Jeff Bogue, president of CE National and lead pastor of Grace Church of Greater Akron, gives tips and advice for leading your church and ministry well.

Hurting People Hurt People

The phrase we use a lot is, “hurting people hurt people”. That’s not original to me but it is something that was shared with me years ago and is certainly true. When we’re leading, you’re going to run into people who are hurting.

You’re a shepherd. The sheep are going to get hurt and wounded. When you go to them, sometimes those hurting people will lash out at you. I’ve had to learn that through the years. I’ve had to learn not to take it personally. I’m probably just the person in front of them at that moment. They’re not normally talking to me as a person, they’re talking to me as a leader that they think of as a figure-head.

When you are trying to lead someone who is hurting, don’t look at them, look through them. Look and see what they’re actually saying, why they’re actually acting the way that they are. Why they’re not themselves. The question isn’t, “Why are you being a jerk.” The question is, “What’s going on? Why are you hurting? What’s happening in your life?”

Sympathize and be compassionate. Whatever they’re feeling you have felt. We have to remember that. We all have hurt people. I like to say that what we do best is sin against each other. It comes naturally, the Bible says. We all hurt each other.

When I see a kid, a friend, or whoever is lashing out like that, I have to remember I’ve been there and done that. Move towards that person not away from them. Be present in their life. Be somebody they can lean on.

Give hope. Maybe a little bit of advice about how to move forward or adjust their thinking. Usually we use way too many words when we’re talking to somebody. Maybe a little bit of council, but mostly hope. “I love you” “I care for you” or “I’m praying for you” goes a lot further than a big life lesson at a moment like that. Maybe later on you can have that conversation but in that moment reach out and connect with them.

Often what happens is the intensity comes down. When the intensity comes down the conversation goes up. When the conversation goes up the relationship starts to solidify. Hurting people hurt people but we want to love and lead them through that

Be Salt and Light

Right now, with the disruption in our world, the opportunity to be salt and light is massive.

I think the church is brightest when the hour is the darkest. We have an incredible opportunity to proclaim the gospel and to help people find hope in Christ.

We do this thing at Grace Church called pray for your three. We pray for three people by name every day and ask that God would give you a “no-brainer moment”. That they would ask you for the reason for the hope that’s within you. It starts with being prayerful. I encourage everyone to pray for three people by name every day that God will work in their life. You will be shocked about the opportunities God gives you when you start being that intentional about praying for people. In those relationships, not just with the three but with all people

Give hope. That’s a big one. Believers show up different in trials than everyone else does. We don’t despair because our hope is in Christ.

Be optimistic. By optimistic I don’t mean positive thinking, humanistic stuff. I mean faith thinking. God is up to something. You have a security that a non-follower of Christ would not have. You’re finding joy in trials.

Listen to people. Listen to people. And when you’re getting tired, listen some more. Hear their stories. Hear what’s going on in their hearts. Hear what’s going on in their lives and learn about them. Don’t just share Christian platitudes or a verse that you memorized one time. Learn about them and bring Christ to their specific situation and story.

Don’t be the Holy Spirit. Let God create the “no-brainer” moment. If they don’t want to talk about God, don’t. If they don’t want to hear about the hope of Jesus, don’t cram the hope of Jesus down anybody’s throat. That’s just obnoxious.

Pray and if God gives you a “no-brainer” moment. If they do some version of asking about the reason for the hope that’s within you then boldly, concisely, with gentleness and respect, tell that story of what Jesus has done in your life and what He wants to do in theirs.

Be in the Snapshot

I learned the phrase “Be in the snapshot” from friend and mentor Bob Combs. When people are in crisis, the pastor/leader/youth worker needs to be is in the snapshot.

When people are in crisis they take a mental image and what they do with that mental image is capture a moment in time. You want to be in that moment. You don’t want to be at the forefront of it. They’re not taking that image of you, it’s not your portrait. You want to be in the background of that snapshot. I want to be present. Don’t check out. Don’t disappear. I want to be there in a consistent way.

Touch base and remind people that I love them and am here for them. I want to keep that time short. The time for counseling and deep things is later. In the middle of crisis, you want to touch base and have a consistent personal presence. You want to be in that snapshot.

Keep Watch

What does it mean to “keep watch”?

This phrase came out of Acts 20:28. The Apostle Paul is talking to the leaders in the church in Ephesus. He says watch yourself and the flock which the Holy Spirit appointed you to be elders of.

I found it fascinating that as Paul was talking about leadership, the first thing he said was, “Watch yourself.” You lead yourself and you realize that in times of crisis, whether it’s COVID-19 or the youth group isn’t going well, just fill in your crisis, he says listen,

God has appointed you and purposefully placed you in a position of leadership and you need to be careful there. When you are in a time of crisis, when the leader goes down you have compounded the mess. The people will perish because the leaders aren’t there to help them.

When we’re in a crisis we’re pressed too. I’m tired. I’m stressed. I’m on the edge. Suddenly things like temptations are much stronger and I have to keep watch. My patience is much shorter and I have to keep watch. I have to keep watch even over the clarity of my heart. I don’t want to be discouraged. I want the joy of the Lord to be my strength. I have to keep watch on opportunities.

Just because things aren’t going the way I want them to go does not mean there are not enormous new opportunities around us. I’m seeing that right now, big time, with this coronavirus. God has opened up all kinds of doors.

The church always shines brightest when the days are the darkest. As a leader, I’m watching all those things. I’m watching them in myself so I can warn my people about it and so I can lead them through it.

Practicing Self Leadership

“Practicing self-leadership” is a leadership idea that before I can lead anybody I have to lead myself.

I’ve found that, especially for newer leaders, this is an important principle.

In our culture, we grow up going to school. What is unique about school is that you don’t lead yourself. Someone is always telling you what to do. They’re always giving you assignments They set the schedule for you. Tell you whether you’re done or not, and they tell you how well you did on what you just finished.

When you transition to a professional life, you had better learn to be a self-leader pretty quick. You’re going to set your goals. You’re going to set your outcomes. You’re going to have to drive yourself forward.

I think ministry is like that in many ways. Being in ministry is kind of like being an entrepreneur. You are going to create your own work, come up with your own ideas, and you’re going to live off what you hunted down. Self-leadership is a big thing.

When I think about self-leadership I think of a person who learns new skills. I love the old phrase, “Every leader is a learner.” I’m learning new skills. I’m learning how to connect with people. I’m learning technology. I’m a person that has to learn to think in different paradigms.

This coronavirus pandemic that we’ve lived through, we had to change ministry paradigms very quickly. A leader does that. They’re not sitting around waiting for someone to say, “Now do this instead.”

As a self-leader I have to master my own schedule. I have to get up. I have to push myself. I have to fill my time with things that are of value. I have to create self-disciplines. Everything from exercise, to reading, to being disciplined in my thinking and time.

A leader is not a manager. Leaders do not maintain, hold the status quo, create a program and put it on repeat. We’re always pushing ourselves and those that we lead forward. Nobody is going to tell you to do that. Nobody is going to give you a syllabus. Nobody is going to give you a schedule. Nobody is going to say be at school at 7:45 and the last bell rings at 3.

We have to learn those skills and we have to drive ourselves forward in leadership of ourselves.

Go First

We use the phrase “go first” in our staff creed at CE National and at Grace Church. “Go first” means I should never ask, as a leader, anyone to do something that I am not willing to do or, even better, that I have not done already. I am the first over the hill and I am asking you to come with me and not to do it instead of me. I’m setting the example of sacrifice. I’m setting the example of doing what’s right. I’m setting the example of godliness in faith. I want you to come with me, not go instead of me.

Church leadership will often ask people to sacrifice in ways that the pastor isn’t willing to sacrifice. We’ll ask people to do things like share their faith when we’re not doing that ourselves, with our peers.

In the middle of this COVID-19 crisis, people need steady, consistent leadership. People need to know that people not only feel and recognize their faith but will participate in it.

Here at Grace Church we had to make cutbacks financially. Part of that was taking a pay cut. I thought it was important that our staff do that because our people are doing that. We actually do need them to give sacrificially to continue our ministry here. But it means that we need to sacrifice too. So that was an opportunity to “go first”.