Know Yourself: Trust Your Instincts

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Have you ever seen Napoleon Dynamite? Unfortunately, the story that follows may make me seem a lot like Napoleon, and the comparison is very likely true.

In high school, I was in FFA. As part of my FFA experience, I joined the Dairy Products judging team. Our contests did not occur like the scene in Napoleon Dynamite (where he sits at a table on a stage, drinks some milk, and says the cow had gotten into an onion patch), but the basic principle of the contest was similar.

Our team would split into different groups and we would rotate through different rooms: milk, cheese, natural/artificial, and a written test. In each room, there would be a number of samples and our role was to determine the identity or defect of each sample.

I judged dairy products for four years and walked away with quite possibly one of the most productive life lessons I have ever gained, but it wasn’t how to tell if milk has gone bad.

I learned to trust my first instinct.

I remember one contest in particular, maybe my Junior year. It was early in the judging season, and the contest was right up my alley because it did not include the written test.

We went through the contest, turned in our scorecards, and our Ag teacher took us back through the contest so we could see how we did. Well, as we went through, I realized I scored a perfect score. I did not miss a single defect, flavor, or texture. I was ecstatic, until the awards ceremony.

I was wrong. I missed one milk defect (still impressive, but not perfect). The confusion came because I second guessed myself and changed my answer on my official scorecard, but not on the one I kept for after the contest.

I learned a very valuable lesson that day: trust my first instinct because it generally will not let me down.

Since that contest, especially in school, I learned to trust my gut, especially on tests and homework. Still today, however, I have worked this into my identity as I set out to accomplish different tasks.

Often times today that first instinct is a nagging feeling that I need to have a tough conversation with someone, or that something needs to change. Sometimes, my first instinct is to simply listen, or to walk away.

So, let me ask you today: do you know yourself? Are you the same way? What have you learned about yourself in your leadership journey? Can you trust your first instinct, or are you better when you deliberate?

Don’t Be Surprised

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I think we all pick up leadership lessons to which we continually return. You learned something along your leadership journey, then forget what you learned, then are reminded of the validity of the lesson.

Recently, I found myself returning to a simple principle I learned a few years ago: don’t let someone’s character surprise you.

Along your leadership journey you will encounter more and more people. After a period in the same situation, you will start to learn more about individuals-their interests, habits, and character.

Then, one day, the inevitable will happen. Someone will do something to disappoint you. They will drop the ball on a project. They will show up late, again. They will gossip. They will fail to show up at all. Any number of possibilities, and they leave you, the leader, dealing with the fall out.

Before you take it out on them, or if you’re like me, take it out on yourself, ask yourself one thing: is this in line with who I know them to be? Do these actions line up with their past behavior?

I cannot promise the answer to this question will soften the blow for you, but I learned a long time ago if I can avoid expecting people to behave in the same way I would behave, I will be much healthier.

We all have faults. I can change my faults. I cannot change yours, nor can I change the faults of those I lead. I can encourage change in others, but I can only change myself.

What recent disappointment in your life resulted from expecting your values and character from someone else? How have you worked through that disappointment? Take some time today to process the situation through the lens of “don’t let someone’s character surprise you”, and see what changes.

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6 Tips to Implement the 3 Questions

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Let’s zoom in on local church ministry today. How can you use the 3 questions to help develop student leaders? (Not sure what the 3 Questions are? Click here to read more.)

  1. Teach them to ask the 3 questions. Make the 3 questions part of your language. Repeat each question individually, challenging them to incorporate the questions into how they approach situations. Do not neglect the repetition it takes to change mindsets, because it takes a lot of repetition.
  2. Give them opportunities to put the questions into practice. Go one step further by highlighting different opportunities they might have to influence a room. Walk with them through the process, pointing out the opportunities they missed or how they naturally worked through the process. Early on, you will find some who work through the questions naturally, and others who struggle. That’s okay, everybody is here to learn, including you.
  3. Highlight the positive. When you see a student answering the 3 questions, celebrate it! As you celebrate more and more, you will see more and more students buy into the concepts. Create a culture, at the beginning, where positive reinforcement reigns.
  4. Evaluate Regularly. If you want your students to put the 3 Questions into practice, find a time to regularly evaluate. For my ministry context, I send out a reminder text prior to our mid-week service, and we sit down following the service to share how we answered the 3 questions. The students know what’s coming, and they know they’re going to be asked how they answered the 3 questions.
  5. Personally commit to becoming a better leader. As a leader, you will not be able to lead someone to accomplish what you’re not pursuing yourself, so make the 3 questions part of what you do on a regular basis. Build them into your vocabulary. Evaluate situations you encounter with the 3 questions. As you learn the ins and outs of the 3 questions, you’ll be able to highlight those ins and outs with your students and help them along the way.
  6. Never forget the why. The 3 questions are a tool to teach and implement servant leadership. Why do we implement servant leadership? Because the greatest example we hold as Christians was quite possibly the greatest servant leader to ever live. I want to teach students (and adults) to answer the 3 questions so they can influence the world for Christ.

The Undercurrent of the 3 Questions

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If you have been with me from the beginning, or even for the past few months, you have likely read about the foundation for 3QL. If not, please check it out by clicking here.

The short version is a few years ago I stumbled onto three questions I have since been teaching student leaders. I hope to train and equip student leaders (and adults, too) to change their mindset when encountering different situations.

Here’s why: I believe we, as leaders, can influence the direction of an organization (or a situation) by being intentional. The influence may not provide immediate results, resulting in a painstakingly slow process, but it can be done.

Let’s think about this another way: when I become part of something, I want it to get better. How do I help make it better? By increasing my awareness (what needs to be done), my willingness (what can I do), and my leadership (who can I get to help).

One of my main goals is to raise up a generation of leaders who get involved, stay involved, and when they leave, leave things better because they were there. In student ministry, the results seem simple enough to measure. In the real world, however, things are usually trickier.

But the question has to start with me: am I making the things around me better? Am I equipping and training other people to accomplish what I’m accomplishing? Am I hogging responsibilities and thus preventing someone else from doing something they love? Am I setting my church (and not just the student ministry) up to win because of my time spent serving?

The goal of leadership is to make the world a better place because of our having been in it. What are you doing to equip those around you to be influencers and not participators? What steps can you take this week to help others grow their influence?

Books that Altered My Path

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I have recently experienced a renewed interest in reading. Now, I am not reading through an inordinate number of books, but I am trying to stretch my mind by reading.

But today I thought I would share one of the books that has had the largest and most enduring impact on my ministry. I remember reading this around 2008, and the concepts are still shaping the way I preach today. So, here it is: Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley.

This is a book on preaching. Sounds riveting, right? Actually, it turns into a pretty quick read. The book itself is divided into two parts. The first part is a story that seeks to introduce the concept of the second part, which is the nuts and bolts of the approach.

You can search for in depth reviews of the book, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to share two things that have shaped my ministry as a result of reading it.

First, I don’t have to teach every idea in a passage in one message. Andy tells a story in the book about he and his wife visiting a church and on the way home saying “That was a good series in one sermon.” Sometimes, as communicators, we can overwhelm our audience with too much information. It is okay to take our time and unpack concepts over weeks.

The second lasting impact from this book is to develop a simple, portable, and memorable statement. The statement should be emphasized throughout the message, should be relevant, and should be simple. A few statements I have developed over the years are: God loves you and desires a relationship with you; Worship is the way you live your life; Words reveal intent. Actions reveal heart; and You can’t see the end from the middle.

Bottom line: this book is worth your time, especially if you teach/preach/communicate on a regular basis. I keep extra copies in my office anytime I find it on sale. If you haven’t read it before, click below and buy it today!