renewing the mind

Are Your Excuses Getting the Best of You?


Mind Craft - Part 3

Excuses are deadly. They justify staying where you are, validate mediocrity, and are ultimately selfish. When the going gets tough, we so easily submit to excuses and remain stuck within our circumstances.

You simply cannot succeed and make excuses at the same time. How can we overcome this defeated mindset in order to accomplish the amazing things God has planned for us?

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Are You Limiting God?


Mind Craft - Part 2

Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us."

How does that work? How is the almighty God able to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask" but only according to the power within us? Can we really limit God?

In Mark 6, Jesus was not able to do miracles in His hometown due to the people's expectations of Him. Are your expectations of God limiting the ways He can move in your life as well?

If we want our lives to change, our patterns of thought must be altered. No more excuses, no more "buts." Your time is now.

Pre-orders for Mind Craft will be available soon, so stay tuned!

10 Characteristics of a Pioneer - Part 1


Taking Risks and Stepping Out of the Mold.

Do you value routine over risk? Fitting in over stepping out? Maybe you have settled somewhere in your leadership. Tune in to the first part of our Pioneering series to discover how to get out of your rut.

One of my most recent reads was Marching off the Map by Tim Elmore. It was a phenomenal book that gave great insight into where we are today as a society and how we can connect with the next generation more effectively. I would highly recommend every leader, pastor, communicator, or educator pick up a copy. It certainly has us talking about what we are doing and how we are doing it.

Last week, we gathered as a staff for our monthly training and I discussed the difference between pioneers and settlers. Pioneers march off the map whereas settlers are not so willing to leave comfort behind. For the next four weeks, Pastor Gene and I will be discussing 10 characteristics of a pioneer. 

1. The pioneer is about risk. The settler is about routine.

There are no guarantees of success when you march off the map. But at the same time, there is a guarantee of failure if you don’t and remain a settler. Elmore made a powerful statement when he said, “Settlers will be left in the dust as the young people we lead disconnect from us and find others they can follow to new places. Or, they will forge ahead with no mentors at all.

Pioneers are usually the one with arrows in their back. They are shot at by settlers that have no understanding of their strange new tactics. Being a pioneer is not a comfortable place to be, yet settling is not a chance we should take. We have to bravely march off the map!

2. Pioneers often don’t fit in.

Pioneers have the tendency to feel out of place, especially in a room full of settlers. Instead of just going with the flow, pioneers create their own. They are not conformists, they are reformers, therefore, setting themselves apart from the crowd. They are leaders like Caleb in the Old Testament whom God noted as having a “different spirit.” Caleb went on to inherit the promise while the others didn’t.

Our goal as pioneers is to adapt, not adopt. We need to shift, not drift. We can either resist change until we no longer can, or we can adapt and harness that change powerfully.

Pioneering within the Church

As leaders, we must realize what is permanent and what is temporary. Our mission and vision to make disciples are permanent whereas our methods and programs to do such are temporary. We never compromise what the Bible teaches, but we may change the ways we present those truths.

We must also be constantly focused on our why. We can adapt our what or how to achieve our why, but the why never changes. This is about being focused on our outcomes.

I became passionate about the church at an early age but I fell madly in love with its purpose and vision when Pastor George taught me the Book of Acts in Bible College. It was there that I discovered that the church is God’s original plan and there is no backup. It was there that I saw the difference between our mission and vision and the methods we use to get those things done. It was there that I learned that the church is the hope of the world on a mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by creating churches unchurched people love to attend. 

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Marginal Gains


There is always room for improvement within any church or organization. Today, we are taking a look at where to begin, the steps to be taken, and ultimately how to achieve your greatest goals!

This month, we are discussing our topic from the last All Staff meeting we held. We looked at how we can improve using the idea of marginal gains, and what this meant for our teams. Let’s get into it!

Be Honest with Where You Are

Be realistic about where you currently are. That sounds so simple. But leaders tend to think they are being realistic when they focus on what’s not working or on where they’re failing. William Arthur Ward said, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” I am continually adjusting my sails. As a leader, you have to be a constant analyst.

Critiquing vs. Being Critical

One of the things that I had to input into our culture was the skill of honestly critiquing everything. Now, there’s a big difference between being critical and critiquing. Being critical focuses on the negative, while critiquing focuses on what could be improved. We critique everything we do because we know others will do it for us if we don’t do it ourselves. Therefore, we regularly analyze everything we do and ask, “Could we do it better?” We don’t always keep that analysis positive. Our tendency is to try to avoid conflict and keep everything positive, but sometimes it’s okay to allow a little bit of conflict or negative talk. This can help to dig out the real issues. If you don’t allow it in a controlled meeting, it will happen on the outside, so it’s best to discuss it while in private. My only stipulation is that if we address a problem, we must also focus on a solution to that problem. That’s how you keep things positive and moving forward.

Count Everything

If we see a slump in one area or another, we ask if we are missing something or if we need to change it. We never allow ourselves to make excuses for poor results because excuses remove our power to do anything about it. I can make excuses or I can make progress, but I can never do both. I think counting everything and analyzing the data is vital because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. When you get the data, you have a choice as to what you can do with it. You can make an excuse as to why the number is lower than expected, or you can make the necessary adjustment and set your sails accordingly.

[bctt tweet="Excuses remove our power to do anything about poor results. #leadership #marginalgains" username="kellystickel"]


Self-talk is a game-changer. We often tend to believe more of what we hear ourselves say than what we hear others say. Self-talk is not only a powerful business and ministry tool but an effective lifestyle tool if done constructively. I once heard someone define thinking as self-talk. I like that because all of us do it, whether we are aware of it or not. Once I became aware of that, I began to realize that I should consciously guard my self-talk and guide it with positive, forward-moving talk. Good self-talk doesn’t ignore the obstacle or difficulty in front of you but instead focuses you on being solution oriented instead of problem focused.

A good example of this is the difference between the 10 spies in Numbers 13, and Joshua and Caleb. The 10 spies' self-talk was focused on how big the enemy was and how strongly fortified their cities were. They were problem focused whereas Joshua and Caleb said, “We are well able” and, “God will make a way.” The two men didn’t ignore the enemy or their fortified cities, they just chose to focus their attention and talk on the solutions that would enable them to overcome those obstacles.

Think Big, Start Small

I once heard a quote from Seth Godin that read, “The thing is, incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track — this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes.”  The truth is, we as leaders often like to go from peak to peak, focusing on the outcomes instead of the journey. It’s our tendency to continually focus on big thinking and forget that it takes day-to-day, roll-up-your-sleeves hard work, and small steps to get there. For me, the key to continuing to think big, but at the same time starting small, has been to celebrate the little things along the way. This keeps myself, as well as my team, motivated in the mundane daily work. If I set smaller progressive goals along the way to our big destination, and then celebrate once we get there, it keeps us focused and moving forward until we reach the ultimate, big-thinking goal. Celebrate the journey every step of the way.

Focus On The Process Not The Results

Leaders have been taught for years to be results focused. Consequently, leaders tend to allow the big picture obsession to downplay the power of the process. As leaders, we are typically the visionaries or big picture thinkers, but we need to realize that most of our team is not. That means they don’t often see the end result like we do.  When we paint a picture for them of what that result will look like, they often view it as an immediate outcome, and that we will be there quickly. I know I have made this mistake many times as a leader. I see a big goal for the organization and share it with everyone prematurely which makes for disappointment when we don’t reach it quickly. Peter Drucker said, “People often overestimate what they can accomplish in one year. But they greatly underestimate what they could accomplish in five years.” With this being the case, it’s important for us as leaders to be wise in what we share and when we share it. It is wiser as a leader to focus on the process and celebrate the little steps rather than just on the big picture. This keeps the team focused and motivated to move forward.

Small Improvements Add Up to Massive Differences

Recently, I heard a story from my friend Rex Crain about the 1986 Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. They were heralded as the best team ever assembled but, ended up losing in the semi-finals that year. It was a major disappointment and you can imagine how their coach, Pat Riley, felt. In the offseason, he decided to do something about it. Instead of relying just on motivating the team as a whole to do better, he instead decided to work with each individual player on making marginal gains in their own development. He recorded every player's performance from each game the previous year and built a formula to calculate an overall personal score. Then he challenged each one to improve by just one percent in the next season. Of course, each player agreed because one percent was doable and they went to work on making their marginal gain. Then, Coach Riley used the same formula throughout the next season so that each player could see how they were progressing. It worked! Every player improved. The lowest level of improvement was 5% and the overall average was a 12% improvement. The team went on to win 2 straight championships and appeared in 4 of the next 5 NBA championships. So at All Staff, I told this story and then asked our team to work on areas in their own departments and with their own team in which they could get just one percent better. I believe if each team member and each department got just one percent better, the overall effect on the organization would be astronomical.

Progress Is In Your Control

Like I said before, we can make excuses or we can make progress, but we can’t do both. This reminds me of when I first began working with our worship team. We began with how they practiced. I attended each practice and had the team focus on how they would rehearse each song. Then, we worked on each player and vocalist and had them prepare individually for their part. We got rid of the “just wing it” mentality and had them rehearse a specific part. Then, we worked on the presentation of the songs they were learning and had each member watch videos of themselves alongside videos of other worship leaders to compare where they could make improvements.

This whole process happened over the course of 3 to 4 years. We made little steps like removing worship stands from the stage. The team was now individually rehearsed and prepared and in watching videos of themselves, they realized how much of a barrier these stands created between them and the congregation. After learning their parts, we focused on their tones because music is just a sum of sounds blended together. The better the sounds and blend, the better the song is received overall. Now, here we are 6 years into the process and we are not only better, but are now writing, producing, and releasing our own worship songs! I saw this as a goal years ago, but if I would have cast that vision from the beginning, we would have skipped a number of valuable steps along the way or would have given up in the process and settled with where we were. This way, we celebrated each step along the way and are now seeing the fruit of that progression.

Daily Investments

Small daily investments are the way to produce big changes. The secret here seems to be that in the patience of daily investments, momentum begins, though momentum at times seems nearly invisible. I challenge our leaders to listen to podcasts daily, read books weekly, and to attend conferences yearly. I encourage them to grow themselves first, and then monthly I train them in leadership at our All-Staffs as well. Each one doesn’t make a noticeable difference, but over time, these behaviours have made a huge improvement in our organization and on the individuals who have invested in themselves this way.

[bctt tweet="Small daily investments are the way to produce big changes. #marginalgains" username="kellystickel"]

As a leader myself, I continually listen to leadership podcasts, read books and leadership blogs, meet with mentors and ask them lots of questions, and attend conferences at churches much bigger than mine. I am constantly working on bettering myself as a leader because I know that if I stop growing, I will stop leading and my organization will stop growing. I take that very seriously.

What I love about the marginal gains concept is that it will work for anyone, anywhere, at any time, regardless of the size or scope of their ministry or business. The fact is, once you are realistic about where you currently are and you focus on making marginal gains in each area you are involved in, you will advance forward. You don’t build Rome in a day, but you will grow and eventually get to where you want to be. Imagine if every church leader made marginal gains this year. Imagine if every church grew by one percent. That might not seem like much for the church of 100 people. But, if every church in the world did that, there would be millions of more people in the Kingdom this time next year. So, let’s do it! Why? Because the church is the hope of the world, on a mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.

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How To React to Your Future Rather Than Your Past


In the book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John Maxwell writes in the chapter on the Law of the Mirror that to grow, leaders must “stop reacting to their past and start reacting to their future”. In other words; focus on the outcome of your intended growth rather than the outcome of your historical past. 


If you are a leader that is moving forward, you will have to get very comfortable with the feeling of being unprepared or over challenged. That is part of what it means to be a leader — going places where no one has gone before and taking others with you. I have learned to become comfortable with that feeling and I actually get really uncomfortable or restless when I feel over prepared or when I don’t feel challenged anymore. The key for me is to continually focus on the mental picture of where I want to end up — the ultimate goal.

Study Your Seasons

Sometimes, we allow the feelings of being unprepared to become a distraction. Like asking “how long is this going to take?”, rather than “how far can I go?  It’s vital to refocus on where a leader needs to grow without letting go of your past progress. A leader has to recognize two things; what season of growth they are in and what season their organization is in. Bill Hybels says “you’re always in a season. It’s your role to know which it is and what to do about it.” 

I am a firm believer in the “seasons” theory. Just like a farmer has different seasons — seasons to plant, seasons to harvest, seasons of preparation and seasons of rest — a leader goes through similar seasons. The key is to know the pattern so that you can plan and prepare properly. I believe each personality has a different pattern. I believe every job has a different pattern. I believe every church and community has a different pattern. The key to understanding the patterns is to be a historian. Study the past. When I first arrived in Lethbridge, I asked the team to provide me all of the records of the church. I studied the attendance records, the financial records, all kinds of data. I was looking for the patterns. I wanted to know the time of year the churches attendance grew and the time of year it would shrink and I wanted to see if there were any consistencies in those patterns over the course of a series of years. When I discovered the patterns I was more confident in planning what I would preach and how we would strategize our growth plan. Then, we went to work and I became an analyst, continually studying where we were comparing our results to what I anticipated to make sure I was right in reading the seasons. So, as a leader I think the best way to predict your future seasons is to be a historian and an analyst.

Develop a Growth Plan

First, as a leader you have to develop a game plan to grow others. The highest function of a leader is not just to lead others. The highest function of a leader is to produce leaders who lead others. I believe mentorship is a process of taking what I have learned or am learning and passing it now to others.

Secondly, you also have to put yourself into the personal growth picture. The key to equipping is modelling. Most of what we learn is observed — “caught” not “taught”. Jesus said, “a disciple is not above his teacher, but when he is fully trained he will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Paul wrote, “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or even seen in me - put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9).

Thirdly, a leader needs to connect with their team. Connecting requires energy — so be prepared to give a lot of effort, but it’s worth it. Connecting requires understanding — so ask questions. As author and speaker Jim Rohn taught, “don’t just help people with their jobs, but help people with their lives.

I think fourth, you need to give your people challenging projects. This helps determine emotional, creative, and ability capacity. As Noel Tichy said “winning leaders push people not just to memorize the organization’s values but to wrestle with them, to internalize and use them.” He advocates putting people “in progressively more difficult situations where they have to make decisions, and then give feedback and support.

And lastly, I think you have to empower your team. Empowerment is all about trust. It means not just giving them responsibility, but also giving them authority. As Ken Blanchard said, “empowerment means you have the freedom to act; it also means you are accountable for results.

When leaders are challenged to grow themselves but don’t follow through and do it, neither will their followers.  And they end up reading to their past rather than their future, slipping into the “management lane” rather than in the “Leadership lane”. 

As a leader you have to model personal growth. One thing that I have found works great is taking my team with me when I go to a conference. That way, we all learn together and we all are excited about the same things at the same time. Conferences are great because the good ones spark new vision and ideas that usually gets a team fired up to grow. If you can’t go to a conference together, invite a good leader in to speak to your team and challenge them. Sometimes a different voice can spark a new passion to grow. If you can’t afford to go to a conference or bring a leader in, read a book together with your team or watch a leadership video or listen to a podcast together. If you as a leader are passionate about growing, your team will be, too.

Leaders who are insecure in their growth plan need constant encouragement.  Dan Reiland advises that leaders should “be more concerned about making their followers feel good about their own growth than they are in making their followers feel good about them as their leader. 

Leadership is more than just creating followers, it’s really about creating other leaders. That is the key of great leadership. I would go so far as to say that if you are more concerned about your own growth than you are about the progress of your team, you are not really a leader. So, a leader thinks about the things they could do to help others become better, both individually and as a team. They turn their focus outward from their own production and begin helping others to become high producers.

Find a Good Mentor

Not all mentors are created equal.  In Eric Greitens’ book Resilience, he makes this point; The best mentors must know two things: the challenge that’s being faced and the person facing it.  In other words “one size of mentoring” doesn’t fit everyone. 

I think there are five qualities that are important to look for in a mentor.

  1. Do they have a passion for growth? If they aren’t passionately growing themselves, they won’t put much effort into growing you. So, look for someone who is passionate for growth.
  2. Are they a worthy example? Teaching is easy. Modelling is difficult. Andrew Carnegie said, “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.
  3. Do they have proven experience? An old Chinese proverb said, “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” Have they been where you want to go?
  4. Do they care about you? I’m looking for someone who will be a friend and offer support. The first question a follower should ask a leader is, “Do you care for me?” If your mentor doesn’t care about you as a person, they won’t be a good mentor.
  5. Are they competent? Are they getting results now? This is different than having just a good track record in the past. You don’t want to be mentored by someone who isn’t getting results right now because they won’t be able to push you to where you need to go. They will be able to tell you good stories but won’t be able to push you beyond their past experiences.


Monitor Your Progress

Mentoring is not about quick fixes. The transformation of an average leader into one whose impact creates leaders, takes time and patience. Even more so is the transformation of an organization.  So how do you monitor the progress and growth of your organization’s transformation when it’s still in progress?

The best way I know how is to measure absolutely everything.

[bctt tweet="You can’t manage what you don’t measure." username="kellystickel"]

So, keep stats on everything and constantly monitor the progress and growth. With that being said, one of the things I have noticed is that it is most difficult to continue pushing growth forward when you are having success. The natural tendency for all of us is to relax and to stop pushing when we are experiencing success, so this is when it is most important for the leader to continually set challenging goals in front of the team to keep them pushing and growing and to combat the natural drift to complacency.

5 Levels of Leadership

In John Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership, he depicts the lowest level of leadership as “positional”, that is leaders usually start with just a position or title.  Their followers follow because they have to. 

The next level, level 2, is where the leader builds relationships with their followers, and then at level 3, leaders with their followers begin to produce results. With each level, leaders must maintain the values and strength of each preference level.  Sometimes, however;  a leader get stuck on the permission level of relationships and never moves on to the production level of results.  

I think they get stuck at level 2 because they are so relationally focused that they neglect being results focused. These leaders will tend to avoid confronting poor performance and challenging mediocrity because they are more afraid to confront than they are to not get results. I don’t think anyone enjoys confrontation, if they do they are not healthy, but confrontation is inevitable and even necessary as a leader. Your job as a leader is to be a change agent. You have to be forever on the lookout for ways to improve the team and challenge them. Start today by setting aside an hour to think of 5 ways to change things for the better and then go about challenging your team to make those changes.

Appreciate the Journey

The growth “process” is so valuable.  Leaders must not only keep their eye on the “prize” but on the consistency of the journey. 

I tend to be naturally future focused, so much so that I often forget to enjoy the right now, the journey, because I am always living in tomorrow. So, I have to stop every once in a while and celebrate where I am and more importantly celebrate with my team. I have noticed other leaders who get stuck in their past, either they can’t get over a past failure or they keep reliving a past victory. If your past looks brighter than your future, that is a problem. Leaders never stop growing.

Keep Your eye on the Prize

Grow your people. Growing people is more important than having the right strategies or programs. Grow your people as leaders. As John Maxwell says, leadership is influence. So, that would mean that if I grow my people in the area of leadership, they will grow in influence in our community. The church can’t help but grow then and bring the hope that is Jesus to their community. So, grow your people, grow your people, grow your people. That is essentially the job description the Apostle Paul gave pastors in Ephesians 4 when he said their job was to “equip” (which means skill develop) the saints for the work of the ministry.

Because as long as there are people in our community who don’t know Jesus, our job is not complete. We can’t settle on our past success because their are people who’s eternities rest on us pushing forward and growing our influence in our city to reach them. I think the greatest tragedy in the world is a church that is in maintenance mode, and all they can talk about is the good ol’ days. To me that is a crime. And apparently Jesus thought so too when he shared the parable of the talents and called the servant who maintained the wealth he was given, wicked and lazy. He didn’t lose it, he maintained it. We can’t afford to be in maintenance mode as the church, because peoples eternities are at stake and because we are the hope of the world and we are on a mission to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.


Episode Resources:

If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email