Thursday, April 30, 2009

Serve to Sustain

It’s All About Capacity

Is your glass half-empty – or half-full? That tricky question has been around for a long time, and countless jokes and other comments have been made about it over the years. Rather than focus on the current state of the glass, what if we instead focused on its capacity?

The definitions of capacity are many and all are useful for this brief thought: Are we living up to the capacity God designed into us?

  • Do we have the ability to perform or produce something that will honor God?
  • Are we always doing the maximum amount of activity possible for God?
  • Do we understand a specific function that God has gifted us for?
  • Are we exercising our brains to increase the ability to store information for Kingdom purposes?
  • Do we have the power to learn and retain knowledge that will help us understand the facts and significance of our behavior?

Are we a vessel, continually being filled up, and then emptied out, for His service?

My initial thoughts about capacity always go to the last definition: What’s my capacity for receiving the gifts and blessings of the Holy Spirit? If I continually only receive, then eventually I am satiated, and can receive no more. But if I am continually pouring out, then there is always room for God to invest and indwell in me.

For me, it’s the process of filling and emptying I seek – I don’t want to be satisfied with the status quo of half-empty or half-full.

How are you serving others today?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Write to Retain

If I didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.

That’s a quote from Cathy Ryan, a character in Tom Clancy’s thriller series of books. Almost a toss away line at the time, it turns out to be a major turning point of the whole book. It’s also a guide that I have adapted and modified for my own use.

When I am reading (see yesterday’s post), I often take notes of the highlights of the book or magazine article or page view. I have found that the act of writing down key points helps lock them away in my memory. I may not be able to remember all of the point, but it helps to recall just enough to look it up later.

I “write” in several ways:
  • For several key themes that I follow, I have a separate journal for each one, allowing an ongoing concentration of knowledge on that subject
  • I also keep a notebook with me when I travel, jotting down quotes, book titles, or observations for later follow-up
  • For business purposes, there are major themes that I am continually gathering information about. I document these electronically, and use them to develop white papers, presentations, or “leave behinds” for clients
  • I blog daily here, and weekly for Church Solutions magazine. This has been an important part of my development process, so I want to spend some more time on blogging.

My entry into the blogging world came last year, at the encouragement of Church Solutions editor Karen Butler. Her magazine and the National Association of Church Design Builders (NACDB) are partners in the Church Solutions Conference and Expo as well as several other events. During one of those events, the Certified Church Consultant training course, I was speaking on the subject of reading and journaling, and she suggested that I move to the next natural step in that progression, blogging.

I certainly don’t consider myself knowledgeable in this area, so I turn to someone who is: Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and a prominent voice in the church blogging world. Here are some key points he made recently about blogging; to read his blog, go here.

Blogging came pretty naturally to me because I've always kept a journal. But over the years I've learned a few do's and don'ts. Here are ten of them. I view them as my personal guidelines for blogging.

1) Stay Positive-Life is too short and the Kingdom Cause is too important for the sideways energy of negativity!

2) Include Hyperlinks-It brings people together in amazing ways.

3) Keep it Short and Sweet-It's a blog not a book!

4) Don't let commentors hijack your blog-I do think it's healthy to engage in respectful debate. But don't let it cross the line.

5) Tell Your Wife About It Before You Blog About It-If your family has to read your blog to know what is going on in your life something is wrong!

6) If You Wouldn't Say it to Their Face Don't Blog It-Again, I think we need civility and respect.

7) Know Your Audience-Would you blog if no one read it? I think that's a good litmus test. Obviously, if you are blogging you are doing it so people can read it. But I primarily blog for myself--it's my journal. It's the way I keep track of what God is doing in my life.

8) Be Yourself-A blog ought to be as unique as you are.

9) Find Your Rhythm-Part of blogging is finding a way for it to fit your lifestyle. I think it's critical that you be consistent.

10) Stay Positive-I know. I know. I listed it twice!

In addition to being a prolific blogger, Batterson also writes books – to the tune of one per year. Even though you and I may not write a book, I found Batterson’s thoughts on writing a book to be an appropriate close to today’s post:

Writing a book is baring your soul. You feel intellectually and spiritually vulnerable. Writing forces you to come to terms with who you are and who you aren't. Unfortunately, many authors hide behind their words. You don't feel like you know them any better at the end of the book than you did at the beginning. I try to write as if I'm having a conversation with someone over coffee. Keep it real. Keep it personal. Don't just share your thoughts. Share your life.

What are you writing?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Read to Succeed

The Gift of Reading

One of my father’s greatest gifts to me cost nothing at all but has a price beyond value: a love of books, reading, and learning. It’s a gift that I open many times each day, can enjoy no matter where I’m at or what circumstances I’m in, and one of that I have enjoyed passing on to my children.

Bookstores are one of my favorite places to visit at any time, but especially when you are stuck on a problem or have run dry in the creative area. A visit to your neighborhood bookstore can be a personal oasis of calm in a frenzied day. Books can spur the imagination and take you on journeys that you never thought you might go.

You can also be a regular visitor to your local library for a reading excursion. This year to date, I have checked out and read 43 books and dozens of magazines from my local library. I have scheduled into my calendar a visit to the library every two weeks.

There is also the pleasure of owning personal books: thus far in 2009 I have purchased or have been given an additional 19 books that I am working through.

Then there are visits to virtual bookstores and libraries: the limitless resources of the Web. I regularly visit about 20 or so blogs and websites, and pursue dozens more during a week's time for specific information.

In order to process that amount of reading, I don’t “read” each book, blog, article, or website the same way. Over the years, I’ve gleaned a few reading helps. Believe it or not, a book helps me read books: How to Read a Book, a classic by Mortimer Adler, gives these 4 levels of reading:
  • Elementary Reading – What does the sentence say?
  • Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?
  • Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?
  • Syntopical Reading – What does a comparison of books on the subject reveal?

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:

  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction.
  • Read the Table of Contents.
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and sub-headings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always.
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren't reading.

Reading, then, is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Why don’t you give a little "self-improvement" to yourself and those around you by reading a new book this week?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Listen to Learn

Hear What People Are Really Saying

Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on both your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.

  • We listen to obtain information.
  • We listen to understand.
  • We listen for enjoyment.
  • We listen to learn.
Listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent. In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.

  1. Pay attention.Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.
  2. Show that you are listening.Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
  3. Provide feedback. Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.
  4. Defer judgment. Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
  5. Respond Appropriately. Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many people’s are, then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!

Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message. Ask question, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!

Start using active listening today to become a better communicator and improve both your business productivity and relationships.

Self-Improvement Week

If you haven’t noticed already, home improvement stores have launched a full-out marketing blitz to encourage you to invest in improving your home and yard. In this time of financial uncertainties, they are betting that you will spend some money now that will pay dividends in the future.

Along those lines, I am posting this week on “Self Improvement”. Beginning later today and continuing this week, see how you can invest in your personal self-improvement in the following ways:

  • Monday: Listen to Learn
  • Tuesday: Read to Succeed
  • Wednesday: Write to Retain
  • Thursday: Serve to Sustain
  • Friday: Love to Live

Let me know what you think!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Granger Community Church - Knocking it out of the Park!

I've just returned from a NACDB Field Trip to Granger Community Church with about 30 of our NACDB partners from across the country. This was our 5th annual trip, and in many ways, the most personally rewarding for me.

GCC began in 1986 as a Methodist church plant. Founding pastor Mark Beeson led GCC with a clear vision from day 1: Helping people take their next step toward Christ...Together. GCC does everything with intentionality, and it is evident in their stories, the leadership team, and their campus development. As builders, the members of the NACDB are always seeking to learn from innovative and successful churches "facilities" stuff that we can pass on to churches we work with. While that was true on this visit, the real learning came from the heart of the leaders.

Tim Stevens (Executive Pastor), Theresa Hoeft (Project Manager), and the whole GCC team live out their calling in tangible ways every day. As we listened to the story of GCC and toured their facilities, it was very evident that this is a body of believers who know their stuff, but more importantly know Who they are serving.

This was nowhere more evident than our visit to the Monroe Circle Community Center (MC3) in downtown South Bend. Begun a few years ago from the hearts of a few GCCers with a heart for missions and the urban area of South Bend, it has developed into a laser-focused strategy with not only bricks and mortar presence (of the MC3 facility) but through relational programming that is reversing the trends of welfare dependency and hopelessness prevalent throughout the community. Dan Blacketor leads this amazing work, with hundreds of GCCers volunteering their gifts and abilities throughout the week. Here is a sampling of what MC3 is accomplishing:
  • SonCity Kids-onsite activities and offsite field trips for inner city kids
  • SonCity Summers-8 week camp for kids
  • SonCity Teens-mentoring and coaching for inner city teens
  • SonCity Afterschool-afterschool tutoring, reading, snacks, and homework
  • Cafe' and Food Pantry-serving over 300 families per month
  • Life Basics-teaching life and home skills to women in the community
  • GED-working with adults to complete their GED
  • The Gathering-small group faith community, serving over 90+ weekly
  • Prison Transition-works with prisoners while they are in the work release center
  • STARs-vocational training partnership with the Center for the homeless
  • Little League-starting this weekend, a new team with assistance from the Silverhawks (minor league team next door to the center)
  • and more to come!

Granger Community Church would say they're nothing special, just doing what God called them - individually and collectively - to do.

Would that every church could say-and do-the same.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Now this is the place for a meeting!

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


It is not a model, system, or program.
It changes lives.
It attracts criticism.
For those of you that have it, you can lose it.
For those of you that don’t have it, you can get it.

These opening remarks at Catalyst 2008 by Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch, outlined his journey from the early days of ministry to today. Groeschel came to cal this powerful, life-changing force It. His powerful talk centered on these phases of life:
  • Stretch me
  • Ruin me
  • Heal me

A summary statement that for me, says it all:

Your heart should break for the things that break the heart of God.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Discovering the Dreams God Has for You

My Catalyst 2008 experience actually began with a Pre-Lab event called “Discover the Dream”, by Dave Ferguson and the team at Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL. Using the real-life story of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, they illustrated a seven step process to discovering the dream God has for us. Read more about that here.

As I look back, this session became the key that unlocked the power of the dream within me. It wasn’t a single event, but began a process that has been reinforced multiple times since that day. The Scriptural roots are in Ephesians 2:10 – God has prepared a specific dream for each of us, and we need to be moving toward it. The questions we need to ask?

  • If I could do anything for God, I would…
  • What barriers keep me from that dream?
  • Is there a certain people, place, or passion God is calling me to?

Once you begin to answer those questions, you will find that discovering God’s dream begins to change things:

  • You, and the questions you ask
  • People around you
  • The world!

I am asking those questions, and I am earnestly seeking God’s dream. What about you?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Six Months Later...

My first Catalyst experience was a little over six months ago, but it was just like yesterday. I started the event by attending a Pre-Lab session with Dave Ferguson on Wednesday morning, and I participated in every session through the end of Friday evening.

For my immediate reactions to the event, read my blog posts beginning here. While those certainly reflect my feelings then, the purpose of several posts this week will be to look back on Catalyst events and how they continue to shape me. It’s also a reminder that Catalyst West starts this Wednesday in CA. I’m praying that it will impact the participants, and then their churches, and then their communities in a big way.

Catalyst 2008 was more than just a three day event – it was a movement, a convergence, an experience. What I found when I stepped inside the Gwinnett Center was simply this: total immersion in a learning, worship, and creative environment that was relentlessly sold out on God. Catalyst brought together many types of people: the influencers, the do-ers, the cultural architects, and the change agents who daily reclaim our communities and culture for good.

It’s been described many ways, but words fall short of the full-on multi-sensory experience – just call it what the organizers do – pure leadership adrenaline.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Change is in the Air

It's spring in North Carolina, and the trees and flowers are in full bloom. Unfortunately, the pollen that comes with them is too! There has been plenty of rain, and everything is coming up green. Pretty soon, though, summer will be here. Things will begin to dry out, greens turn to brown, and everyone wishes it was spring again. Before you know it, fall arrives: warm sunny days and crisp clear nights. Soon it is winter, cool weather with cold snaps and even an occasional snow. Before long, it will be spring again and the cycle begins again. Living in the Piedmont of North Carolina means I get to enjoy four distinct seasons of weather. You may not like any particular one, but if you wait long enough, a change will take place.

On the surface, these situations all are about change; in reality, they are about transition. In the world of church development that I live and work in, change is a constant. Most often, though, change is not handled well by the parties involved. William Bridges, author of Transitions and Managing Transitions, has provided a powerful model of working through change that church staff leaders should be aware of. Here’s a brief synopsis of his work:

Unless transition occurs, change will not work. Change is best seen as situational event or an outcome – a new building project completed; new schedules put into place; or a new staff member coming on board. When you think about change it is natural to focus on the outcome that the change will produce. If your church is relocating, all the excitement is on the new place you will be worshipping and serving in. If you begin a new program to reach an unreached segment of your community, the focus is on the results.

Transition is different. Transition is the psychological process people go though to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal. The starting point for transition is not the outcome but the ending that you will have to make to leave the old situation behind. Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you have before the change took place. Nothing undermines organizational change as the failure to think through who will have to let go of what when change occurs. It’s not the change that will do you in – it’s the transitions!

Transition starts with an ending – another of life’s paradoxes. Even in good positive changes (think of the birth of a child) transitions begin with having to let go of something (time alone with spouse, regular sleep, spontaneity of going places, etc.). The failure to identify and be ready for the endings and losses that change produces is the largest single problem that organizations in transitions encounter. Once you have learned that transition begins with letting go of something, you have taken the first step in the transition journey.

The second step of that journey is understanding what happens after letting go: the neutral zone. This is the no-man’s land between the old reality and the new. It’s the shady, hazy time when you are between the old sense of identity and the new. It is that place where the old way is gone but the new doesn’t feel comfortable yet.

The neutral zone is of critical importance to completing a transition. If you don’t understand its importance you are likely to try to rush the process and become discouraged when you don’t make it through. You may also become frightened or overwhelmed in this limbo-land, and be tempted to bail out – which would derail the transition and place the whole change in jeopardy. Most importantly, though, would be the loss of opportunity if you chose to leave the neutral zone prematurely.

The neutral zone provides the individual and the organization the greatest opportunity for creativity, renewal, and development – in short, innovation. Even in a time of confusion and chaos, the seeds of new birth are planted.

The final step of the transition occurs only when ending and the neutral zone have been completed. Now it is time for the new beginning. Like any organic process, beginnings cannot be made to happen by a word or act. They happen when the timing of the transition process allows them to happen. Beginnings take place only after people have accepted the ending of the old, navigated the uncertainty of the neutral zone, and see themselves as ready to undertake something new. Beginnings involve new understandings, new values, new attitudes, and most of all, new identifies.

Most organizations try to start with the beginning rather than finishing with it. They pay no attention to endings. They do not acknowledge the existence of the neutral zone, and then wonder why people have so much difficulty with change.

Church leaders must learn how to lead their churches through change. If there is anything certain about the future, it is that there will be change. We may not be sure what it will look like, we may try to resist it, but the only certainty is that between here and there will be a lot of change. Where there is change, there will be transition. Learn how to end well, navigate the neutral zone, and embrace new beginnings, and you will be able to look back successfully at change, ready to welcome the next change coming your way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Change and What You Do

Change is important. But it’s also important to cling to core values. Paul experienced that tension, and God helped him to facilitate change while not abandoning his core values. In Acts 16:6-10, Paul is all set to carry the Gospel message to Bithynia – but the Spirit of God redirected him to Macedonia. Change – new direction. But it was only a new direction, not a new message. Paul’s core value was not Bithynia; it was fulfilling God’s desire to expand His kingdom. Because he didn’t confuse his desire (to go to Bithynia) with his core value (to follow God’s call), Paul sailed straight for Macedonia.

In the great book Built to Last, Jim Collins notes that once a visionary company identifies its core ideology, it preserves it almost religiously – changing it seldom, if ever. Collins concluded that:

core values in a visionary company form a rock-solid foundation and do not drift
with the trends and fashions of the day. In some cases, these core values have
remained in place for over one hundred years. Yet, while keeping their core
ideologies tightly fixed, visionary companies display a powerful desire for
progress that enables them toe change and adapt without compromising their
cherished core ideals.
The point? Capable leaders who recognize their core values can change practices and procedures to enable their organizations to move forward while preserving those same core values.

Like Paul, all godly leaders need the ability to hold on to core values while making those changes necessary to advance their cause.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Change and How It Works as a Leader

Change is tough enough when we’re the only ones involved. But the role of a leader is to bring about change in others and in an organization. All of a sudden, there are more people involved, and this change business just got a lot tougher!

God modeled some powerful principles of organizational change when He urged the exclusively Jewish church in Jerusalem to embrace Gentiles (Acts 10:9-23). This passage shows how God led Peter from being an opponent of change to becoming its champion. Take a look at these 7 principles of change God led Peter to model.

  • God started where Peter was.
  • God allowed Peter to challenge the idea
  • God gave Peter time to work through his resistance
  • God permitted Pete to experiment with small changes first
  • The change proposal was well-prepared
  • God didn’t ask Peter to “change”; He invited Peter to participate in what Peter already loved
  • God convinced a key leader and allowed that leader himself to champion the change

Can you think of a situation today that these principles would be of help to you? If so, then Change Away!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Change and Who You Are

Change and innovation are integral components of both biological and spiritual growth. In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death.
  • If you don’t change, you die.
  • It’s that simple. It’s that scary.
Spiritual growth is more about process than product, because all believers are in a process (whether we resist it or not) of becoming the people God meant us to be. In the same way as biological growth, without change, spiritual growth is impossible.

Consider Abram and the immense change through his encounters with God. This was not simply a shifting of external elements in his life, and adjustment to his schedule. God asked for a complete overhaul of Abram’s career, dreams, and destiny. God even changed his name to Abraham to signify the depth of the change.

When leaders contemplate change, their first consideration must be the anchors that provide stability in a changing environment. Abraham believed in the Lord, and that security allowed him to pursue revolutionary change. Similarly, the Christian life is an ongoing process of change and internal revolution, grounded in the belief that this process is reforming us to become more Christ-like.

How do you find yourself resisting the changes God brings into your life? Do you focus more on process or on product?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Change and Who God Is

Most of us have an aversion to change – especially when things are going relatively well. But we serve a God who says “Behold I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). God is not interested in preserving the status quo; He is committed to nothing less than an entirely new order of creation. It started with the incarnation of His son into our world, and it continues in each of us who become “new” in Him. We are a new creation in Jesus Christ, and should be exhibiting this “newness” each day in different ways.

How are you changing today?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chaordic Churches and Leaders

The book is a little dated, but the content is as current as can be: SoulTsunami, by Len Sweet.

Chapter 10: Get Chaordic, is where I've been spending awhile. Here's a synopsis from the book's website. Take a look at it now - and join me for more of the conversation next week.

Till then, enjoy Resurrection Sunday and celebrate our Risen Lord!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chaordic is a Good Thing

If you always to what you always did you always get what you always got
Good Friday, indeed!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is Your World Chaordic?

It's funny how a word comes to mind in a conversation, and then comes up again in several more conversations throughout the day. Take chaordic, for instance.

In one of my regular mealtime meetings with a good friend of mine who is pastoring a large church, we were talking about church stuff and I tossed out the word "chaordic" as a solution to a question my friend posed. The word was new to him, though my explanation wasn't.

Wikipedia has the following description of chaordic: The mix of chaos and order is often described as a harmonious coexistence displaying characteristics of both, with neither chaotic nor ordered behavior dominating. Some hold that nature is largely organized in such a manner; in particular, living organisms and the evolutionary process by which they arose are often described as chaordic in nature. The chaordic principles have also been used as guidelines for creating human organizations -- business, nonprofit, government and hybrids -- that would be neither hierarchical nor anarchic.

You know - it's one of those things that you can't describe, but you know it when you see it.

Chaordic popped up in no less than three more conversations yesterday: between my wife and I driving to supper; with our small group over our meal; and with the small group in a different use after the meal. It was great conversation, and everyone understands, at least in a little way, more about the times we live in.

I don't do a word of the day, but if I did, chaordic would be it. It's a handy word to toss out in your next conversation. If your listener is over 30, he will have a puzzled look on his face; if she is under 30, it's a synonym for her life.

Are you unsettled by chaordic times - or do you thrive in them?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Making a Difference

Have you made the connection between the time and place in which you live and God’s call upon you? World events never catch God by surprise. Likewise, He placed you precisely where you are for a purpose.

History is filled with examples of Christian men and women who believed that God would work through them to make a significant difference for His kingdom.
  • God place Ester strategically in the king’s court at a crucial time when she could save the lives of God’s people (Esther 4:14).
  • God placed Joseph strategically to become the most powerful adviser to the pharaoh in Egypt and to save Jacob and his family from a devastating drought (Gen. 41:39-40).
Are you allowing your surroundings to determine how you invest your life? Or are you letting God use you to make a difference in your generation? Seek the face and heart of God, that He will reveal His purposes for you and His will for your life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


The way we manage time can be one of the most challenging parts of our work day. Even though no one ever had more day-to-day demands than Jesus did, He moved about His day in peace knowing this one simple truth – there was enough time in the day to do His Father’s will.
-Roy Lessin

God definitely cares about how well a person manages time. Because leaders direct others’ use of time as well as their own, they double their responsibility for wise use of time. The first principle of time management is recognizing the value of time and redeeming it – buying it up and using it carefully as the priceless resource which it represents. Paul puts it succinctly in his letter to the Ephesians:

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
Ephesians 5:15-17, The Message

Are you trying to manage time today? Or, will you redeem the time that God has given you by following His will for your life?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Who is in Your Inner Circle?

Presidential history calls them the “kitchen cabinet” (Andrew Jackson) or the “brain trust” (Franklin Roosevelt). It’s a group of friends and advisors who serve leaders in a unofficial but very influential capacity.

Every leader ought to build an inner circle that adds value to him or her and to the leadership of the organization they serve. John Maxwell suggests the following mix:

  • Creative people
  • Loyal people
  • People who share your vision
  • Wise and intelligent people
  • People with complimentary gifts
  • People with influence
  • People of faith
  • People of integrity
Do those closest to you exemplify these qualities?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Instruction Manual

Today is my son Jonathan’s 28th birthday. As our firstborn, he will always have a special place in my heart. As all kids are, there were times when he challenged my wife and me. Sometimes we didn’t like him – but we always loved him, no matter what.

In one of the more frustrating times of adolescence, we said something like “I wish you would have come with an instruction manual! His immediate reply?

Well, parents don’t come with one either!

Touché! We’ve all come a long way since then. Anita and I have almost 30 years of marriage (that’s 10,711 days-but who’s counting); four children (that’s a bazillion diapers, 24 years of PTA, a garage full of schoolwork-but who’s counting); family expansion (two wonderful young women who really love our sons); and one grandson (this grandparenting gig is wonderful).

Through it all, we’ve looked for that instruction manual (all of the family reads – even our first gift for Jack was a book!). Good stuff to be found, but not the answer we needed.

The answer is in God’s word – it takes the whole Bible to lay it out, and
it will take you all of your life to put it into practice, but the instruction manual for life –
it’s Love.

Happy Birthday, Jonathan!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Be the Church

Today concludes a series of posts celebrating the anniversary of Church Unique, a book by Will Mancini. Mancini, a former pastor, is the founder of Auxano, a national consulting group whose mission is to navigate leaders through growth challenges with vision clarity. Church Unique outlines the processes that Mancini and the “navigators” at Auxano use in working with all types of churches. The book was published a year ago, and is powerfully impacting churches all over the country. Here are some more thoughts from Mancini that you will find applicable to your church.

The idea of the missional church has single-handedly captured the imagination of church leaders of all backgrounds and denominations. But what does it mean? I’ve spoken with pastors and leaders across the country, attended several conferences and workshops, and read more than a dozen books on the topic. Mancini’s definition of missional is a simple, but challenging one:

“Missional” is a way of thinking that challenges the church to re-form and reforge its self-understanding (theologically, spiritually, and socially) so that it can relearn how to live and proclaim the gospel in the world. Church is not something you do or a place you go, but what you are.

Three dynamics illustrate the missional characteristics being seen in churches today.

From Doing to Being
The missional reorientation represents an important shift in focus from methodology to identity. In this post-Christian era, the question of church identity becomes “Now that our influence is gone, how do we reshape our self-understanding so we can be like Christ in the world?”

Attractional vs. Incarnational
Attractional means that the church’s basic strategy for reaching the lost revolves around getting “seekers” or the “unchurched” into the church building. Once inside, the opportunity to present the gospel defines the primary opportunity for evangelism. In contrast, the Incarnational emphasis of the missional mindset focuses on living and sharing the gospel “where life happens.” Importance is placed on the church “disassembling” itself for the primary work of evangelism in the nooks and crannies of everyday life.

Lost People: Prospects, or the People Jesus Misses Most?
A church’s language about the people it wants to reach quickly identifies an attractional or incarnational mind-set. Growing up Southern Baptist (attending, educated, and serving on staff), I am very familiar with the term used: prospects. The implication is that the church defines success as “selling” the church and getting people to join. But the heartbeat of the missional church has found different language to carry a renewed identity of being sent. Jim Henderson, a megachurch pastor and author, suggests that the emphasis in the parables of the lost sheep and coin is not on what they feel, but what God the Father feels. Henderson adapted his language to say that unbelievers are not lost; they are “the people Jesus misses most.” The shift in language assumes that followers of Christ will likewise have people they miss most, and will inspired and oriented towards actions in the lives of these people.

This brief discussion of the missional church is but one of literally dozens of learning opportunities you will find in Church Unique. I encourage all church leaders to obtain this resource immediately, and dive into the discovery process of what makes your church – unique.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Things ain't what they used to be...

...and probably never was!

This comment by humorist Will Rogers in the early part of last century was a biting commentary on the memories of longing for the good old days. Were they actually so good? Or were we remembering a past that never was, longing for a future that could be?

As I noted in yesterday's post, we should have a very high value for our past - celebrating those who labored so diligently to establish the church. While we correctly look back, we must also be looking forward - but in different ways.

When I was in graduate school in the early 80's, strategic planning processes included five-, ten- and sometimes even twenty-year plans. The past was relatively stable, and indicated that things would continue as they were into the future. The assumption was that the near future would resemble the recent past.

Rapid cultural, technological, and geopolitical change has rendered that assumption obsolete. Which leads to another quote from Will Mancini's book Church Unique.

Leaders must focus more on preparation than on planning.
Mancini taps heavily into Reggie McNeal's work here. McNeal is another of my favorite authors. In The Present Future he addresses 6 tough questions for the church. The one of interest here is How do we plan for the future? The short answer, as both Mancini and McNeal elaborate is, you don't plan - you prepare.
Planning on past actions and assumptions will lead you to cultural irrelevance, methodological obsolescence, and missional ineffectiveness. Churches looking to planning like they always have will be left answering the wrong questions at best; at worst, they will be answering questions not asked!
Church Unique is not a road map that assumes predictability of fixed points and roads that stay unchanged over time. Instead, the tools of Church Unique are more like the compass, sextant, and chronometer of the sailor who moves across an ever changing sea. Navigating the waters of today's rapidly changing times requires ceaseless observation and adaption to the surrounding environment.
The better (and biblical) approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Whose Shoulders Do You Stand On?

Will Mancini's ground-breaking book Church Unique has been out a year now, and to celebrate its first anniversary I would like to post a few of the more powerful and leadership-changing quotes. For a quick overview of Church Unique, go here.

Visionary leadership is the art of protecting the past
as we champion the future.
Wherever you stand at the moment, in whatever place you find yourself, if you turn around you will find a large group who have gone before you and prepared the way. Some are there from last week; others are there from a hundred years ago. You would do well as a leader to listen to their voices and learn from them. Bold aspirations must be rooted in the values and visions that have come before.
  • What can we learn from their vision?
  • How does their vision intersect with what God is calling us to do?

By connecting dots with the past, we are bring new meaning to the present and walk into the future with a stronger sense of identity.