Tag Archives: Leadership

Many Are the Plans

I have a love-hate relationship with Proverbs 16.9.  It’s burned into my soul by now, but in case you aren’t as familiar with it yet, it goes like this:

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”

You can see where this is going now, huh?

I learned it as a new believer over a decade ago.  It resonated with me as a college student, full of plans and timelines.  And every time those plans blew up or the timeline came to a screeching halt, it was the one thing I could hear in the silence.

As I’ve grown a bit and made some significant life changes along the way, the Lord and I have a playful relationship when it comes to me and my plans.  I Google things and ask lots of questions and research options A, B, and C.  And most of the time I even have a contingency for each, just to be sure.  But the irony in it all is that the Lord RARELY sees fit to go with my plan.  He humors me as I scheme and strategize. But inevitably, at some point when I’m finally willing (or sometimes forced) to submit my plans to Him, He responds by kindly messing up my deal.  Yep. I’m aware this is not the most articulate way to express it, but that is exactly what is happening.  I throw my hands up and say “AGH! There You go again, messing up my deal!”  and then He proceeds to order my steps with the most loving and gracious and good plans.  Every single time.

I honestly hoped that I’d outgrow or outrun Proverbs 16.9 eventually, but it always seems to know how to find me.  And most days I can be found at Renovatus, where I am inevitably reminded of this particular truth!  Nevertheless, the proverb is a good one to own when you are a Spirit-led church, desperate to go where He sends you, resolved to faithfully do whatever He puts in your hands to do.   But MAN it can be frustrating sometimes and is not altogether unlike trying to hit an ever-moving target!  Because while the church is a living, breathing organism, dynamic and organic, she is also an organization that needs some semblance of structure and a plan!  Amen?

In 2009 Renovatus began renovating a movie theater inside a shopping mall in great decline on the east side of Charlotte.  It would become our offices and worship space.  Everyone thought we were crazy.  We had big dreams about what God could do through us in the community.  We had big plans.  We worked really hard on those plans.  And 9 months after we moved in, the landlord filed bankruptcy and the entire mall went into foreclosure.  We had 60 days to come up with a new plan.

Now on the one hand, we were heartbroken.  We poured so much sweat and time and resource into upfitting the space and developing relationships in the area.  We had persevered through some serious challenges to be there and it felt like we had just begun to dig in when our notice was delivered.  (Quick aside: There is nothing quite like calling your lead pastor while he’s out of town to inform him that his congregation is being displaced in less than 2 months.)

On the other hand, no one panicked.  No one plummeted into despair.  There was no sackcloth and ashes.  There was a deep peace and confidence surrounding us.  Ultimately, we all knew there was no doubt that the Lord would give us somewhere new to go, something else to do.  And He did.

The “plan” is never the end game anyway, just the means.  And the Lord is infinitely creative with the means.

The lesson in all of this for me, for Renovatus, for anyone is simply to surrender.  It is right and good and biblical to plan.  It is God-honoring to steward resources well and to organize work effectively.  But all of it must constantly be laid on the altar before the Lord.  It must always be offered up in open hands raised high before the King.  We do this so we don’t end up worshiping the strategy & systems we’ve created.  We do this to avoid the subtle drift that leads us to bowing down before man-made 5 year plans that make us feel accomplished and productive but leave no room for obedience in a moment’s notice.

We surrender.

God, in His wisdom and by his grace, equipped us with minds and hearts by which we can make some truly amazing plans.  But the minds, the hearts, and the plans–it’s all His for the taking.  And no matter how frustrating or disappointing or confusing it can be in the moment when it feels like He’s once again “messing up your deal,” you cling to the knowledge that the Father is incapable of being anything but good and loving toward you.

You recognize that “deal” He is supposedly messing up was never yours to begin with and that His ordering of your steps is ultimately the only plan worth following anyway.

Good Leaders Are…

I suppose good leaders are many things and this post is intended to just name a few… A few that simply won’t leave me alone these days.

Good leaders are good learners.

I doubt I coined the phrase, but at least around Renovatus, I’ve definitely made it my own.  Largely because I think it’s true, but moreso because I need it to be true if I have any hope of doing my job well at all.  While I firmly believe the Lord to be faithful to order my steps according to His purposes for my life and for the life of His church, I am also confident that He has surrounded me with the tools and opportunities to learn what it is to be human; to be a good wife, mother, friend, and leader.

What I like about learning as an essential for leadership is that humility is implied within.  Learning means we haven’t arrived, that we still have questions, that we are growing and maturing.  It implies a thirst and a motivation to have that thirst satiated.

I am skeptical of anyone who has all the answers, of those who can’t seem to find the courage to say “I don’t know.”  What is there to be done with someone who thinks they know enough in every category and situation?  I have no patience for that kind of arrogance or lack of self-awareness.  The best leaders are the ones who model learning in their own lives, regardless of their credentials, regardless of their platform or success.  Those who still have something to learn will always have something to teach, something to say, something to give.

Good leaders are good followers.

The most effective and influential leaders are all good followers.  And I don’t think it’s simply because they want to model that virtue for those that follow them.  I think it has more to do with the fact that you cannot lead effectively if you are unable or unwilling to sympathize with those who are now where you once were, no matter how different the context may be.  Followership could never be overrated.  In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and declare that your leadership potential is directly correlative to your commitment to faithful followership.  Leading is the fruit, the reward, the blessing of a life lived following really well.

Following who? Whoever the Lord puts in authority over you in any season or area of life.   If you acknowledge the Father’s lordship over your life, you trust Him to order your steps, including the ones that are in the footsteps of another.  I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. In it the main character is passing down wisdom to his son that he once received from his own father and instructs him:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?  If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind.  But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”

Good leaders can heed that wisdom and follow well, looking for ways to honor the Lord in how we honor and respect those in authority over us.  Followership is an exercise in seeing redemptively and acting accordingly.  If that skill isn’t established early and honed along the way, what are you leading people toward anyway?

Good leaders are good at admitting fault; not finding it.

Leaders who can readily accept their mistakes and own up to them in front of their teams, those are the ones to emulate.  I think this is because admission of failure or even of a misstep is a sign of self-awareness.  And self-awareness goes a long, long way in leading well.  Conversely, those who are not self-aware are often the ones hunting down fault in others, not even a speck goes unnoticed despite the gargantuan plank in their own eye.  It’s a most unattractive quality.  Thus, one to be avoided whenever possible!

Good leaders are in touch with their teams, themselves, and the Lord enough to know when the mistake is of their own making.  And the best leaders can say as much out loud and to those who follow them.  It is refreshing and energizing to see a leader do this well.  It strengthens morale and makes people want to work harder and better.

Good leaders are good at delegating.

I had a dear friend in college, Kathy Barksdale Giles, whose mantra was: DELEGATE OR DIE!  She was pretty genius at it, too.  Wise beyond her years, she learned early on the value of multiplying herself and empowering others.  Whether that was in how she led her volunteers in our local Youth for Christ Urban Ministries or in how she discipled us Berry College girls, she employed the strategy whenever applicable.

Good leaders like Kathy know that one of their principal functions is to develop more leaders.  If what you are leading is worth people following, it’s worth entrusting to them to lead, as well.  This can be an intimidating practice at first.  Those who struggle with insecurity may have a particularly difficult time delegating.

“What if he does it better than I do?”

“What if they like her better?”

“What if I work myself out of a job?”

Good leaders are always looking ahead.  If someone does take that responsibility from you and does so with excellence, that creates more time and space for new endeavors, new growth for you as a leader and for your ministry or company.

Delegating must be done responsibly and people must be well-equipped for receiving new responsibilities and challenges.  But when done successfully, delegating is quite an achievement.  You have invested your time and talents in another individual and that investment is reaping greater dividends than it ever could have if kept to yourself.  If you raise up a new, strong, healthy leader you have no reason to be uneasy and insecure.  You have every reason to be really proud.  And you now have other things you need to go do!

Not just highly practical, delegating is a means for inspiration.  People want to be noticed.  People want to be challenged.  People want to be a part.  Give them a part!  (And if they do that well, give them more parts!)

It’s a privilege to be in a place of leadership, big or small.  It’s worth the work, the effort, the discipline to be a really good one- for your sake and for the sake of the leaders you are shaping one way or another.

Great Unmet Expectations

DISCLAIMER: To avoid a few potential unmet expectations about this post, let me say that these are thoughts I have largely regarding interpersonal communication in leadership. While I hope all this translates beyond the context I put it in, this is not so much about expectations you have of the Lord or even those that you have of yourself. For either of those 2 categories, I would much rather direct you to Pastor Jonathan Martin’s blog and/or podcasts!

Us leaders, we can get really frustrated (quite frequently) when those on our teams, whom we love and have invested a great deal of time, energy, prayer and resource into, seem to be falling short on a regular basis. Maybe it’s in the same areas, maybe not. Maybe it’s the same people, maybe not. Maybe it’s just not a “good fit” for them. Maybe you are hitting some spiritual resistance. Maybe they need more discipline or accountability or maturity. Maybe.

But maybe YOU, leader, are the problem. Or at least, part of it.

Because in my experience (and in Scripture, I should add) a good leader is always self-reflecting and looking for the conspicuous plank before becoming consumed with the irritating speck. When I do that, take a look at what I could do differently to facilitate change or growth in someone, 1 of 2 things is more often than not the case for me:

1. Either the expectation given wasn’t clear or wasn’t clearly communicated in ways that he or she could receive it.

OR

2. The expectation was unrealistic to begin with.

Either way, adjustment is required and must start with the leader.

When my husband, Nathan, and I were doing our pre-marital counseling 8+ years ago, our pastor at the time taught us the invaluable practice of repeating back to each other what we heard the other say. The point of the practice is to reveal discrepancies in what is actually being said versus what is being received. Doing this can be quite an enlightening experience! Even to this day we do this from time to time and it quickly clarifies the conversation. In leading people, we have to be sure that how & what we are communicating is actually computing the way we need it to! We ensure accuracy of the reception by speaking as plainly and directly as possible, by providing concrete examples, by giving written feedback and not relying solely on your verbal communication. We give plenty of room for dialogue and question asking. We define the “win” for them so they know what success looks like and how they know when they are moving toward it. We keep the expectation always in sight and revisit it from time to time.

But sometimes, no matter how clear a thing can be, it’s just not realistic. Clarity is no longer in question. It happens to all of us from time to time. We misjudge people’s abilities, underestimate the time & energy that is required to execute a particular assignment, or oversimplify the scope of a project. And in those times, we have to lead honestly enough to know when the disappointment or frustration we’re experiencing is of our own making.

Its never a fun thing to realize when you’ve set the bar too high or set it so ambiguously that you’re the only one who could see it. But remember that it’s certainly frustrating being the one trying to clear said bar and coming up short at every attempt. No one likes failing.

Do yourself and your team a favor by doing your part in limiting the potential for unmet expectations. For some of us that starts with committing not to create them in the first place!

Oh, and do me a favor and remind me of this post the next time you see me banging my head against the wall!

2011: The Year of the Executive Pastor

It’s been a big year for Renovatus.  Little did I know as 2011 came rolling in what a big year it’d be for me.

I won’t forget Pastor Jonathan calling me in to his office at the beginning of the year and telling me of his need for an Executive Pastor, of which we were all very aware.  The church had grown in complexity and he was being inundated with matters that hindered him from focusing on the things God had called him to do.  (And a good leader knows that delegating the things that others can do enables the leader to do the things that only he or she can do.  But more on that another day!) What I didn’t anticipate was his suggestion (and by suggestion I mean edict) that I become his Executive Pastor.  I anticipated I might be asked to assist the new Executive Pastor or help somehow in this new staff transition.  I wasn’t expecting to BE the transition.

Don’t get me wrong- I know an awful lot about Renovatus and how she runs!  I’ve worked at the church nearly since it’s inception over 5 years ago. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere, actually.  The first fours years I assisted Pastor Jonathan and managed the office, which is to say I did a little bit of everything except the preaching!  I have a solid grasp on Pastor’s vision and am completely committed to the mission we are on to join God in renovating lives.  In those ways I was more than qualified to be his XO (I’m an army brat…that’s military speak for Executive Officer- the guy that the guy counts on).  However, prior to that moment if you had asked me to describe an Executive Pastor, my honest descriptors would have been along these lines:

A middle-aged man with 10+ years experience in a corporate work environment, perhaps as a CFO or Vice President of Human Resources. Or maybe Director of Development at a national non-profit or something else with an equally as impressive title.  Oh, and holds two post-graduate degrees (MBA & MDiv preferably).

On paper, if I were the one recruiting for the position, that’s who I would’ve been looking for.  Fortunately for me, that wasn’t who Pastor was looking for and I wasn’t asked to find the next Executive Pastor, just to become her!  Needless to say, it has been quite an adventurous year.

And a good part of the adventure is in the sharing of it with others.  So, here are 4 of the many things I’ve picked up on along the way this year:

1.  The Lead Pastor determines the role & scope of the Executive Pastor.  What I mean to say is that the job is largely subjective.  It is contingent upon the strengths, needs, personality and preferences of the Lead Pastor.  It is a dynamic relationship with a number of variables and as such, the position will not look, but in fact be, very different from church to church.  Because of that, I want to work really hard to understand on every level what my Lead Pastor expects of me and how he defines what success looks like in my position at Renovatus.

2.  Executive Pastors Execute.  This is not one that I’ve had to learn, honestly.  I place a high premium on followership naturally, but I think is a very important point and can’t be overstated.  It is not uncommon to hear of power struggles between the Lead Pastor and his or her second in command.  This is almost always because of competing visions.   Scripture is very clear about respecting and submitting to those in authority.  The Lead Pastor is accountable before the Lord for the church, and as such, it is only appropriate that the vision he has be the one that is carried out.  If you cannot support that vision you will end up creating your own, even if only internally, and it will cause divisiveness in your life, and ultimately, in your church.  Trust God’s lordship over your pastor.  Loyally follow him as he follows Christ.

3.  Be Fiercely Protective.  In this position you are privy to a great deal of “scoop.”  For some reason, church people love to have the scoop, which means you are a walking target.  Discretion, tactfulness, propriety, and self-control are crucial.  Always speak honorably of others, specifically of your pastor and the staff.  The churches who battle the least with gossip and slander are the ones whose leadership has made it a non-negotiable to protect unity within the body.

4.  Be Intentional.  My first few weeks and months in the job were spent largely responding- to emails, to event details, to conflicts, to situations.  There will always be some measure of responding in any position.  However, I quickly learned that I would have to actively choose intentionality and then fight to keep it amidst the day to day chaos!  The position was new to the church and we were figuring out what it needed to look like and what areas needed my attention the most.  I couldn’t wait until things settled a bit, until the church calendar was a little lighter.  That day wouldn’t come. It would always be the default option to let the circumstances & crises of the day dictate my priorities.  That’s no way to lead.  Plan the work, work the plan and guard it like crazy unless the Lord or the Lead Pastor tells you to do otherwise!

There you have it.  4 of 5769+ things I’ve learned in 2011, my freshman year in executive leadership at Renovatus.  Here’s to 2012 being our best year yet.

If I Had a Blog…

In recent weeks, after being inspired by the brilliant bloggers that surround me, I found myself often thinking, “If I had a blog, I’d write a post about ___!”  And ___ would inevitably be whatever soapbox I was on in that moment.  I had great reasons for not starting a blog.  Everyone has a blog.  I’d be 6-8 years late to the blogging party.  Blogs are dying by the droves as of late.  Lots of people start blogs with great gusto only to abandon them & their audiences 3 months into the journey.  Spare time is M.I.A. for T. Rouse in this particular season of life.  Yet none of these reasons (read: excuses) were sufficient in refuting the nagging urge to speak to anyone who wants to listen to what little I know and how much I’m learning about ministry, leadership, family, friendship, and whatever other randomness enters my life on any given day!

So, here’s the deal:

I am the Executive Pastor at Renovatus: a church for people under renovation, as we like to say.  One of my primary responsibilities at the church is leading our staff.  As such, I am often times a sounding board for them and at least daily a head will pop in my office and say, “Do you have any thoughts on blahblahblah?” to which I almost always reply with great enthusiasm, “I have thoughts about everything!  All of the time!”  Thus, blogging seems like a good outlet for some of these thoughts.

And while I don’t presume my life to be that “different” than most, I am a working mom in full-time ministry.  I am married to an actor & producer who also is the best stay-at-home dad you’ll ever meet.  So, I think it’s fair to say that our family dynamic is a bit nontraditional.  And by nontraditional, I mean amazing.  Marriage and parenting, no matter what the dynamic, are always thought-provoking, amen?!

I get to live and work and play with some of the most beautiful people on the planet, all of whom teach me a lot about what it means to be human.

And in all my spare time (time that will be intentionally carved out and created- not randomly found or stumbled into) I will choose to spend some of it sharing my story and never-ending thoughts with you!