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Guest Post: Tim Stevens- Ask Questions

I’m really excited to host Tim Stevens on my blog today! His insight on asking questions is one of the most overlooked skills of a leader. Enjoy!

Asking questions may be one of the least talked about secret weapons of a great leader. In fact, I believe it may be one of the most undeveloped skills in leadership. Many businesses and nearly all churches are filled with leaders who are professional communicators. That is, they are paid to talk. They spend a good portion of their time figuring out what they are going to say and how they are going to say it, and then delivering the message.

They don’t get hired to ask people questions. They get hired to tell people what they think or believe about a certain topic or product. Pastors are the worst offenders—they are so used to everyone wanting to hear what they have to say that they have a difficult time listening to (or caring about) what others have to say.

Yet the Bible we carry around and teach from is very clear:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19)

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful
and foolish.” (Prov. 18:13 NLT)

As author and management consultant Peter Drucker put it, “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.”

Back in the day, it was possible for one person to hold most of the knowledge and be able to guide an organization to success through working the system. Not anymore. Today’s world is moving too fast, information is changing too rapidly, and no one person (or group of people) has an edge on what is needed for success.

Additionally, a person who doesn’t ask questions comes off as proud and untouchable. There is an air of superiority that emanates from the know-it-all. He or she may not know it, but others don’t enjoy being around someone who has all the answers.

A person who asks questions

  • assumes there is something he or she can learn;
  • exudes humility;
  • infuses confidence in people around him or her;
  • helps introverts or nonverbal leaders communicate;
  • is constantly learning.

A person who doesn’t ask questions

  • assumes he or she already knows all the facts;
  • exudes a cocky attitude;
  • risks looking like a fool;
  • shuts down people who don’t have as forceful of a personality;
  • impresses him or herself more than others;
  • forfeits prime learning opportunities.

When we were trying to discover the five-year vision for Granger, we took the unprecedented step of going to every single person in the church and asking him or her to help us. We didn’t want to come off the mountaintop like Moses with a word from God and say, “Here is the five-year vision. Read it and weep!” Rather, we wanted to give every single person in the church an opportunity to participate. So we asked questions like these:

  • If this church could be everything you wanted in five years for your family, what would that look like?
  • If this church was exactly the type of church to help you reach your friends who don’t currently attend, what would it look like?
  • If this church was transforming our entire community and making our city a better place to live, what would we be doing differently?

And it was an amazing discovery process. There were key parts of the five-year vision that we constructed by asking questions. And the questions weren’t a disguised way to find people who would agree with what we were already planning. Rather, the vision came from the answers we got from asking the right questions.

Authenticity is key. You can ask questions in order to manipulate people to do what you want and make them think it was their idea. But that’s not authentic, question-based leadership. That might get you what you want. But you risk losing credibility in the process. Gary Cohen said it this way:

“The right questions rely on the leader’s ability to communicate authentic interest in learning the answer. They come from a place of not knowing. The right questions are open-ended, carry the possibility of true discovery, and demonstrate a willingness to share and bestow credit.

Tim Stevens is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.
Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

Learn more about his new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

January 30th, 2015 Leave a comment

Prayers in the Land of “If Not”

In Amazed and Confused, I talk about the importance of having “if not” faith. The kind of faith that navigates us through the moments when God’s actions collide with our expectations. The faith that sustains us when God doesn’t respond in the way we think that He could or should. The kind of faith that stands the test of life.

It’s reflected in a story in Daniel 3 in the humble confidence of three Jewish boys who find themselves caught between a crazy king and a fiery furnace in Babylon. When they refuse to bow down to the idol the king has erected, they were threatened with death. This was the response:

Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to defend our actions in this matter. We are ready for the test. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, then the God we serve is able to rescue us from a furnace of blazing fire and release us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He does not, O king, you can be sure that we still will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue you erected.

This is the kind of faith that knows God can, believes God will, but chooses to worship even if He does not.

Maybe you are living in the land of “if not” right now. Perhaps you are staring into a future that seems uncertain. What does prayer look like?

I am facing an “if not” moment in my life right now. Beyond the obvious prayers that God will come through, work miracles, and do what only He can do, I’m also praying for a few other things. Including:

  • That I would see the faithfulness of God, regardless of the outcome.
  • That God would glorify Himself in me and through me, regardless of the outcome.
  • That those who are a part of the journey would be curious about the Jesus who I follow and the faith that sustains me.

What do you pray in the land of “If Not?”

May 19th, 2014 [ Tags: , , ] 15 Comments

Community is Still Messy

In the Beginning, God created. And with the sound of his voice, galaxies were hurled into orbit, light beamed from the heavens and waters covered the earth. Valleys dug deep and mountains sprung high. Birds flew in the air and fish swam in the seas. Insects filled the ground and dinosaurs thundered across the land. The man and the woman, made in the image of their Author and Creator, were placed in the Garden, enjoyed perfect community, and were surrounded by the presence of God. And God declared it all good.

Two chapters later we messed it all up. And that wasn’t the end.

Then Cain and Abel came along. Murder, jealousy, mess.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph take center stage in multiple family meltowns. Which resulted in mess.

There there’s Moses. I like to think of Moses as the first small group leader with a group of people who didn’t follow instructions, complained, and who forgot miracles within hours. They were completely ADD. It was a mess.

Fast forward to David, the second small group leader in the Bible. He was running for his life and hid in the cave of Adullam where he was joined by men who were in trouble, in debt, or just discontented. Great. Mess.

Okay let’s skip over to the New Testament where we like to think Jesus came to clean it all up. But he was born in a stone feeding tough for animals. He called 12 men to follow him- fisherman, tax collectors, political revolutionaries—who bickered over who was going to be greatest in the Kingdom. And then one of them betrayed him and the rest scattered.

The majority of the writings in the New Testament are there because the early church was messy. Consider the church in Corinth. Incestuous affairs, lawsuits, divorce and separation, idol worship, big egos, doctrinal fighting, sexual promiscuity, people getting drunk while celebrating communion. Now you know you have a problem in your church when people are getting drunk on communion. And it must have been before they invented those little plastic shot glasses…

And yet as we read these stories, we see the hand of God writing his own story in them and through them. Emerging from the mess is the fingerprint of God writing the hope of the Gospel and his story of redemption.

Here’s the scary news. Community is messy. Messy community is not the exception to the rule; it is the rule. It always has been and on this side of eternity it always will be.

We often try to hide or downplay our mess and the mess of others. But what if mess is not something to be avoided or hidden away or swept under the rug. What if mess could be the environment that brings the community and transformation we most want to see?

Small groups are great. Then the people show up. And they drag their hurts, habits, hangups, and brokenness and dump them in our living rooms.

The moment we understand that community is messy becomes the defining moment of our leadership.

Small groups make our houses messy, our calendars messy, and they load up our inboxes with messy emails. We find ourselves navigating sin messes—gossip, anger, pornography. We encounter life messes—divorced parents, broken relationships, bad reports from the doctor, downsizing at the office, children who despite our best efforts to raise them in the ways of God choose to detour along another path. We face the tension of relational messes. Like the talkers—the long talkers, off-topic talkers, narcissistic talkers, super spiritual talkers, theologically divisive talkers, weird talkers and trash talkers. It’s the kind of mess that happens when thinkers and feelers unpack Romans together. It’s the mess of agreeing to agree on major doctrine and agree to disagree over minor doctrine only to learn that you disagree over what’s major doctrine and what’s minor doctrine.

I live in a world where mess abounds. The church I have the privilege of serving in Washington, DC is about 60% single and under the age of 35. One of the places I live and lead in the tension every day is in navigating tricky political issues with people whose passions and jobs are fueled by them. When Paul instructs us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, I have the opportunity to practice that every 2 years.

Let me tell you about one tribe that has dared to embrace the mess in order to grow more like Jesus. It’s a group for young adults who work on Capitol Hill. On both sides of the aisle. I thought it was a great idea for a group and when the election season rolled around this past fall, I just assumed that group would be happy to multiply into two groups- elephants on the right and donkeys on the left. But they stuck together. They made a decision to watch all three presidential debates together. They prayed for one another—recognizing that the answers to those prayers could be detrimental to their own political strategies. They discovered community that transcended roles, responsibilities, and labels. They connected to a tribe that transcended all other tribal loyalties.

But they didn’t leave it there. They spent a group meeting studying James 5:16 and discussing the spiritual discipline of confession. Towards the end of the group, one of the group members spoke up and challenged, “Are we just going to talk about this or are we actually going to do it?” Now, that group meets twice a week. Not just for their regularly scheduled group but also for early morning confession.

Those brave twenty-somethings have learned that mess is not something to be avoided as a detriment to community. But something to be embraced. They’ve found that sometimes mess is a byproduct of growth. You make a decision to become more like Christ…and you find yourself rethinking what you believe and why you believe it. It gets messy. Sometimes mess is a catalyst to growth. You get thrown in with messy relational and political dynamics and you find yourself praying for and loving the one who was once your enemy.

Small groups are great. And then the people show up. And mess happens. Mess which can become the catalyst for, the byproduct of, the environment in which discipleship happens. We move from a program to the Body of Christ—a body broken and poured out to a world in need. The Body of Christ where hope and redemption are found.

May 6th, 2014 [ Tags: , , ] 14 Comments