Six Questions Every Leader Should Ask


There’s a great article from Andy Stanley in this year’s Leadercast conference notebook.  In the article, Andy shares six questions every leader should ask.  Here are those questions with a little of my commentary.

1.  Which gauges should we be watching?  In the church world, it’s pretty easy to measure attendance and giving, but those are trailing indicators.  You need to look at some gauges for leading indicators, too.

2.  Where are we manufacturing energy?  Some things churches do simply drain all types of resources.  Cut those things out, even if there are emotional attachments, and put that energy to things that truly matter.

3.  Who needs to be sitting at the table?  You want strategic people in strategic meetings, regardless of their title and position.

4.  Who is not keeping up?  This is a tough question to ask, but there might be someone who isn’t growing with you as the church grows.  It doesn’t mean you need to get rid of them, but you might need to reassign or refocus them.

5.  Where do I make the greatest contribution to the organization?  You need to do the things only you can do.  If you’re out of your zone, you’re likely acting as a leadership lid.

6.  What should I stop doing?  One of the best questions leaders can ask their team is “where do you need me less?” If you’re involved in everything, you’re making it all about you.

Do any of these questions resonate with you?  Which one do you need to ask yourself?  Which one do you need to ask your leadership team?

Download my full notes from LeaderCast 2014 right here.

Sermon Notes from Andy Stanley: Follow – The Fine Print

Here are my notes from Andy Stanley’s message entitled The Fine Print.  It’s part five of the Follow series, which you can watch at  Mark 8:27 and the verses that follow were the main passage.

  • Following isn’t always fun.
  • Jesus was the Messiah – that’s a Jewish word.  “Christ” is the Greek version of that word, not Jesus’ last name.
  • Peter was concerned about himself.  Many Christians today are using Jesus, not following Him.
  • Jesus said following would require taking up a cross.
  • C.S. Lewis said the cross didn’t become a part of Christian art until everyone who had seen one used had died.
  • Your soul is more important than your stuff.
  • Salvation is free; it costs us nothing.  Following Christ will eventually cost us something.

Watch this and other messages from Andy Stanley at

Seven Things I Learned from Watching Andy Stanley Teach Junior High Students

NorthPoint just started a new series called You’ll Be Glad You Did.  The kickoff message on February 24, 2013 was actually recorded by Andy Stanley on the previous Friday evening.  It was the opening talk of a transit weekend retreat.  Andy taught the message to a room full of middle school students, knowing it would be shown on Sunday morning in church.

Andy was teaching junior high school students, knowing the message would be shown at area churches on Sunday.  As he walked off the stage Friday, a camera followed him as he addressed the adult service. It was like the Inception of sermons.  Communicating to two audiences is a difficult task for any communicator.

I couldn’t help but think how many parents appreciated the look inside the message their kids are hearing at NorthPoint.  But I also couldn’t help but jot down some notes on communication from Andy’s message.  It was masterful.

Here are seven things I learned from Andy Stanley’s sermon to students.

1.  Andy used a ton of  humor.  The message was all about labels, and how we accept labels from other people, and miss out on the fact that only our maker has the right to label us.  Andy told stories from his own time in junior high school.  He talked about getting the nickname “Sabertooth Andy” because his teeth were so messed up.  (I bet a lot of people could relate to that). He talked about being labeled “not smart” after his teacher just wrote “NO” in red ink on a math test.  Andy didn’t talk about all his successes in junior high…he made fun of himself.  And whether you’re teaching junior high kids or senior adults, this is a great way to make a connection.

Andy Stanley

2.  Andy built tension into his talk.  I’ve seen him do this time and time again, but this message was a great illustration.  There was a time when he wanted everyone to think about the question he was going to ask.  Think about it, not answer it out loud.  He spent several minutes baiting the crowd and setting up this moment, so by the time he put the question on the screen, it just hung in the air.  Too many times, we assume people are interested in our message.  Work on the tension early on and they will lean in.

3.  Andy introduced an idea and then brought it back at the end.  I’ve seen comedians do this throughout the course of a set, and it’s a great way to weave a major point through an entire message.  In this case, Andy said that manufacturers, owners and purchasers had the right to label something.  This came in the first few minutes of his talk and then he moved on.  Later, he came back to this idea and said that God – the one who made you, owns you and purchased you – is the only one who has the right to label you.  When you tease and idea or set it up early, you can come back to it later.  Done right, it can be a great a-ha moment.

4.  The message was short.  The message was about 30 minutes.  This might be longer than you think middle school students could handle (it’s not…you just can’t waste their time and you have to be on your game.)  30 minutes seems like the right length for most sermons.  It’s not a hard and fast rule.  In general, I think we need to say what needs to be said and then stop talking.

Andy Stanley

5.  Andy started with them.  I believe that while sermon preparation should start with the scripture, the sermon itself should start with the audience.  The goal is to teach the Bible, but in order to do that effectively, we have to start with where people are.  What are their hopes, dreams, fears, thoughts and desires?  What are they thinking in that moment?  The first minutes of Andy’s talk were not wasted…He was building a connection by starting with where they live and what they deal with on a daily basis.

6.  Andy made the audience the hero.  Here’s a secret….your audience loves to feel smarter than you.  When you talk about the things you mess up, the people can relate to you.  When you make them into the hero, they connect and pay attention.  In this message, Andy referenced the room of adults listening (remember…this was an Inception style sermon!), and said, “Right now, there is a room of adults who are saying – I wish someone had told me these things when I was a kid.”  Andy told the students they could get this right the first time.  Without putting down anyone, Andy made a room full of junior high students feel like they could do something better than their parents.

7.  Andy taught one passage.  Andy got to Romans 12:1-2 and unpacked some meaning from that verse.  It was a bite-sized teaching time – He knew it didn’t have to be the final word on the topic.  He didn’t jump all around the Bible and confuse people with a bunch of verses.  He taught one passage, and he taught it well.   Of course, he used a sticky statement to tie it all together.  The bottom line of this message was “The labels people put on you could cause you to miss God’s plan for you.”

Andy Stanley

Every Senior Pastor should teach students from time to time.  It will keep you on your game and will force you to work on your craft.  Adults will often sit through a boring message because they are supposed to…students usually will not.

As someone who cares so much about helping people communicate God’s Word authentically, passionately and effectively, it was great to see how Andy did so in front of junior high students.  It was refreshing to see a Senior Pastor willing to communicate to junior high students.  And a church willing to give show a message in the adult service on the weekend.

I learned a lot from Andy’s message.  Not just about finding my identity in Christ, but how to connect with students.  I don’t know if I’m an expert in communication, but I do love serving churches by helping the pastor preach better messages.  That’s one reason I devote so much of my time to the Preaching Rocket Core Coaching Program.  I don’t know of a better way to work ON your calling and your craft.

Big Ideas from Be Rich Series by Andy Stanley

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Throughout the month of December, Andy Stanley delivered a series of four messages in a series called How to Be Rich. The teaching was paired with several generosity opportunities. The Scripture behind Be Rich comes from Paul’s advice to Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. – I Timothy 6:17-19

Here were the four big ideas from Andy’s messages:

  1. Do good for those who cannot and will not do good for you.
  2. Don’t place your hope in riches but in He who richly provides.
  3. Since you have more, you should do more and give more.
  4. Viewing wealth through the lens of eternity lessons our grip on it and it’s grip on us.

The Best Conference Talk I’ve Ever Heard

Last week, I heard one of the best conference talks I’ve ever heard.  I’m not joking or trying to hype something, either.

It was from Andy Stanley at the Preach Better Sermons event in Atlanta.  Andy talks about preaching with unchurched people in the room.  He talked about how he prepares and delivers messages that actually connect with unchurched people.  It was brilliant.   One attender just sent us this:

I want to thank you for providing a place where someone who communicates at a pretty high level to large crowds could be challenged & grow.  It’s honestly been years since I’ve really been challenged with a new way of thinking.  Both Jeff & Andy’s sessions did that for me.  I walked away with several new thoughts & practical ways to work on the craft of communicating.  My ministry, preaching style & our church are better because of Friday.  Hands down the best time & money we have spent all year.

You’ve got six more chances to hear this message because the Preach Better Sermons LIVE event is heading to Chicago, Nashville, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Orlando.  Plus, there will be three other messages at each event.  Jeff is doing one (and it’s incredible).  The host pastor or a special guest is doing one (great people).  And I’m doing a session.

If you use the code PREACH, you can get the lowest rate. Here is the full schedule with dates, locations and guest speakers.

  • September 27 – Chicago – Soul City Church – Jarrett and Jeannie Stevens
  • October 18 – Nashville – Cross Point Church – Pete Wilson
  • November 16 – Los Angeles – Glenkirk Church – Reggie Joiner
  • December 6 – New York – New Life Fellowship – Pete Scazzero
  • January 23 – Dallas – Concord Church – Bryan L. Carter and Reggie Joiner
  • February 21 – Orlando – TBD – TBD

If you’re a pastor or communicator, I really recommend you attend one of these six one-day events.  When it’s all said and done, we will create a DVD of the full experience, but it won’t have Andy’s talk.  That one is exclusive for the attenders.  We’re not webcasting or broadcasting, so make plans to attend.

Sermon Notes: Future Family Part 2 by Andy Stanley

There a tension between what’s real and what’s ideal that we will never resolve.

Jesus taught and pointed toward an ideal but he refused to condemn people when they fell short.

Ephesians 6 seems so ideal, but it’s where the New Testament points us in regards to family relationships.

“Wives, submit to your husbands” in 5:22 is a specific application of a larger principle given in 5:21. It’s the principle of mutual submission. Jesus laid this message of love on a Roman-dominated culture. The principle of mutual submission is what family should look like where love is the context.

The real question: What can I do to help?

We don’t ask this because we’re afraid there will be an answer, but when we do, it changes the game. We think our agenda is more important. We think if we can get everyone to do what we want them to do, we will be happy. But it’s a myth.

This question is a game changer when wives ask their husbands, husbands ask their wives, and kids ask their parents.

This question forces us to lean in, rather than pull away. We should be fully available.

It’s a helpful principle if you’re not a Christian, but it’s not optional if you are. This should characterize our approach to family.

When you want to ask it least, you need to ask it most.

As we left church, everyone was given a small, simple sticker to remind us to ask this question.

Sermon Notes: Red Letter Prayers – Andy Stanley

Here are my notes from part one of Red Letter Prayers from Andy Stanley.  Matthew 6 was the text.

Most of us are praying wrong.  The disciples even came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

You say, “prayer doesn’t work.”  Well, your prayers don’t work.  Maybe you need prayer lessons.  If prayer is not rewarding, maybe you’re not doing it right.  The Bible says there is a reward associated with prayer.

Our Father in heaven…hallowed be thy name.  Think about who you are talking gto.  Prayer begins by declaring the greatness of God.  This is the context for all prayer.

We call God “Father” – a name that speaks of authority, respect, care and relationship.

Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done…the purpose of prayer is to surrender our will not impose it. Do you really want a God so small you can talk Him into doing things He doesn’t want to do?

The reward of prayer is peace.  What God does IN you is more important than what God does for you.

Give us this day our daily bread…we can ask God for provision, pardon and protection.

Here’s a pattern for prayer.

  • D – Declare God’s greatness
  • S – Surrender your will
  • A – Acknowledge your dependence and pray for provision, pardon and protection.

DSA stands for don’t start off asking.

This kind of prayer always works, because this prayer works on me.



The Problem with Pedestals

I’m a huge Andy Stanley fan. I read everything Tim Keller writes. And there are dozens of pastors, leaders and Christians I deeply respect.

Because while they are incredible writers, leaders and pastors, they are not super-human or super Christian. They are husbands and fathers and friends. Parts of their lives are incredibly public, but I don’t know the full picture. And I have to guard myself of putting them on a pedestal and thinking they are super Christians.

And it’s not just a Christian issue. Look back through real history, and you’ll romanticize and idealize great leaders. We’ll talk about Washington on the white horse and how he willingly laid down power for the good of the infant nation, yet fail to wrestle with the fact he owned slaves. We’ll challenge young people with the story of Helen Keller, but completely forget about her love for communism and socialism later in life. This isn’t an attempt to throw mud at people who deserve a place in history, or a suggestion that all heroes have secret sins that just haven’t been uncovered. That’s not my goal. And it’s not healthy.

We sometimes gloss over glaring issues, because we need the feel-good story. Other times, we’re crushed when our leaders fall from grace.

Honoring spiritual leaders is a good thing, but when that honor turns into a low-level form of worship, we cross the line into idolatry. We’re crushed and broken when our heroes fall, not just because of their humanity, but because of our own misplaced or misguided hero worship.

And being a spiritual leader is a tricky thing. You ARE in front of people and influencing people, and that influence is too easily abused.

That’s why I love movies like the Avengers – a film that portrays the human side of heroes. A rich, tech-saavy Tony Stark who openly struggles with pride and arrogance. A scientist who lives a life constantly suppressing emotion lest he become something he fears. A military captain from another time who struggles to fit into modern society. And incredibly fake movie with incredibly important implications on who we view as heroes.
Our heroes are humans.

We may write about their successes, but we may never know their secrets. We may clap for their victories, but without perspective, we are crushed by their vices.

We need examples and leaders. Hope and trust and following is a good thing, and perhaps there is something in the human DNA that leads us to put people on pedestals. Deep down, I think we all crave leadership and need examples to follow.

But let’s not our heroes become the sum of our hopes. Let’s not put faith that should be in God be diverted to people or allow their considerable skills to convince us that they have a deeper access to God.

Our heroes are human.

Stuff I Starred

Here’s a list of some of the stuff I starred in Google reader, favorited on Twitter, or clipped into Evernote.

Sunday Sermon Notes: Christian by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley continued the Christian series today.  Here are my notes.

If you’re a “just grace” person, there’s always going to be something missing.  If you’re a “just truth” person, there’s always going to be something missing.  Jesus was the embodiment of grace and truth, and as the body of Christ, we should strive to be that as well.

Jesus modeled grace and truth with his life, but he taught it in Luke 15.  He begins his message with a parable that would create common ground with notorious sinners and religious leaders alike.  People who were nothing like Jesus wanted to listen to His sermons.

Imagine if the front rows of your church were filled with sinners who were far from God, and these people WANTED to hear the message.

Jesus began the message with something both groups would agree on – not with a deep truth or with what He truly wanted to address.  After his opening words, both groups nodded in agreement.

The story of the prodigal son illustrates God’s grace.

Why are there so many angry Christians?  Why are there so many angry pastors.

The older brother was angry, but he neglected to realize that the Father wanted his proximity, not his performance.

Christians turn into angry Christians when they think they deserve something form God and they are afraid someone else will get it.

You can be a good Christian without being a good disciple.

God doesn’t get mad at lost things.


Sunday Sermon Notes: Andy Stanley / Christian

Here are my notes from Buckhead Church on Sunday, April 15, 2012. Andy Stanley continued a series called “Christian.”

The introduction recapped where the series had been, bringing back the principle in John 13:35. Jesus didn’t ask people to be Christians…He asked people to be followers.

  • There’s a great tension in Christianity, and when you try to resolve it, you lose something important.
  • If you want to know what Jesus meant by what He said, watch what Jesus did.
  • There’s a tension you dare not resolve. John 1:14 says that Jesus was full of grace AND truth.
  • There are grace parents and truth parents. There are grace churches and truth churches. But Jesus was full of both of these things. In John 1:17, we read that grace and truth CAME through Jesus.
  • Not a balance between, but a full measure of.
  • Jesus let a guy into heaven with 1 minute left on the clock. Jesus spoke truth to the woman at the well. It’s messy, inconsistent and unresolved in the church.

Andy then told an amazing story about a modern family situation and how it was handled. You’ll just have to watch it.

Jesus said, “Sin is sin.” Then he paid for it. Then He said, “Stop sinning.” And he still says, “I love you.”

You will be tempted to let go of either grace and truth, but we need to live in the tension.

Grace in the Old Testament

I recently finished reading Andy Stanley’s The Grace of God. Not only did I receive some tremendous encouragement and teaching, I thought the book would make for a great sermon series called “Grace in the Old Testament.” Most people don’t think of grace and the Old Testament together. In fact, some consider the Old Testament to be about the law and the New Testament to be about grace. But that’s a big mistake.

Here are a few title and subject ideas, inspired by various chapters in the book:

1. Grace in a Garden. God created an amazing environment that had just one rule – that’s something to consider about how God wants us to live. He gave humanity a purpose for living, a job, and company. Creation itself is a blessing and an act of grace.

2. Grace on Tablets of Stone. The ten commandments weren’t given to Israel until God had already established a relationship with His people.

3. Grace in the Belly of a Fish. The story of Jonah is really a story of grace. God gave Jonah a second chance, and the city of Nineveh a second chance. God isn’t interested in paying back people, but in bringing back people.

4. Grace for a Prostitute. In the story of Rahab, we see that God can punish sin but extend grace to the sinner.

5. Unending Grace. The life of David shows us that grace has no limit.

Have you ever preached on grace exclusively from the Old Testament? Maybe it’s time to give it a try.

Jeff Foxworthy Wants You To Preach Better Sermons

Have you heard about Preach Better Sermons, a FREE online event with Andy Stanley, Dr. Charles Stanley, Louie Giglio, Perry Noble, Jud Wilhite, Vanable Moody and Jeff Foxworthy.  It’s happening on March 15 from 1-4 EST.  All of these communicators will be sharing practical information on preparation and delivery, all to help you become a better communicator.

Check out this short video with Jeff Henderson and Jeff Foxworthy, and be sure to register for the event.

Jeff Foxworthy Wants You to Preach Better Sermons from Preaching Rocket on Vimeo.

Preach Better Sermons – Free Online Event with Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, Perry Noble and More

Preach Better Sermons Speaker Line Up

For the past six months, Casey and I have been working behind the scenes on something that I believe can revolutionize your church. The idea: Preaching Rocket – intentional, focused coaching to help preachers develop their skills in communicating the Gospel.

Since preaching is one of the most visible things in all of the church, we wanted to create a place where people could get coaching and resources to help them prepare and deliver their own sermons. Not an online database of content, but a coaching system to help them find and develop their own unique voice.

To kick that off, our friend Jeff Henderson helped us put together an amazing event called Preach Better Sermons. It’s a 100% FREE 3-hour, online conference on March 15 with some of the best speakers in the world.

Check this out.

Andy Stanley, Dr. Charles Stanley, Louie Giglio, Dr. Vanable Moody, Jud Wilhite, Perry Noble and Jeff Foxworthy.

All of these incredible communicators are going to open up about how they prepare and deliver sermons. Or in the case of Jeff Foxworthy – how he delivers some of the funniest stand-up comedy in the world.  They are going to talk about what happens behind the scenes.

The event is absolutely FREE, and it will enrich you as a communicator.  And it’s just the beginning.  Preaching Rocket is going to deliver world-class coaching beginning on April 1.  Check out some of the coaching topics:

  • Personal development
  • How to get three weeks ahead
  • How to preach to the unchurched
  • Finding your unique voice
  • Creating an annual teaching plan
  • Developing a team
  • Evaluation
In addition to coaching, we’ll add some content that will pepper your messages with fresh flavor and community that will keep you from feeling alone in the process.
But the free conference is first, and I can’t wait for it to help you as a preacher, communicator or messenger of the Gospel.

Book Notes: The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

Here are my notes from Andy Stanley’s the Grace of God, one of the books on my 2012 Reading List. The first half of this book could be called “Grace in the Old Testament” and would make a great sermon series. In fact, much of the material in the book comes from sermons Andy has preached. Here are some highlights and quotes.

  • Grace is what we crave most but what we are hesitant to extend.
  • When we are the receiving end, grace is refreshing. When it is required of us, it is often disturbing.
  • You can no more deserve grace than you can plan your own surprise party.
  • Creation is all about grace. When you look at the Garden of Eden, you’ll see that his expressions of grace were innumerable and his requirements were minimal.
  • Sin brings shame and blame.
  • In the life of Abraham, God showed that a righteous standing with God comes through faith.
  • Grace is not reserved for good people.
  • In the life of Joseph, we see that the law of sowing and reaping was thwarted by grace.
  • With the Ten Commandments, we see that God initiated a relationship with his people before he even told them what the rules were. God’s law does not establish a relationship it confirms an existing one.
  • The purpose of the law is not to make us good but to keep us free.
  • Grace is slow to judge and quick to deliver. When people around me mess up, I default to the opposite.
  • In the life of Rahab, we see God punishes sin, AND extends grace to the sinner.
  • In the life of David, we learn discipline is often an expression of grace. If grace had a limit, David’s actions would have exposed them.
  • You can run from God, but you can’t outrun him.
  • In the life of Jonah, we see that the purpose of God’s discipline is not to pay people back but to bring people back.
  • Receiving grace is often easier than dispensing it.
  • The New Testament reveals people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus and Jesus liked people who were nothing like him.
  • Jesus did not strike a balance between grace and truth. He dispensed full measures of both.
  • Jesus was not uncomfortable surrounded by those who needed grace.
  • Nichodemus showed us grace is not a reward for good people but it’s God’s gift to forgiven people.
  • It’s always easier to talk about theology than our pain.
  • We can talk about fairness, but the grace of God isn’t fair. Philip Yancey talks about “the scandalous mathematics of grace.” Interestingly, we don’t complain about fairness when we something works in OUR advantage. Jesus was extravagantly unfair.
  • The church is most appealing when the message of grace is most apparent. The church is most effective when the message of grace is most evident.
  • If the local church is God’s vehicle for dispensing the message of grace, then the local church is clearly not for church people. It’s for everybody.
  • The church should not make it difficult for people who are turning to God (See Acts 15:23-29)
  • As much as you may want to qualify this with statements like “what about the person who…,” grace can’t be qualified.
  • First and foremost, God celebrates restored relationships.