What preaching from a wheel chair taught me

Exactly five years ago, I experienced one of the most humbling and challenging things my life. Five years ago, I had a cutting-edge surgery called autologous chondrocyte implantation. It’s just a long name for a doctor moving everything around in your knee, putting in harvested stem cells, relocating my shin bone… you can fill in the gaps! I had no idea what the road to recovery would mean, or the challenges my family and I would face along the path.

The surgery left me in bed  for weeks, hooked up to a CPM machine. The first months back to work meant I had to preach from the convenience of a wheel chair. Let’s just say it was a big day when I walked into the office on crutches with my trusty brace — a brace I would wear for an entire year.

While all of this was going on, I was trying to lead a church that was only two and a half years old. The surgery and recovery was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Looking back on the past five years and all that my family has endured, here are a five things I learned along the way:

1. Balance is important. Pain, illness, injury, whatever you want to call it, is exhausting. I have regularly found myself feeling or wishing I could do more to handle the demands of life, to help around the house, to play with the kids. However, I have come to understand that even some of the most simple and mundane things become quite difficult when dealing with the stress of pain and illness. Not only does the physical pain seesaw back and forth—so do your emotions. Over time I found it normal to watch my emotions go back and forth from negative thoughts to positive thoughts and back again in a matter of minutes.

In these moments it is helpful and important to manage your energy. Knowing that the stress of injury, illness or pain drains your energy tank is a critical piece to the puzzle. The greater your leadership demands, the more you have to manage your energy wisely. Find things or people that bring you energy and avoid tasks and people that drain energy. Make sure your to-do list is reasonable and don’t push your elf beyond your energy level or you will pay for it.

2. Don’t let your injury or pain win. There have been moments when I have felt like succumbing to the pain or my identity as the guy with knee issues. Even while spending time with good friends, the conversation tended to move towards talking about my issues, my recovery and my pain, as if there was nothing else to talk about. Don’t allow this to become the new normal. Focus your conversations and help lead others to talk about the many other interesting things that help make you, you.

3. Talk with others who have been there before. Even with six surgeries over the past six years, I had never gone through a prolonged season of being in pain. If you are anything like me, you probably haven’t either. In preparation for my last surgery, knowing the pain would be tremendous and the time laid up would be lengthy, I sought out several people who had walked through similar hardships. These people gave me great information, understanding, advice and encouragement. All of these things helped create for a foundation that would help me persevere through the challenges of surgery and rehab. The shared experiences showed me I wasn’t alone in this journey, a nice reminder.

4. Don’t isolate yourself. When I am in pain and nursing an injury, I find it easy to isolate myself from activity, people, etc. Bed rest (not mentioning the pain meds) also made it extremely easy to isolate myself and to spend time watching TV. I think part of this is normal based on circumstances. But you need to fight through it. Ask people to visit and to bring your favorite milk shake from time to time (Mexican food was helpful, too). Watch things that are uplifting and that don’t add weight to your already shaken emotions. And when possible, get out of the house. Going to church and even a restaurant helped me feel normal again.

5. See the bigger picture. I have come to recognize that without pain and hardship, I would never come to know God as my Comforter. 2 Corinthians 1 tells us that in times of trial and in hardship, when we turn to God for answers and help, he will be there and will be our Comforter. If we were to live life without pain, we would never get to fully experience God for all that he is. Without pain there is no need to be comforted. If this be true, then for us to truly mature and to become Christ-like we must have periods of pain in our life. Pain in the long run really is a blessing, because in our pain we get to see and experience God.

If you would like to read more of my journey, tune into www.themilliondollarknee.blogspot.com.

Is Your Church Volunteer-friendly

“Help…we are in need of volunteers!”

If you have attended a church for any length of time, you have heard or said that sentence more times than you can count. In every church I have been apart of from childhood to adulthood, has struggled with having enough volunteers.

Here is the reality:  the persistent and chronic lack of volunteers is an indication that leadership/volunteer development isn’t a high priority.

What can we do differently to see this trend change overtime in our churches?

1.    Grow your own leadership capacity

Sometimes leaders have difficulty in recruiting, training, and mobilizing other leaders because they have never been trained themselves. Investing in your own leadership competencies will help you have more leaders. This can look different depending where and who you are, but consider going to a conference, hiring a coach or joining a local cohort of leaders. The truth is we all have more capacity than we are unlocking. Have the courage to find people who can help you unlock future potential.

In my circle at Converge, this is where our Transform conference has been helpful to me as a pastor. Transform offers peer-to-peer conversations with pastors of similar sized churches.

2.   Let go

Sometimes we don’t have enough volunteers because of one simple reason - we are too controlling. It’s easy to strive for excellence to the point that people are never given a chance to lead. This is a sure fire way to run off your best leaders.The more you are willing to release and empower others, the more people you will find who want to help. Engaging new volunteers requires a willingness to empower and to let go, but in reality you can never let go of responsibility. As the leader you own the wins but also the failures. When you make responsibility a high priority it focuses you to care and train the leaders you have empowered.

3.   Alleviate the fear

I am convinced fear is one of the greatest barriers to people stepping up and volunteering. They are afraid that if they sign up as a volunteer, they could be stuck doing that task/role for the rest of their life with no hope of escaping. The fear of not having a graceful way to exit is enough to keep people from volunteering.

What are ways you can communicate your heart for your people to allow people to start serving with “no strings attached?” The more people feel they are using their gifts, experience, and passions the more likely they will become a long term volunteer. However, it can take time and multiple attempts to find the right fit.

4.   Have the right entry points

Sometimes it is simple math. We don’t have enough volunteers because we have too many needs. Sometimes churches get consumed by programs, tasks, and opportunities that it can unknowingly become an abusive environment in which to volunteer. Be strategic about streamlining your ministries and limit the entry points. This helps you maximize the number of contacts and incoming volunteers.

5.   Give people a reason 

Many churches lack a compelling vision. A strong vision is more than a cute phrase in the entry way of a church. A strong vision permeates down to the culture of the church. A Vision is working when it’s seen in people’s desires. They buy into the church’s future impact. Well-crafted visions are clear about a specific future. Give people a reason to volunteer. Show them they are actually missing out if they didn’t jump in. Vision is the key to growing a strong volunteer base. Where it is lacking, so are the volunteers.

Learn how to share a compelling vision.


Growing your Leadership Capacity

When it comes to starting a church or trying to bring about change, what does it look like to you? Can you describe the end result with great detail? One of the most important disciplines you can do to help ensure your success in these areas is to write down on paper what’s in your head.

Over the years, I have written out my goals in three specific categories of my life: physical goals, professional goals and spiritual goals.

Most people never write out their goals. Instead they drift through life going wherever the current of circumstance takes them. However, committing your goals to paper isn’t the magic wand…it is just the beginning.

Here are five quick reasons why you should write out your goals:

1. It brings clarity.

When you take time to write out your goals, it forces you to be certain about where you are and where you want to be. That small exercise brings great clarity and lets you know when you are actually moving, and if you are moving in the right direction.

2. It inspires action.

Writing down your goals is only half of the battle. The next big thing requires execution. You have to take action to see the goals achieved. When I write my goals down and then review them regularly, it inspires me to take the next most important step to achieving it.

3. It creates a filter.

The more success you achieve, the more opportunities will come your way. If you are not careful or have something that grounds you, these opportunities can easily distract and rip you off course. The one thing that has helped me to stay moving in the right direction is to have written goals that I can frequently visit to evaluate every new opportunity that pops up.

4. It elevates courage.

Resistance is just a part of life. Every meaningful intention you have will face resistance in some form. The moment you set a goal, resistance rears its ugly head. When you focus on the resistance it grows in strength and its ability to distract you. The best way to overcome the resistance is to focus on the end goal.

5. It creates avenues to celebrate.

Church work, leadership and life are hard when you don’t see tangible progress. It can feel like you are working day after day and getting nowhere. However, written goals can serve as markers on a highway. They enable you to see where you were, where you have come and how far you have to go. The best part is that they provide the opportunity to celebrate when the end has been reached.

Writing out your goals doesn’t need to be a long and drawn out process. Don’t over think it. Refine the goals as you go. I think you will find the effort and the discipline are well worth the time.