4 Documents That Keep You Organized

I am leading a church through a transition period right now. One area of my focus is helping the church become more organized. Some churches are afraid that the more organized they become, the more the church resembles a business. That fear is founded in the idea that if a church becomes businesslike it loses its role as a church. But an organized church will run more efficiently and be more effective. Let me suggest four documents that will help the church become more organized and move you toward your full potential.

  1. Bylaws

Every organization must have a written document that guides their practices. Even when a denomination has a constitution, the local church still needs to have their own bylaws that give clarity to how they will function. This document directs how membership works, who can become a member, and what benefits and responsibilities members have. It clarifies how the leadership board is formed, including who is eligible for board roles and how they will be selected. Church Bylaws should include their Statement of Faith so everyone knows what their key beliefs are.

The bylaws should not include things that may change from time to time. Bylaws need to be reviewed regularly but should not be changed lightly. Instead, practices that may change from time to time can be included in a policy manual.

2. Policies

Every organization needs policies on how to handle things as small as who gets keys to the building and as complicated as how facility rentals work. Policies guide leadership in knowing how to address situations without requiring a unique decision every time when faced with a similar issue. For example, instead of addressing every request for a key separately, policies are established which can guide every distribution of keys without another board vote needed. This creates efficiency for both the leadership and church members in that each person should know what is required of them and the correct process for achieving their desired outcomes.

Further, a policy manual reduces the amount of decisions made at the leadership level because everyone can check the policy for how to handle situations that come up.

3. Job Descriptions

Many churches are lacking in providing good job descriptions. One church I served never even had a job description for their Lead Pastor – me. Good job descriptions give direction and hold people accountable. A good job description outlines the basic responsibilities that a person must meet to fulfill their role. This gives a board criteria to evaluate the individual’s efforts and keep them accountable to.

The latest job descriptions we were working through were for the Welcome Team at church. We established clear job descriptions for the Greeters, the Ushers, and the Coffee Crew. We even had one specific to the Head Usher who would captain the team on Sunday morning and cover a few extra responsibilities. Now, as we recruit people to these roles, each person will know exactly what we are asking of them.

Job descriptions need to include the job title, who the person will be responsible to and who will be responsible to them. It needs to list the qualifications for someone to step into this role as well as a list of responsibilities of the job. It is helpful to also determine a term, so everyone knows when this role is complete.

Job descriptions help identify and organize roles within an organization, which is valuable for ensuring everything that needs to be done.

4. Systems

This is something that many organizations, churches included, never even think of. It is helpful to have systems in place. These are basically a step-by-step instruction how to handle certain situations.

For example, a Welcome Team may have a system that guides them how to get contact information from new guests and how to pass that information on to the right people who will then follow up in some way.

The clearer the system is, the more likely it will be followed.

We all benefit when things become more organized. What documents have you found to be helpful for your organization or church?

I hope you have these documents in place. Let me know if you would like help developing these for your organization.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Doing Good Work

Work is part of daily life for most people. We use our minds and our muscles to create and contribute to our world.

Work is an essential part of why we were created. In Genesis 2: 15 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (ESV). This happened before the Fall, where Adam and Eve sinned and received God’s judgement. And this is part of who we were created to be. When God finished creating the world, we are told he “rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2: 3). We are created in the image of God, so we are created – in part – to work. The ideal life is not one without work, but one in which we find joy in our work.

Work became harder after the Fall, after Adam and Eve sinned. Genesis 3: 17 – 19 tells us that work now became more difficult.

“…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread…”

God also created us to rest. God created us for a regular rhythm of work and rest. He created for six days and then rested on the seventh. All throughout the Old Testament God continued to tell his people, to work for six days, then rest on the seventh.

Many of us work jobs that have shift work that doesn’t line up with a seven-day work week, but we can all make sure to rest when we have our days off. We fulfill our purpose as we keep a rhythm of work and rest.

The New Testament agrees with Genesis: we are created to work. Ephesians 2: 10 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. When we come to faith in Jesus, he works in us to do good works. There is no instruction about what these exact works are to look like or how we are to go about them. Instead, we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whatever we do, whether we are working or taking a day off, whether we are spending time with friends or attending a church service, we are to do everything we do for the glory of God!

Like most of life, how we handle work requires balance. On one extreme is the lazy worker, the one who slacks off as soon as the boss walks away. This is the one who takes extra long breaks and helps himself to supplies from the shop for his own projects at home. This is the worker who does whatever he can to keep his contribution to the company to a minimum. If this is you, then you have some serious questions to ask yourself. How are you reflecting the creator in your work? How are you doing your work for the glory of God?

On the other extreme is the workaholic. This is the one who prides himself in how many hours he has put in this week. I have heard pastors boast about how many hours they work each week, as if this makes them extra special. Or maybe they feel this shows how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to serve the church. Sacrificing your energy, time with your spouse and your family, or even time with God is not a sacrifice that God is going to be impressed with. Boasting about how many years you have gone without a holiday does not make you a good worker in God’s eyes. Where is the balance of work and rest? Where is the understanding that work is one priority in your life, not the main one. How many, men especially, have poured their lives into their work and had no time and energy to pour into their kids at home? Sometimes we may find ourselves in a situation in which we need to work more hours than allows for a good balance, whether this is due to financial stress, busy events or seasons at work, or many other life circumstances. However, if you choose to work beyond what leads to a healthy life for you and your family, it is likely time to re-evaluate your priorities.

In the middle is the balance we are all trying to find. Putting in a good day’s work and having time to love and play with your family is ideal. Christians should always do good work. We should be able to echo the evaluation of God at the end of Creation: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1: 31). We should be proud of our efforts at work, and what our effort accomplishes. And we should be proud of the time we have to pour into our family and what those efforts accomplish.

I write with the Christian leader in mind. So, Christian leader, how are you doing with your work and rest, and work and family balance? And don’t get caught up in the mindset that we have to work hard for and at the church at the cost of time with family. The father who desires to have a reputation of someone always serving the church needs to balance their efforts at the church with their time with their family as well.

We are created to work, and to rest. May God guide you as you balance your work and the rest of your life.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Rest, Refresh, Re-energize!

I realized that I did not take a day off last week, and it showed. I was more tired by the end of the week than I usually am. I felt a push to get certain things done and decided to work on them on my day off. Most of us get a day or more off from work each week, and if you work shift work you may get a few days or weeks off after putting in several weeks in a row.

Time off should be a time to rest, refresh, and energize:

A Change of Routine

Some say that a change is as good as a rest. I’m not sure that is true, but a change of routine can be good for us. If we always go in to work, a day home can be a good change. If you work from home, not logging onto your computer for the day might be a good change or spending the day out of the house going shopping and running errands might be a welcome change. Your mind can take in a different set of stimuli than it has at work all week. It uses different parts of your brain to do these tasks than what you would do at work. You may use different muscles on a day off which can benefit your body.

A Rest

Rest is not easy to get in our busy lives, but a day off may allow you to sleep in a bit or grab a nap in the afternoon. You can demand less of your body, giving it a rest as well.

If you regularly spend your day on the computer, you can rest your eyes. I didn’t feel I needed rest on my last day off, so I worked instead. At the end of the week, I realized a restful day would have been of benefit in the long run. I may have had a little more energy to carry me through the next week.

Do Errands

All of us have things on our to-do-lists. Some of them have been there for a while. We may be able to be more focused at work if we know that we cleared some of those items off our list at home. If we have maintenance on our house or car that should have been done but has been put off, that can hang on us all week at work. Do the things you need to at home on your day off so you can focus on your work through the next week.

Catch up with Friends

Some of us have few friends. Is it because we never take time to connect with people outside of work. If your “work friends” are true friends, then hopefully you do some fun things together outside of work. Most of us will have other friendships that we maintain outside of work. Do something fun together. It could be a simple dinner out or a game night together. Find people who charge you up. We all know people who drain us. Those are not people you want to spend your time off with. You can’t afford to be drained from your time off and then head back to work exhausted. Get together with friends who pour into you and energize you.

Learn Something

I like to read. That is relaxing and energizing at the same time for me. I want to learn and be challenged. Learn something new. If you like working around the house, you could watch a YouTube video about how to place tile on your kitchen counter. Or you could sign up for a self-directed online course that you can work on a bit every time you have some time off. You could even watch baking shows, both for the entertainment, but also to learn another trick to try the next time you bake.

Do Something Meaningless

Some of us are so driven that we feel we can’t “waste” any time. Every day has to accomplish something.

Maybe you just need to watch a movie for fun or go feed ducks. Maybe you need to make a fire in the backyard and just watch the flames and enjoy a s’more or two. Read a fiction book to let your imagination run wild.

Do Something Meaningless

Some of us are so driven that we feel we can’t “waste” any time. Every day has to accomplish something. Maybe you just need to watch a movie for fun or go feed ducks. Maybe you need to make a fire in the backyard and just watch the flames and enjoy a s’more or two. Read a fiction book to let your imagination run wild.

Use your time off, whether it is a weekly day or a week each month, to rest, refresh, and re-energize yourself for the next stretch of work. Take time to slow down and enjoy life.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Pursuing Excellence: Plan Your Sermons a Year Ahead

Life happens at a pretty steady pace. In fact, unless you plan ahead, you will be dragging behind regularly, just barely keeping up. It is valuable to set aside time at regularly to do the work of looking ahead. For preachers, there is always another sermon to prepare. Unless you plan ahead, it is difficult to spend adequate time thinking through how to preach a biblically accurate, relevant, and creative sermon. The more you plan ahead, the more time you have to think through and improve each sermon.

1.Natural Blocks of Time

I begin by determining the number of Sundays between natural breaks. For example, if I was going to preach on Christmas through Advent, and typically think of the church “year” from September to June, that means I only have September through November for a longer series. I could preach through a book of the Bible with that many weeks. Or, I might do a series for September and make a change at Thanksgiving. After determining how many Sundays for natural blocks of time, I start praying through and listing what I feel I need to preach on in the next 12 months.

2. Congregational Needs

There are times in a church where it seems the congregation needs a certain topic addressed. For example, I am presently leading a church transition ministry, meaning I come into a church that is newly without a pastor and is looking toward hiring the next one. Sometimes the transition is a painful one, where people have been hurt by the pastor or each other. Many transition pastors preach a series on the “one anothers” of the Bible. (“Love one another” or “forgive one another” and so on). The hope is to help people to restore their relationships and trust in each other.

As you pray and think through the needs of your congregation, God will guide you to which books of the Bible or topics to address. You could invite your leadership team into the process by asking them to suggest needs they see in the congregation. If you know that most people are going to take holidays over the summer, you might want to plan a summer series in which each sermon doesn’t build on previous sermons but can be fully understood on its own. If people miss a sermon, they are not falling behind.

If you have a number of new people, you may want to address some of your denominational and local church beliefs and priorities. Or if your church includes many new Christians, you might want to introduce them to Jesus through preaching through one of the gospels over the next year. You could intersperse it with thematic series at Christmas or leading up to Easter, or just preach right through the gospel.

If there are themes you feel need addressing but don’t fit in your preaching schedule, you could address some of those needs in a class or weekend seminar.

3. Main Idea of Each Sermon

Once you have decided which of the books of the Bible or themes you want to preach on, begin breaking them down to what scriptures will be preached which Sundays. Make sure each independent sermon builds on the theme you have decided on. After identifying the scripture for each Sunday, develop the basic sermon idea. This will not necessarily be the final decision, because at this point you are just doing a quick survey of the material. You may adjust the main idea later, but you want an outline of the focus for each sermon so you can begin to collect supporting materials, ideas, and stories for that focus over the next year leading up to each week’s sermon.

Develop the main ideas well enough so that you can give the music and creative service planning teams about six months’ notice for them to gather material for that Sunday that will fit with the sermon.

4. Monthly Glances Ahead

Each month, spend time looking at the next month’s sermons, reminding yourself of upcoming themes and topics. This helps you watch for how things like the news or world events are speaking into what you will be preaching about, as well as how that sermon will speak to local needs. Keep in touch with those who will be leading music or adding other creative ideas into the service so you are working together and building one cohesive service.

Prayerfully start to define the main focus of each sermon more specifically. Ask God to give you and your team creative ways of speaking truth and applying it to each one who will hear.

5. Weekly Specifics

As you work through the details of planning the sermon and accompanying service for the next Sunday, work closely with any volunteers who will be part of the service. Communicate your theme clearly and make sure you are on the same page with all who will contribute. Pray about the applications you will include in your sermon, and ask God to direct your final preparation so that lives will actually be transformed through what God has helped you prepare.

It is a privilege to weekly stand before a congregation who is waiting to hear from God. Put in the time necessary to be biblically accurate and creatively relevant to your congregation. God will reward your efforts as you continually listen to His guidance right from the time you determine what book of the Bible to preach on to the time you wrap up the conclusion of your sermon.

Keep looking up,

Andy

Pursuing Excellence: Plan Your Year

Pursuing excellence involves a number of different aspects. One of those is to plan ahead. The difference between mediocrity and excellence may come down to how well you plan.

Planning ahead gives you time to work on your project or event. When you start planning earlier, you have more time to think it through, prepare and determine the best way to complete the project. Giving yourself this extra time to think about your project means that you have longer to think about it and come up with ideas than if you are scrambling to get everything together last minute.

Pastors and church leadership teams, plan your upcoming year. While many people plan their years from January to December (I tend to plan my personal goals to begin in January), when it comes to working with churches, I suggest thinking of the year as starting in September and finishing in August. This is because church activities usually follow the school year, starting and ending about the same time the local schools do. In order to be ready for September, I suggest you actually do your planning in May.

Benefits of Planning Ahead

Planning ahead helps you improve whatever you are planning, because the earlier attention to the project results in more time given to consider it. This extra time can be used in numerous ways:

  1. You can gather the best team.
  2. You can train and equip your volunteers ahead of time.
  3. You can let life enhance your creativity – your reading and TV watching and living of life will give you ideas you did not have when you first began planning.
  4. You can find great ideas, not just good ones. Instead of settling for the first idea your team comes up with, consider how to improve on that idea. Your programs will go from good to great because of the time to percolate in the minds of the creative teams.
  5. You can build better resources and materials required for the project.
  6. You can spend more time in prayer, asking God to guide every aspect of your planning as well as the final implementation.

Plan Your Year – Start with the Big Events

Begin planning for your main programs of the year. Work with program leaders to determine the start and end times for their programs. If your programs start in September, leaders should be determined by the end of May, so they can start planning their programs and find their volunteers from June through August.

Are there a few big events or weekends your church celebrates? This could be a church camp or a family weekend, as well as Easter, Christmas, and a Fall Kickoff. Set the dates and work on developing themes. Decide who should lead each event and who should be on each team. Make sure that everyone involved knows the pertinent information, such as dates and themes, as early as possible. Plan when to do baptism and membership classes, as well as when to have the baptism and when to receive new members. Plan when and what you will do for evangelism and outreach activities throughout the year.

Once the basics of the big events are planned, start filling in the other Sundays and other activities. Pastors can work on sermon plans for the year ahead. (I’ll share more about how I plan my preaching year next week). Knowing in advance what you will focus on, give additional time to improve the sermons with good illustrations and pertinent information. By creating a year-long plan in advance, you not only give yourself more time for sermon preparation, but you also provide your worship and service planning teams that same additional time to create the best services they can.

The themes for each Sunday will come from the pastor after he plans out his sermons for the year. With a plan for both large events and sermon themes, add other activities to your plan. For example, identify when you should hold leadership meetings or training and discipleship events throughout the year.

After your yearly calendar has been filled, build in further detailed planning every quarter or so. Planning ahead involves a few stages: 1) Planning the year, 2) Planning 3-4 months ahead, and 3) Planning the week ahead. For example, begin developing detailed plans for Christmas by the end of September. Plan for Easter in January. Plan for September program starts in May.

As you plan ahead, the goal is not just to put on a great event or program, but that whatever we plan in the church will transform lives and bring us closer to Jesus. Pursuing excellence is not about performing flawlessly, but doing our best to help everyone involved become more like Jesus.

Have fun in you planning, pray for God to guide every aspect, and then rejoice as you see people impacted by God through events and activities you planned.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Leading Well When the Unexpected Happens!

We think we have a lot more control on things than we really do. We plan and prepare, but there are many things out of our control. We cannot control the weather, so it is not really all that unexpected when a picnic gets rained out. We cannot control people so it should not surprise us that people do things we hoped they wouldn’t, or don’t do things we wish they would.

Parents have hopes for their children but children choose their own paths. Business owners have dreams for their business but sometimes the market has more influence on how well they do than anything they could prepare. You plan for a big event only to have a small crowd because there were other more interesting things to do.

Most people like to be optimistic. We have to be if we want to make plans or develop anything. We have to believe that things well go well and get better. Reality sometimes chips away at that optimism.

So, what can we do when the unexpected happens?

  1. Pray

Too often we think that we need to find our way through a situation. We have worked hard on a project and want it to go well, so when the unexpected happens we feel that we need to come up with the solution. Instead, we need to remember that God is greater than any problems we come across. And God is never surprised. When challenges surprise us, why not go to God with them?

God will help you through it. He may give you an answer to quickly figure out a solution. He may give you strength as you struggle to find answers and push your way through. But God wants to be part of our lives. And if we are dedicated to serving God, then all that we do in some way should help to build God’s kingdom. If that is our goal, then the God of that kingdom would probably want to help us find our way through.

Remember to Pray.

2. Manage your Responses

An emotional response to the unexpected is not unusual, but obviously not very helpful. If we respond in a negative way to something that surprised us in a negative way, we are only compounding the problem. That is not going to help save the situation or fix what went wrong. Unfortunately, this is my natural response when a car darts in front of me in traffic. Maybe some of you can relate?

If we have enough bad unexpected things happen, when we get to that tipping point or that final straw that breaks the camel’s back, some of us give up. Whatever we were trying to do may just seem like too big of a task if too many unexpected things interfere.

Often it is our emotions that drag us down. We need to find a way to manage our emotions and push on.

3. Determine to Persevere

Some of us are resilient and continue to push ahead, looking for ways to overcome unexpected challenges. While some give up, others find a way through. Don’t immediately let the unexpected stop you from what you were planning to do. If your pursuit is of any value to you, then determine to find your way through.

These first three actions quickly lead you to the fourth one.

4. Triage the Situation

Good leaders will learn to assess the situation quickly and prioritize the needed response. When you go to the Emergency Room at the hospital, you are first taken to triage, where they assess your level of need so they can make sure that the greatest need is served first.

When the unexpected happens, you need to be able to determine the correct response by assessing if the unexpected situation needs to be dealt with first before going on with your plans.

For example, if you are planning a wedding and the hall floods on the week of your special day, you need to determine if the flooding can be dealt with or a new hall needs to be booked. This may take priority for the moment while you put aside the planning of the rehearsal to deal with the unexpected. In the same way, when something unexpected comes up at work or in your personal life, assess the situation to determine where to focus your attention for the best result.

5. Plan the Solution

Once you have triaged to identify your priorities, use that list to guide you through to a resolution. Figure out who can deal with which part of the problem and who can continue to work on the original project. Maybe part of the solution is to shut down your project or event for now and figure out how to reschedule with more planning in the future.

6. Delegate or Recruit Help

The unexpected often means that your time and resources are disappearing more quickly than you had planned. Can you hand off some of the responsibilities either in addressing the unexpected challenges or in the original project? Find someone who can step in to help. Don’t feel that you have to be limited to your abilities or that of your present team.

7. Pray and Trust God to Intervene

Continue to pray throughout the process. If you are a Christian leader, you have access to the God of Heaven. Our creative, miracle-working God can help us when we feel completely overwhelmed. I like seeing where God steps in and does the unexpected. I was just reading in 2 Kings 3 where the kings of Judah, Israel, and Edom were facing an army of Moabites. They thought they were hopelessly defeated, but then God stepped in. Water ran into the valley and onto the plains. The morning sun made it look like blood.

But when they got up the next morning, the sun was shining across the water, making it appear red to the Moabites—like blood. “It’s blood!” the Moabites exclaimed. “The three armies must have attacked and killed each other! Let’s go, men of Moab, and collect the plunder!”

But when the Moabites arrived at the Israelite camp, the army of Israel rushed out and attacked them until they turned and ran. The army of Israel chased them into the land of Moab, destroying everything as they went. (2 Kings 3: 23-24)

God can do the unexpected. Leading well when the unexpected happens depends to a large extent on how much you depend on God.

Keep looking up,

Andy

Plan a Restful, Renewing Break

Some people come home after a holiday, wishing they had a week off at home to recover. Holidays are not always restful. Sometimes we use vacation time to meet up with family, which can be really good – or really draining. Sometimes we fill our vacation with so much activity that we come home exhausted.

We all need a break from time to time. For many people, these next two months are the window within which we can plan our holidays. The weather is nice, the kids are out of school, and many organizations slow down over the summer.

It is the perfect time to take some time off. But there is a big difference between taking time off for a busy vacation and having a restful and renewing break from the busyness of life.

If you need a week off to recover from your vacation, you are too busy on your vacation.

It is tempting to use our holiday time to do the many things we wished we could do all year. Maybe we stay home but are constantly on the go with golfing in the morning and swimming with the kids in the afternoon and campfire with family in the evening. While all those things are great, unless we actually take time to slow down, many of us will feel just as tired, if not more, when we return to work.

Is the summer the best time to take a vacation?

Many of us assume that we must take our vacation in the summer, but is that true? Is that best for you and your family? Do you already have weekends off? Why not make the most of them during the summer? Enjoy the slower time in the office and the relaxation of being home with the kids without running off to all kinds of sports or school activities. If you are one of the families who have kids in summer sports you may not have this luxury.

Vacation during a busy season may be more helpful.

Some of us may have the freedom to take a vacation during other times of the year. You might even benefit from lower off-season prices at hotels and vacation spots. In this way, taking time off during a busier work season can be more refreshing than during a time of year that may be slower. If it is possible to take a week off during one of your busy times, you may just come back with more energy and get more done than if you just pushed through as usual.

But we have to take holidays when the kids are out of school!

One father said, “We never let education interfere with our holidays.” You may be able to take your children out of school for a bit if they are in lower grades and they won’t miss much. As they get older you could take your vacation during their school breaks in the middle of the year. If you are really concerned about what they will miss in school, ask the teachers if they can give you some assignments for the kids to work on during your time away.

Find ways to rest and be refreshed and renewed.

There are times to plan holidays with every day and hour filled with activity. There are other times where you recognize you need more sleep and time to slow down and just be. If you are a normal busy family you might benefit from time to just be together without having all kinds of activities on the agenda. Maybe you can rent a cabin on the lake, or go to a resort, and then just do whatever comes up in the day. Feel free to go for a swim when you want, or nap beside the pool. If you like reading, bring a good book. If your family plays board games, bring some to play in the evenings. Just enjoy being together and resting from your busy life.

Take your vacation time!

There are people who pride themselves on not taking all their vacation time. That is ridiculous! If you have the time, why not take it? If you don’t get paid holidays and don’t have money to do much, make your time off count with a “stay-cation” in your own backyard. Take the time for yourself and your marriage and your family that is available to you. Treasure the time you have together while you still can!

Give yourself permission to slow down and do the “nothing” of relaxing. There are times when it is quite okay that we haven’t accomplished anything in the day, except be together with the people who matter the most. Take your time to slow down and relax so you are ready to go back to your busy lives when the vacation is over.

Have a great summer, and if you are on vacation, take time to slow down.

Keep looking up,

Andy

5 Benefits of Evaluation

This past Christmas our church again served its annual Christmas Dinner, primarily for those who regularly access the local Food Bank. Some aspects of the dinner had to be adjusted in response to current Covid restrictions, and we were able to serve a drive-through take-home dinner. At the following leadership meeting we evaluated the event. It was a great experience as the Elders were not often doing evaluation, and they recognized the benefits. We recorded details that we wanted to make sure next year’s team would benefit from. We realized we needed to prepare more food. We discussed including some evangelism materials in their take-home bag. As we reflected on the event and went through our evaluation form, we identified what needed to improve and came up with some solutions.

Evaluation scares many of us. We are afraid that someone will say something bad about us or what we have worked on. No one likes hearing something negative about themselves, but what if we could realize the benefits and actually look forward to evaluation?

Throughout my experience both leading evaluations and being evaluated, I’ve identified five benefits of the practice of evaluation.

1. Evaluation helps you see what you did well.

Celebrate what went well, what worked, and what accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish. Evaluation should always find a way to point out what went well. Sometimes we need others to help us see the good others see. We are often our worst critics. We often measure ourselves against unreal expectations and can benefit from others showing us that we did well.

2. Evaluation helps you see what you did not do well.

Sometimes we need others to make us aware of what did not go as well as we thought. They may see areas of our life or our endeavors that need improving. So listen to the hard words. The perception of evaluators may be more accurate than our prideful self-evaluation. Evaluation can help remove “blinders” we have to what is truly going on.

Evaluation can point out, or even just remind us, of the areas that need work. And who doesn’t want to get better? You can only get better if you remove or improve that which was standing in the way.

3. Evaluation gives you a picture of true reality.

This is the “you are here” point of evaluation. I was on holidays recently in a city that I did not know. At one point, my wife and I were looking for the local museum because we wanted to see the Lego display they advertised. We were not far away so we decided to walk. We had the address, so we headed in the direction we thought we were supposed to go. After walking further than we thought was right, we checked the address again, and then tried our Google Maps. Again, we walked for awhile and realized we were not finding our way. It was only when we realized we had not started at the point we thought we were at and we were heading in the wrong direction that we finally found our way to the advertised Lego display.

Evaluation can help you figure out where you are at, and then in what direction to go. This can apply to us personally, as we realize we are not coming across as we thought we were. This can help as we evaluate a program we are running and realize we are not accomplishing our stated purpose. We need to know where we are at before we can figure out what direction to go to get to where we want.

4. Evaluation opens up new ideas.

After identifying where you are and where you want to go, evaluation can open up ideas of how to get there. Evaluation should not be just a process of highlighting everything that is wrong, but become a bridge to new ideas. Evaluators may have suggestions on how to change a negative to a positive, or a not so good aspect to a great one. Learn from the evaluation and then build on it with new and better ideas.

5. Evaluation helps you improve.

Evaluation moves you from where you are to where you want to go, at least it can if you are willing to learn from the experience. All of us want to be our best. Our best can only be achieved through ongoing evaluation that helps us know what needs improving. We can then focus on the areas that need work, while maintaining what already worked well.

As a pastor, I have benefited from evaluation of my sermons. I have realized that at times I was not connecting with the audience like I thought. My sermons improved as I included more stories and illustrations to get my points across clearly.

I have benefited from evaluation of programs and ministries we have run. We all make assumptions about how things work. Evaluation has shown me times where my assumptions kept me from seeing how areas of a program or ministry were experienced by those involved.

Evaluation is something many of us rarely do. We may criticize something, or complain about what went wrong. We may offer some critiques. But we rarely take time for evaluation. Think about ways to include this in your work and personal life, and make it important by adding it to your calendar and following through. You will be better for it.

Keep looking up

Andy

Who Do You Want to Become?

Who are you? I mean, if friends were to describe you, what words and phrases would they mention?

As we transition into a new year, we are often asked about our resolutions. I prefer setting goals rather than making resolutions.

Some of us might want to rethink goals just a bit. I tend to set goals to accomplish something. For example, I want to read the whole Bible this year, using the Chronological reading plan that puts things in the order they probably happened. I also want to finish writing a book. But should I be setting some different goals?

How about goals that affect who we are? Should we be setting some goals in areas that would impact who we are, what our personality is, or how we face life?

If you want to be seen as a generous person, you could make your goal to be more generous this year. However, vague goals like that are less effective than those with more specific or concrete descriptors. Maybe we could write a list of what a “generous person” is like or what they do and how they interact with others. Perhaps you view generosity as being freer with your resources and time, for example, such as lending your tools or giving food to the food bank. Or your focus could be on buying meaningful things for people you care about or inviting more people to your home for a meal. You could do some research and find a worthwhile cause to support, financially or by volunteering, being generous with money and generous with your time. You might choose to lend your books to a friend after you read them. It’s your goal, so make it yours. You could consider reading some books or taking a course on generosity.

If being generous doesn’t resonate with you, consider a few other character goals. Think about your own life and moments of personal frustration or struggle to identify where you might want to focus your personal growth.

1. Do you want to be more forgiving? You realize you are quick to judge, quick to get angry and offended, and slow to forgive. You want to forgive more freely. Then set a character goal of becoming more forgiving.

2. You might desire to be more patient. You struggle with having to wait for anything. You could set a goal to deliberately always take the longest line in the grocery store, or when buying gas. You could find ways of thinking about other things while waiting. You could memorize scripture…so every time you wait in line you bring up the verses you are learning and go over them. Now the slow line becomes productive for you, and you are being more patient.

3. Would you like to be more creative? You could read books and take courses. You could find ways of trying new things that require creativity. Maybe you schedule in some “day-dreaming” into your day so that you can focus on your creativity.

4. Maybe you want to be more at peace and worry less. You could memorize scripture verses on not worrying. You could pray, even ask others to pray with you, that God would help you have peace in your life.

5. Maybe you want to be more considerate of other people. This is one I have to work on. I have set a goal for me to connect with at least two people who are not in my immediate family or part of the church. Personally, I want to text or visit or connect in a meaningful way with others that are outside of my immediate thought process. These are people I care about, but they may not realize it because I rarely connect with them.

I’m sure that if you ask yourself: “What is one area in my life where I would like to improve?” you will quickly come up with an answer.

Now, before we leave this, I want to suggest that some of these self-improvement goals may need some outside help. Maybe you connect with a coach, or book a few sessions with a counselor. Maybe you meet with your pastor, or a good friend. And you ask for others to speak into your life and help you think of how to improve in your area you want to grow in.

I’m thinking that a number of us probably have people in our life who are really good at the area we want to improve. At least for me, my lack shows up when I see others who are doing so well in this area. My wife is one who is great at noticing others and connecting and loving – and that is why I recognize I have some improving to do. Take time to talk with those in your life who exemplify the area you want to work on. Maybe you are doing well in an area they want to work on and you can help each other.

I encourage you to set some risk-taking goals for the year: tasks to complete as well as areas of personal character growth. Put a plan into place, to learn and grow in these areas.

I wish you all the best for 2022. May it be a life-changing year for you!!

Keep looking up!

Andy

Lower Your Expectations For Christmas

Lynnette and I were married in October 1990. I have done many weddings as a pastor, and attended many as a friend or family member. And yet, I haven’t heard of a wedding that met all the expectations that the bride had for the special day. At our wedding, we had a miscommunication with some family members and my little sister wasn’t able to perform a specific role we had planned for her. We even started the wedding before Lynnette got to the church. I thought meant she was there and ready to go. She did get there in time to walk in at the right time. With all the months of planning things still go wrong.

Christmas is a magical time in many of our minds. We have expectations of how we think it should go. We hope our kids will be home for Christmas, or that Grandma and Grandpa will come join us. We have a certain gift we have been hinting toward for six months, and we don’t get it. We want a perfect dinner and somehow the turkey isn’t quite done in time.

Everyone needs to have goals and plans and dreams. They give us hope. But we have to realize that they don’t always work out. When it comes to Christmas, we might do well to lower our expectations a little this year.

Family Expectations

Some of us have expectations that others do not even know about. I remember a seminar years ago that clearly taught that we cannot set goals for other people. This really impacted me. Some of our frustrations and even anger at people is that we have set certain expectations and never told them. We just expect them to know that “we will be opening presents on Christmas Eve, no matter who of the family is there or not.” Lower your expectations – especially the ones no one even knows you have.

We might do well to lower our expectations of what gifts we will receive. Even if you hinted to your mom for six months, she may not have understood. Or maybe the person wanted to get you that gift, but they couldn’t find it or they thought they found a much better one instead. Enjoy the gifts you do receive, and enjoy the time you have with those who gave it.

Lower your expectations about how your family Christmas will go. Again, I’m not suggesting you plan on it being a wreck, but plan on being okay if things don’t happen exactly as you wish. Be prepared that not everything will go as you hope. If one of your children and their family can’t show up till Boxing Day, don’t be mad at them but just enjoy the time you have when they do arrive.

Expectations Around Grief

Many of us forget that there are families who are grieving at Christmas time. This may be the first Christmas without that one special person. Roles in family traditions will need to change and there may be an empty place at the dinner table.

If you are suffering loss and facing this Christmas in grief, I hope you have a really good and encouraging Christmas. The reality is that you may have expectations that will not be met. There will be people, even friends, who are so consumed with their own families they forget about you and your pain. You may wish that you had some people around to share their comfort, and the realities are that unless you reach out, that comfort may not be there. What could you do? Why not reach out? Friends and family are so focused on their own activities that it may feel as though they are ignoring your experience this year. Reach out. Invite someone for tea on Christmas Eve, or take them some cookies on Christmas afternoon. Do something to connect with people, and you might be amazed at how a simple act like this reminds them of your grief and motivates them to pour out some love on you.

If you are having family events and are missing that one person, take time to grieve as a family. Share some stories and memories of this family member. Don’t ignore the loss. And don’t expect that everything will go so well you won’t remember the pain.

When the pain comes, acknowledge it, share it with someone near you, and then move on.

If you are one experiencing loss this Christmas, please don’t expect things from others and be disappointed. Look for ways to connect. On the other hand, if you know of someone experiencing loss, reach out to them and encourage them.

Pastors

I have heard of pastors who do not like Christmas: “I don’t have anything new to say after 15 years of preaching the Christmas story,” “I am not creative enough to make it exciting for people.” Yes, the Christmas story is the same story it has been for two thousand years. Yes, people know the story. I’m wondering if pastors may do well to lower their expectations a little.

Do not expect that you will be able to preach something new to your congregation. Instead, walk through the story again. Maybe you can think of the new believers in your congregation who have only recently come to know the story. Maybe you can think of the eight and nine-ear-olds who have only experienced a few Christmases they remember. Think of the incredible story again, and just faithfully walk through the story in your service. For some it will be the thirtieth or fortieth time, but for some in the congregation it may actually be the first time they hear it.

Instead of comparing your sermons and services to other churches that have live animals, choirs, and symphonies, do the best with what you have. Prepare people ahead of time, and practice whatever you do have for your Christmas service. Allow the traditions and the story to speak. And do the best you can.

Lower Your Expectations

Last year was, of course, a COVID Christmas. With all the concerns and the regulations imposed on us, our family was unable to have Christmas in our home with both our daughters present. While that is what we would have usually expected, I had to let go of those expectations, and we tried something else. We were able to meet up as a family, and exchange gifts and spend a little time together, even though it was at a different venue. Lowering expectations may allow for some creative options instead.

I hope you have a great and wonderful Christmas. We all have expectations, but unfortunately they will not all be achieved. Lower your expectations and make them more realistic. Don’t let the hype and the commercialism make you think it has to be the most wonderful time of the year when it may not be.

Have your hopes. Make your plans, but be willing to be okay if they are not completely fulfilled. You will be happier in the end.

Keep looking up

Andy