministry is there will be lots of disappointments.  Especially, for those of us in Student Ministry, discouragement will be abundant.  Students, parents, leaders, members will all let you down and the flip side, you will most certainly let them down as well.  So I am writing this to let all of my friends in ministry know how to fix the problem…..

Ready for it…

Get rid of all the people!

There you go.  If you eliminate all the people in your church, the problem of disappointment will be gone… unless you are a numbers guy.  Now of course I am joking but from time to time we all feel that way.  The problem is people, but this is what God planned.  Think about it, God decided to use broken and messed up people to help broken and messed up people.

So, if discouragement in ministry is inevitable, where is the hope in ministry?  Because, in the illustrious words of the late Charles Siburt, “there is no possible way to contort the human voice to make whining appealing to the human ear.”   So how do you deal with discouragement?

1. Focus on YOUR NEED for the Gospel.  One of the biggest traps I fall into in ministry is focusing on how much everyone around me needs to hear the message of Jesus, because they are broken and messed up people.  When we do we begin to see our self as a practitioner rather than a patient.  Unfortunately, the church has lost sight of this truth, expecting for those in ministry to not struggle as everyone else does. We find great joy in the appearance we present to people.  In doing this it is “self” that is glorified and not Christ.  Paul makes a point to point out his weakness…

 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16

People will follow the example we set.  If we are unwilling to admit our brokenness, it is pretty ridiculous to expect those we are leading to admit their brokenness.

2. Surround yourself with a close group of people you can share things with, who can help to encourage and pray for you.  For me there are several different circles.  One circle consists of people in our church, who know me and my ministry very well.  They know where I want this ministry to go.  They offer an open ear and loving voice.  They know my heart and genuinely care for me, not just what our ministry is doing.  These are the people I go to with leadership problems, thoughts, dreams.  I also have a close circle of 5 or 6 friends in ministry, who are in the trenches, we share ideas and dreams. We seek advice and counsel from each other drawing on the experiences of each other.  The most important circle though is my family.  This is also my first and most important ministry.  I have to focus on taking care of this relationship, because the health of this relationship, with my wife and children greatly affects my mindset in the rest of my ministry.

3. Our job in ministry is not to fill people up, it is to empty yourself.  Somewhere along the way someone convinced me it was my responsibility to fill people up to send them out.  They were wrong!  You have absolutely no control in ministry of how people with respond to the message of Christ.  Jesus told us, there would be people who hear this message and want absolutely no part of it.  There would be people who say they are a part of His Kingdom and would continue to choose other things.  So it floors me, that I get so discouraged when people chose other things over Christ.  And just maybe they are following their leader, if we are completely honest.  No matter how badly you want someone to know Christ; they might want nothing to do with Him.

Jesus has called us to build His Kingdom here on earth, not our own.  It is amazing how easily we confuse the two.  Discouragement is something we will always deal with in ministry.  Jesus did, Paul did, the apostles did, and the early church did.  Get use to it, but by all means do not give up on what God has called you to do and more importantly WHO he has called you to BE!

These are just a few examples of what I rely on, and of course there are many other principles out there.  So how do you deal with discouragement in ministry?


LEADERSHIP 101: CREATING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

I feel like this is a lesson I should have gotten somewhere along the way, in school, grad school or a conference, somewhere but it is a leadership lesson I have been learning on my own.  As a leader what are your expectations for the people you are leading?


Often, I find the people I am leading do not meet my expectations.  Which can be very frustrating for a leader; especially, when they are teenagers.  Typically, we chalk it up to apathy or laziness and dismiss the possibly it could be our own fault they are not meeting our expectations.  This has been a challenge for me over the last several years with our Student Leadership group.  On the flip side there is nothing more discouraging than constantly trying to meet someones expectations you are unaware of.  It can only lead to failure and frustration.

This year, I decided to approach the expectations from a different angle.  I created a covenant for the students and the parents to sign, laying out exactly what I expect from students serving in this ministry.  After I handed out the expectations and asked them to sign and return, I had a conversation with a couple of our seniors in Student Leadership.  They were wondering why this was necessary, not in an upset way but a curious way.  They kind of understood these expectations.  So I asked them specifically, did you know I expect you to…  and I went through the list of expectations.  Several they understood from the beginning, some they had figured out over time and one they did not even know.  So why did it surprise me that my expectations often went unmet?

In leadership, often our greatest frustration comes from unmet expectations.  What if instead of looking at the people not meeting our expectations, we looked in the mirror at the one creating the expectations.  Expectations not being met?  Ask yourself, are your expectations clear?  How do they know your expectations?  Have you communicated the expectations clearly?  There is a great difference between expectations being clear in your head and the expectations being clear in other people’s heads.

So enter the covenant.  Here is what I came up with for anyone in our Student Leadership group.  What are your thoughts and/or feedback on the covenant?  How do you clearly communicate expectations?

Student Leadership Covenant


RE-VISIONING YOUTH MINISTRY

If you look back to the prototypical youth ministry model of the 80’s and 90’s, the model I and many of my ministry friends grew up in, we saw churches pulling the teenagers out from the church as a whole and segregating them.

There was the church and there was the youth ministry.  Unintentionally conveying to parents, it is the “professional” youth ministers job to disciple your children.  Teaching students this ministry is here to serve you and meet your needs.  Over the past decade we have seen the overarching problems with this model.  Ministers are trying to frantically reverse the direction of youth ministry that became so ingrained in the DNA of churches through the 1980’s & 1990’s.

The goal has become connecting students back to the church, trying to convince parents it is their responsibility to disciple their children, and trying to move students back into the role of leaders and planners.  Now don’t get me wrong, I loved the youth ministry model I grew up in.  I had a blast but, with all we are learning about what youth ministry has been producing, I think we have some serious questions we must answer moving forward.  According to Barna Group research, 59 percent of teenagers who are active in their youth groups today will stop attending church at some point between the ages of 18 and 29. Show how do we begin reconnecting?

Connecting to the church – The problem comes for most teenagers in the transition from High School to College/ Work.  Chuck Bomar & Reggie Joiner address this issue specifically in “The Show Fade,” and is well worth picking up a copy to better understand the problem.  Part of the job of a successful student ministry must become connecting students with older mentors in the church who will commit to a relationship with a student. It is key that the relationship must be built to continue after high school, regardless of whether the student goes off to college or stays home.  This year we are allowing incoming 6th graders to choose 3 to 4 significant adults in their life.  These adults are going have the opportunity at a special ceremony to give a charge to the 6th grader.  Then each of the adults will be given a charge to commit to walking with this 6th grader and building a relationship with him through Jr. High, High School and into college.  These students need significant relationships with other adults who believe in them and who they look up to, to challenge and encourage them.  Connecting students to the overall church body is not simply throwing together a few all together events; this is about building meaningful relationships.

Partnering with parents – The goal is not for the minister to disciple the students, rather the new goal becomes equipping and encouraging the parents to take ownership of their children’s faith.  The idea scares so many younger parents because they were not discipled by their parents.  They grew up in the same model of youth ministry that we did and so it was not modeled for them.  Our job is to help parents connect with their kids.  With so many other obstacles including overcrowded schedules, not knowing how becomes the final reason not to.  So we walk along with parents simply pointing out some ways to disciple their children in the time they have.  Parents are great about praying with their children when they are younger or reading them a Bible story but as they get into their Jr. High and High School years they freak out at the idea?  In reality, nothing has to change.  Read and pray together, grow together and I promise it will strengthen the relationship.  Don’t make things more complex than they are.

Plugging students into ministry – We live in a narcissistic world and we have drug our churches into the same mindset.  If you are looking for a place to point the finger, look no further than the church leaders.  People show up with an expectation to be fed, after all it is the “mission of the church” we have unknowingly conveyed.  It is the expectation of adults and it’s no wonder why it has become the expectation of the students as well.  We must teach students, especially the leaders, to come not with the expectation of being fed but with the expectation of feeding and serving others.  Students will grow more in their faith through self sacrificial service than they will ever learn showing up week after week, holding a sign that says “feed me!”  My goal is for our students to be serving in the safety of our youth ministry, for it to be a safe place to learn and even make mistakes.  Our ministries are set up to reflect the ministry structure in our church.  My hope is during their junior and senior year they would be serving in that ministry in the larger church context.

I believe these connections are vital to building more effective student ministries.  What are some other ways we need to be working to connect students back to the church?  What are some ways we need to be working hard to partner with parents?  What are some ways we can be working to plug students into ministries?