Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading the Year Out

The love of reading is a gift given by my father at an early age and one I put to constant use. I'm closing out 2009 with my annual reading post: "How to Read a Book", and my Top 10 Books of the Year.

Reading is more than a hobby to me: it's a passion. To help feed this passion and not go totally broke, I am a frequent visitor to our local library. In 2009, I checked out 130 books, plus dozens of magazines. I also added another few dozen titles to my personal library. I'm grateful for friends who give me books and an editor who regularly sends me publisher's preview copies. In 2010, I'm looking forward to being a part of Multnomah Press's blog tour of their titles. In order to read this much in a year, I've learned a few things.

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

  1. Read the title.

  2. Read the introduction.

  3. Read the Table of Contents.

  4. Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and sub-headings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.

  5. Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.

  6. Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.

  7. Read the first chapter.

  8. 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.

  9. Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.

  10. Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

If a book can capture your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

Another reading guide: if a book doesn't capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading and pick out another one - there are always more waiting for you.

In no particular order, here's my personal Top 10 list of books published in 2009:

  • How the Mighty Have Fallen, Jim Collins

  • Organic Leadership, Neil Cole

  • The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten

  • Strategic Disciple Making, Aubrey Malphurs

  • Real Leaders Don't Do PowerPoint, Christopher Witt

  • Trust Agents, Chris Brogan

  • Word of Mouth Marketing, Andy Sernovitz

  • Start with Why, Simon Sinek

  • Rules of Thumb, Alan Webber

  • Leaders Make The Future, Bob Johansen

As soon as I write the list, I'm not satisfied with it. There are many more candidates that had an impact on me, and literally dozens of books on my "To Read" list I keep in my journal.

A special mention to a visually stunning and intellectually stimulating book: "The Elements", by Theodore Gray.

Reading it - no, gazing at the beautiful pictures of all the known elements - almost makes me want to take Chemistry II!

2010 starts tomorrow - what will you be reading?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Human Element, Part 2

What's going to be the most important thing in ChurchWorld in 2010?

2010 is going to be about "The Human Element". Yesterday I introduced the idea; today, I want to finish my thoughts.

Moving Beyond the Walls
Across the country it seems as if a revival of service is taking place. In churches large and small, in urban and rural areas alike, the people of God are discovering the ministry of service in unique and practical ways. And through it all, the love of God is being offered to people who desperately need it.
What’s the deal? Here’s my take on what’s happening: We typically think of the church as the “gathered” collection of believers in a place and time: usually on Sunday mornings. Powerful worship and illuminating study of the Word of God takes place. Then the church goes home. One week later, repeat. On and on, happily oblivious to the desperate needs outside the church walls. It’s almost as if we live separate lives.Now take another look - the “scattered” church is awakening to the power of God lived out in member’s daily lives. People are realizing that they are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering and serving others as they live out their daily lives.

Entrepreneurial Leaders
“Leadership” in the church is being redefined. Pastoral leadership will continue to take its rightful place in the forefront, but the wise leader will increase her leadership be releasing others to lead. While the previous sentence is “lead” heavy, it is important to the health and vitality of the church that leaders in the body be expanded exponentially, growing themselves as well as duplicating themselves. There is a growing and healthy tension as believers understand their calling and seek to live it out, not only in the church but through the church. The wise pastoral leader will not only welcome this, but do everything possible to encourage it.

“The Human Element” – in all its brightest shining reflections of Christ and in its darkest moments of fallen man – is going to be the most critical happening in the church in 2010.

Do you recognize your church in any of the above? More importantly, do you see yourself as a leader that will lead your people, the body of Christ, forward in achieving what God has called you, and only you, to accomplish?

Welcome to your future!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Human Element, Part 1

What's 2010 going to be like for ChurchWorld?

I'm no fortune teller, but I am 100% sure it will involve people.

2010 is going to be about “The Human Element”. The people of God are going to be the biggest factor in what happens in churches around the world in 2010. Here are a few ideas of how that will come about.

The Divine Model
There are certainly many areas of my belief system that rest on faith, and one of the most prominent has to be the knowledge that Jesus Christ was both the Son of God and a man just like me. When I try to rationalize that and think it through, I always end up puzzled. But if I believe it on faith, I begin to grasp a new appreciation for who Christ is, what He experienced in life on earth, and what that means for us. Nothing we encounter is beyond His comprehension; nothing we do is new ground for Him. Knowing that should give us comfort – we serve a God who has gone before us, marking the path as a guide, and encouraging us to follow Him. Understanding that “His word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path” should give us courage as we embark on being His hands and feet to our world. He has not only been there before, He walks with us in Spirit and in Word.

Body Language
The use of metaphor in scripture is probably at its highest when Paul refers to the church as “the body of Christ”. Where else would we have a walking, living, breathing example of what God intended the church to be? It’s with us 24/7, teaching how we as individual members ought to get along and work together for a common good – the cause of Christ. The people of God should work as smoothly together as our bodies do, each part interacting and living out its unique purpose for the health and well-being of the body as a whole, and not just the individual part. When we act together in unison, the world will take notice.

Understanding What a Church Really Is
The institution of the church is dying; the organism of the body of Christ is awakening from a long sleep. Somewhere in the past, with all good intention, we slowly created the institution of the church and became more concerned with the maintenance of the status quo instead of the mission of God. That is changing rapidly and none too soon. People in the church building are beginning to realize that they are the church, and are doing something about it.

Tomorrow, some additional thoughts about "The Human Element".

Monday, December 28, 2009

Navigating 2010

What’s ahead in 2010 for the church? It’s easy to look back at 2009 and say that 2010 will be more of the same. And it may be just that – a sense of uneasiness and even fear, of things that have been bad and may become worse.

Or it could be exactly the opposite: things have been “bad” long enough and it is time to move forward in a positive direction. Leave the bad news behind by creating good news.

I make no claim to knowing which is right, but I can make an accurate prediction of a common denominator to both the above scenarios, or any other that may actually come true.

2010 is going to be about “The Human Element”. The people of God are going to be the biggest factor in what happens in churches around the world in 2010.

Starting tomorrow, a look at a few ideas of how that will come about. First up? The Divine Model, Body Language, and Understanding What a Church Really Is.

I hope you enjoy!

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Word Became Flesh...

And moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

John 1:14
The Message

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Traditions...Changing

For the first time in 30 years, we are spending Christmas with my children and their families away from our home.

The most important part of our Christmas tradition has been to pick a day and have our own Christmas celebration with our children. It has varied, as early as December 21 and as late as Christmas Eve day. The day is not important; just that we get to spend an unrushed, unhurried day together.

With four children four years apart (the youngest almost 29, the youngest 17) I knew this time would come. Over the past few years we’ve added wives and a grandson, but still have been able to have everyone in our home.

Till this year.

With one son in the restaurant business, and another in the world of theater, the Christmas season is a busy time. Our daughter has been on a mission trip during Christmas break. Our youngest son, though still in high school, has a busy life too. My wife and I are working steadily and busily. We are all grateful to have jobs.

So when we started looking at schedules around Thanksgiving, it became quickly apparent that there was not a single day when all nine of us could be at our home. We thought our treasured tradition was over.

Enter Jonathan, Hallie, and Jack. They invited us all to Boone, and they are hosting us all: GrandBob, Nina, Jason, Jaime, Amy, and Aaron. For most of the day on December 24th, we’re going to be together. In the same place. At the same time. Celebrating Christmas!

Not a new tradition, just changing an old one to make it work – and still be a tradition.

Merry Christmas from the Adams clan!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Services: Making Your First Impression LAST!

Can the church learn anything from Walt Disney, Starbucks, and the Ritz-Carlton? My answer is a resounding YES!

Over the past two years I’ve been working on a project exploring the world of hospitality, looking for key principles that have application to the church world I live and work in. Early motivation for this effort came from great guest experiences over consecutive days from two establishments at opposite ends of the dining spectrum: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Taco Bell. In both instances, the staff went beyond the expectations to deliver exemplary service. You expect it at one, but are surprised at the other, right? Why should price be any indicator of the level of service delivered? What about a place with no "price" at all - the church?

The companies I named in the opening sentence have been my primary research targets, but you could say that the hospitality industry in general is my field of research. My proposition is that the world of restaurants, coffee shops, fine hotels, and the ultimate in customer expectation and experience - Disney - can provide tangible and beneficial principles for the church to adapt in welcoming guests and members alike.

I have had the opportunity to make presentations of this material at the Worship Facilities Expos in Long Beach and Charlotte this year, and at the NACBA annual conference in Long Beach. Reactions and comments have been very positive and encouraging. I have continued to revise and refine the information for application to the local church.

Along the way, I’ve supplemented my research with practical application in my own church: I lead one of the Guest Services (Parking) Teams at Elevation Church’s Uptown location. As the “first face” of Elevation, my crew and I get weekly opportunities to practice guest services and make a lasting first impression.

We don’t just park cars; we:

  • Sanitize all touch points and spray air freshener in the elevator cabs and stairwells of the parking garage we use

  • Pick up trash along the route from the garage to the theater

  • Put up parking signs along the entrances

  • Hold the door for guests coming and going

  • Pull the parking ticket and personally hand it to guests

  • Validate parking for all Elevation guests

  • Provide VIP (our first time guests) and family parking right next to the theater

  • Know what’s going on Uptown so we can help any and everyone who has a question (sporting events, concerts, special activities, etc.)

  • Provide umbrellas to guests in the rain

  • Give a verbal greeting to everyone coming and going

And that’s just the parking crew! Elevation’s audacious Guest Services team also has Greeters, a First Impressions Team, VIP Tent, and Connections Tent. All this BEFORE a guest has stepped into the theater for worship.

You might say Guest Services is a big deal.

I think it is – and you should to.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Leadership = Vision Clarity

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. Will Mancini, founder of The Auxano Group and author of the best-selling book Church Unique states it this way:

Leaders must focus more on preparation than on planning.

Mancini taps heavily into Reggie McNeal's work here. McNeal, a consultant with The Leadership Network, has written several great books. 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 is, as both Mancini and McNeal elaborate, 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 adaptation to the surrounding environment.

The better (and biblical) approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.

As a leader, are you seeking vision clarity first?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Numbers Do Matter...

As outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the twenty-third census of our country will take place this year. Technology will play a larger role than ever, as census data will be collected via hand-held computing devices equipped with GPS. All census data will be a short form with basic questions of name, gender, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship, and housing tenure.

Detailed socioeconomic information collected via long-form during past censuses will continue to be collected through a survey process that will provide community data on a yearly basis.

The US census is at its basic form a national head count. But the ramifications go far beyond that, with one of the most important ones being the number of seats each state receives in the US House of Representatives, starting with the 2012 elections. This also affects the number of votes that states receive in the Electoral College for the 2012 presidential election. Current projections indicate that 11 states will lose one or more seats, with 8 states picking up from 1-4 seats. Geographically, the losers are in the Rust Belt across the Midwest to Northeast, with the winners in the South and West.

This is not a civics lesson, but just a reminder that numbers do matter.

Take the numbers of people in your church, for instance. Not just the raw number, but what that number represents. Do you know the age breakdown of participants? Do you know the geographic clusters of where people live? Do you know the makeup of their families? It’s not just the knowledge of this information – it’s what it represents in ministry potential:

  • Is your congregation young or old or a mixture?
  • What is the age trend?
  • Do people have a 10 minute drive to your church? Longer?
  • What are the ages of children in your church’s families?
  • What do these questions really mean for ministry in your church?

Now for the really important numbers: what about the community your church serves? Ask the same types of questions above, but with a whole new ministry context – is the community your church serves “like” your church, or is it different?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know your church and community pretty well. Like the 2010 Census, there are usually a lot of surprises – just around the corner.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Looking Back: Viewing 2009 in the Rearview Mirror

Most church leaders are all too glad to be bringing 2009 to a close. The economic situation that began in the fall of 2008 is still impacting ministries across the country. While there is no denying the impact of that event, I prefer to take a “glass half full” approach and look at some positive movements in the Body of Christ.

Multi-site churches, servant evangelism, and vision have already been covered. Here is my final look back at 2009 in ChurchWorld:

The Greening of the Church - For me, being green starts with a foundation of stewardship – being responsible for all the resources God has blessed us with. As a church development consultant, I am committed to helping churches maximize their resources for the greatest ministry impact they can possibly have in their community. I believe that an important part of this challenge is to know how you can immediately improve your existing facilities to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. I also know that as you think about planning your next facility expansion, there are many benefits to thinking green.
Why should Your Church go Green?
  • Churches are community examples – people look to their houses of worship and their spiritual centers for guidance. What happens in these places can have a positive ripple effect across the region as homeowners, businesspeople, government workers and others help their own buildings to emulate the ethical example set by the local church.
  • All churches are good candidates for improvements – Most sanctuaries are large spaces used only periodically throughout the week. Something as simple as a programmable thermostat can save hundreds of dollars a year in utility bills. Most church offices are high-traffic, well-used areas where even small changes like weather stripping, Energy Star appliances, or compact fluorescent bulbs would make a huge difference.
  • Church buildings stand for something – Your building was built to the glory of God, the service of humanity, and the potential of the spirit. Inside these buildings we celebrate Creator and His creation. We build a community, the Church. We should be good stewards of all Creation, caring for the earth and one another.

Bottom line? If your church can be more EFFICIENT in its use of resources, then it will be more EFFECTIVE in its ministry endeavors. I encourage you to enter the dialogue about how your church can become a community leader in environmental issues. It really is getting easier to be green!

The past few days I have looked at just a few of the positive movements I see in the church at the end of 2009. I am encouraged by the direction of the church in impacting its community – locally and around the world. There’s plenty of bad news this year, but I think the church, which really has the Good News, is going to provide even greater impact in 2010 – but that’s another story!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Glancing Back at 2009

Most church leaders are all too glad to be bringing 2009 to a close. The economic situation that began in the fall of 2008 is still impacting ministries across the country. While there is no denying the impact of that event, I prefer to take a “glass half full” approach and have been looking this week at some positive movements in the Body of Christ.

Vision – Church leaders are increasingly concerned about their vision. My experience with vision planning matters goes back to seminary in the early 80's: Lyle Schaller, Aubrey Malphurs, Bobb Biehl, Kennon Callahan, Peter Drucker - these were the leaders in the field that we followed. Others have joined them in the years since, but all of these - and especially Malphurs - have influenced my own views of vision planning in the churches I served and in the churches I work with now as a development consultant.

Enter “Church Unique”, by author Will Mancini and the team at the Auxano Group. Church Unique’s approach centers on the powerfully simple concept that God has created all churches as unique. While we understand that God created His world with uniqueness (think snowflakes), and His children (DNA, environment, and culture) the same way, we think that churches are mostly alike. Do you think He would act any different with His church?

Church Unique serves as a map that will help you discover and live a vision that creates a unique church culture in your ministry setting. The book outlines a process that will help you discover, develop, and deliver your unique vision by creating your own Vision Pathway. The clarity and practical application you will realize through this process will take you to new levels of effectiveness and to a lifestyle of visionary leadership.
Leaders realize now more than ever that their vision will not move forward unless it ties into and brings together leadership, communication, processes, environments, and culture. “Church Unique” gives church leaders a practical tool to capture their culture and build a movement that flows into their community with contagious redemptive passion.
Tomorrow's final look back: The Greening of the Church

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking Back at 2009

Most church leaders are all too glad to be bringing 2009 to a close. The economic situation that began in the fall of 2008 is still impacting ministries across the country. While there is no denying the impact of that event, I prefer to take a “glass half full” approach and look at some positive movements in the Body of Christ.

Servant Evangelism – The church is expanding beyond its walls. For far too long the church has been viewed by many as a fort, keeping the inhabitants safe from the dangers outside the walls. Led by a movement of vibrant churches across the country, the church has “left the building.” Across the country it seems as if a revival of service is taking place. In churches large and small, in urban and rural areas alike, the people of God are discovering the ministry of service in unique and practical ways. And through it all, the love of God is being offered to people who desperately need it.

  • In South Bend, IN Granger Community Church has invested heavily in people resources in the downtown area called Monroe Circle. Amazing things have happened there in the last eight years – and it appears that even more amazing things will happen in the future as residents have found faith in Christ and confidence in themselves to start a new life

  • Hundreds of churches in Portland Oregon came together in a “Season of Service” to address five community concerns: homelessness, the medically uninsured, public schools, hunger, and the environment. Over 25,000 volunteers from these churches fanned out across the city in an outpouring of love and generosity that moved the city. Even skeptical city officials were amazed at the outflow, and promised to continue working with the churches to accomplish even greater things. Evangelist Luis Palau, Pastor Rick McKinley of Imago Dei and Pastor John Bishop of Living Hope Church are leading the efforts.

  • Dino Rizzo and the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge LA started a “revolution through serving” several years ago. It has attracted a lot of national attention, and in the week before Easter, churches large and small from one end of the country to the other participated in simple acts of kindness intended to show their communities their unconditional love.

What’s the deal? Here’s my take on what’s happening: We typically think of the church as the “gathered” collection of believers in a place and time: usually on Sunday mornings. Powerful worship and illuminating study of the Word of God takes place. Then the church goes home. One week later, repeat. On and on, happily oblivious to the desperate needs outside the church walls.

It’s almost as if we live separate lives.But now take another look - the “scattered” church is awakening to the power of God lived out in member’s daily lives. People are realizing that they are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering and serving others as they live out their daily lives.

Tomorrow's look back: Vision.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 in the Rear View Mirror

Most church leaders are all too glad to be bringing 2009 to a close. The economic situation that began in the fall of 2008 is still impacting ministries across the country. While there is no denying the impact of that event, I prefer to take a “glass half full” approach and look at some positive movements in the Body of Christ.

Multi-Site – Multi-site churches are becoming the “new normal”: In an effort to adapt to the changing reality of economics, space, and atmosphere, multi-site ministry is becoming more and more prevalent. Consider these quick facts from “The Multi-Site Church Road Trip”, a new book published by the Leadership Network:

  • On a typical Sunday in 2009, some 5 million people attend a multi-site church in the US and Canada.

  • Leaders at some 45,000 churches are “seriously considering adding a worship service at one or more new locations or campuses in the next 2 years.”

  • 37% of megachurches reported being multi-site in 2008, up dramatically from 27% in 2005

Authors Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird toured the country to talk with dozens of churches that are practicing the multi-site model of ministry. Not just limited to large suburban churches, multi-site churches are also found in rural areas and urban centers. They range in size from a few dozen participants to tens of thousands. They also span the globe: it is not unusual for churches in the U.S. to have a campus or two in other countries. While there are many types of multi-sites churches, a basic definition usually includes one church in multiple locations. That being said, there are churches that do not consider themselves “one church” but have multiple sites.

Because the multi-site church is a trend that is changing rapidly, the best source of information is on the Internet: check out for a great start and lots of links to follow.

Tomorrow's look back: servant evangelism.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Matters Now - a Free ebook from Seth Godin

Seth Godin is my favorite author - one who always makes me think. He inspires more "thought per word" than anyone else I read - and I read a lot!

He just released a free ebook entitled "What Matters Now". Here is his post from this morning:

Now, more than ever, we need to shake things up.

Now, more than ever, we need a different way of thinking, a useful way to focus and the energy to turn the game around. I hope a new ebook I've organized will get you started on that path. It took months, but I think you'll find it worth it the effort.

Here are more than seventy big thinkers, each sharing an idea for you to think about as we head into the new year. From bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert to brilliant tech thinker Kevin Kelly, from publisher Tim O'Reilly to radio host Dave Ramsey, there are some important people riffing about important ideas here. The ebook includes Tom Peters, Jackie Huba and Jason Fried, along with Gina Trapani, Bill Taylor and Alan Webber.

Here's the deal: it's free. Download it here. You can find an easy to use version on Scribd as well and from wepapers. Please share.
Enjoy thinking...

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Second Half of Marriage, Part 2

The second half of your marriage (when the kids leave home, and/or when you are helping with your own parent's lifestyle decisions) can be a time of incredible fulfillment, no matter what challenges you previously faced.

It can be a time of learning about each other and about God's long-term plans for your marriage. And a time of building together - sharing dreams, making commitments, and working towards a more satisfying union.

Having just celebrated my 30th anniversary on December 8, I sought out resources to help answer this question:

How can we make the second half of our marriage even better than the first?

David and Claudia Arp's book "The Second Half of Marriage" has provided a lot of helpful guidance in starting out on the journey of the second half of marriage. Yesterday, I posted four strategies they outline in their book. Here, in their own words, are the final four:
  1. Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse. Now is a great time to deepen your friendship with each other and stretch your boundaries to prevent boredom. Think of ways to put more fun in your marriage.
  2. Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship. Many people assume that as people grow older they lose interest in sex, but our survey results suggest otherwise. The quality of your love life is not so much a matter of performance as it is an integral part of the relationship. Take care of your health and renew romance even while acknowledging the inevitable changes that come with aging.
  3. Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children. Release your children, then reconnect with them on an adult level. At the same time, your relationship with your parents may need a little altering, too. The effort you expend in forging better relationships with loved ones on both ends of the generational seesaw is well worth it.
  4. Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage. Research indicates that most people, as they age and consider death, become more religious because they think more about what it all means. Why not consider this time of transition as an opportunity to talk more openly and regularly about your relationship with Christ: what it means, why it matters, and what it means for your marriage? Take time to serve others, too, and pass along some of the wisdom you have gained.

In addition to the wealth of material in the book, the Arps provide additional resources through their Marriage Alive website.

It's day 10,961 for Anita and me - and our journey together continues!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Second Half of Marriage, Part 1

How can you make the second half of your marriage better than the first?

That question looms large in my mind as Anita and I celebrated our 30th anniversary on December 8. Loosely defined, the second half of marriage comes when your kids have left (or almost left) home; it may also be marked by decisions a couple is making about their parent's health and lifestyle.

We've got both.

I found a great resource to help begin charting this journey: David and Claudia Arp's wonderful book "The Second Half of Marriage". In their own words, here are the first four (of eight) strategies that will help every long-term couple make the most of their marriage:

  1. Let go of past marital disappointments, forgive each other and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best. Are you willing to let go of unmet expectations and unrealistic dreams? Or your mate's little irritating habits that don't seem to be disappearing? Giving up lost dreams and overlooking each other's imperfections are positive steps toward forgiving past hurts and moving on in your marriage.
  2. Create a marriage that is partner-focused rather than child-focused. The tendency, once the kids leave, is to focus on new activities rather than on each other, but these activities can keep you from crafting a more intimate relationship. Try to focus more time and attention on your spouse.
  3. Maintain effective communication that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys and concerns. Sometimes what worked when the kids were home doesn't work as well now that the kids are gone. After all, you always had the children to talk about. Now that it's just the two of you, you might need to upgrade your communication skills.
  4. Use anger and conflict creatively to build your relationship. With the kids gone, many couples find that issues they assumed were resolved resurface. Certain negative patterns of interaction that developed over the years can be deadly for an empty-nest marriage. Learn how to deal with issues and process anger in ways that build your relationship.

Tomorrow, the other four strategies from "The Second Half of Marriage", as well as some other resources and ideas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

30 Years and It's Just Halftime!

Entrepreneur and successful businessman Bob Buford is well known for founding not only the Leadership Network but the Halftime® organization. Halftime was founded on the principle that successful individuals often have a deep desire to have a second half life rich in eternal significance.

The Halftime® organization is, in essence, a community of individuals together seeking to support, encourage, learn and accelerate the attainment of a life that is truly significant. People who in this category are not alone: More than 12,000 people turn 50 each day in America, and a Harvard-Met Life study shows that more than half of these individuals want more meaning and significance in the second half. But this is still a very new phenomenon. Along with a companion organization, SuccesstoSignificance, the two groups help marketplace leaders redefine success and reorient their priorities, they can make an enormous impact on their communities and the world at large.

But this post is not about the second half of life as described above – it’s about the second half of marriage. Loosely defined, that would be the time of marriage after children have left home and begun their journey into adulthood. It’s also characterized by elderly parents needing more attention for health and lifestyle issues.

When children begin leaving the nest, and a couple’s parents need care, marriages change. Like many times of change, couples are often unprepared for those changes.

Having just celebrated thirty years of marriage, and just beginning to enter into the scenarios described above, I thought it very worthwhile to investigate this stage of marriage. Tomorrow, I will start a two-day look at a great resource for couples who find themselves getting ready for the second half of marriage.

It's going to be an interesting journey!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

10,958 Days

WOW! 30 years ago today, at 3 PM, Anita and I were married. That’s a long time, and it was just yesterday.

The first time I met Anita she had me washing dishes – it was at the 1976 Mid-Winter Retreat at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. She was the Tenn Tech BSU Hostess, and I was a visiting my brother for the weekend. Being a lowly senior in high school, I was assigned to the kitchen crew doing dish duty. I recognized Anita as a sister in Christ, and a seed was planted there, even though it took both of us several years to realize.

I ended up at Tenn Tech that fall and it was through college BSU activities that I began to know Anita first as a friend. We traveled in different circles, but occasionally those circles touched, and over a two year period God began to draw us together.

Our first “date” was at the BSU Spring Banquet in 1978. She graduated that June, began her career as an accountant in Nashville, and I remained at TTU. We began dating, and gradually, those circles became smaller, and eventually overlapped.

While serving as a summer missionary in 1979, I knew beyond a doubt that she was the one. While racking up huge long distance phone bills, we knew that we were going to be married that year. Anita became my fiancée at the end of the summer, and we set our wedding for late in the year.

We had a large wedding, with friends and family coming together for a joyous celebration service in Goodlettsville, TN. On that day, Anita became my wife.

After a honeymoon over the Christmas break, Anita moved back to Cookeville while I finished TTU. During my summer missionary service, I knew God was calling me to continue my education at Southern Seminary. Graduation from TTU came in December 1980 but entrance to seminary was delayed until the following fall – we were expecting our first child!

Jonathan was born in April 1981, Jason in September 1984, Amy in October 1988, and Aaron in November 1992. We moved several times to different places of service over three states, eventually ending up in Huntersville NC in 1995. Anita’s added role as mother was a natural fit, and our family times over the years remain some of my strongest memories.

In 2008, a new part of our family began: Jonathan and Hallie had a son, named Jack. Anita had become Nina (no grandma or granny – she’s too young!). Jason married Jaime, and Anita became a mother-in-law. Our family had grown and spread out, from WV to Boone to Buies Creek, with us still in Huntersville.

So, here we are at 10,958 days – and counting! Anita and I have been on quite a journey of relationships over those days. We haven’t moved from one to the other, but added to each along the way:

Sister - Friend - Fiancée - Wife - Mother - Nina - Mother-in-Law

Marriage is a journey, not a destination. I thank God that Anita chose to walk with me, and I thank Him for the gift He gives me daily.

I love you, A – and can’t wait for the next step tomorrow – and beyond!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Innovation, Relevance, and the Church: Paradox in Action?

One of the paradoxes of the church today is that it demands continual innovation yet often resists change.

In an effort to keep pace with fast-changing culture, churches of all types and sizes often implement various levels of change in order to reach the unchurched. These changes range from the relatively minor (different times and days for worship, different styles of worship) to the really edgy (launching an Internet campus, using building funds for missional activities and meeting outdoors).

But in ChurchWorld, there is no such thing as a minor change. Moving a worship time back one hour to accommodate another, different type of service can be very threatening to members who have grown used to patterns of attendance. And I won’t even start on worship styles!

On the other hand, churches – especially those started in the last decade or so – have so integrated innovation and change into their DNA that they are continually pushing the envelope of ministry possibilities in order maintain relevance in society.

The following quotes from Tim Manners, author of Relevance; editor and publisher of Cool News of the Day, and regular contributor to Fast Company magazine provide some things for church leaders to think about:
  • Sustaining relevance can require a kind of innovation in reverse: finding new ways to continue doing things the way they’ve always been done.
  • Relevance is designing and implementing meaningful solutions and providing them when and where people need them most.
  • If some is good, more isn’t necessarily better. A disciplined focus on what matters most is essential to innovation and growth.

What, then, is the approach church leaders need to take when it comes to innovation? There certainly aren’t any easy answers, and every church must decide for itself how much and how fast it is going to innovate. But to me, the church is a living, breathing organism –the Body of Christ. If living things don’t constantly change, they die. It’s that simple. Craig Groeschel summed it up pretty good: “To reach people no one else is reaching, we’ve got to do things no one else is doing.”

How are you dealing with the paradox of innovation and resistance to change in your church?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My Son, the Hooker

That would be a rugby position, don't you know!

After playing soccer since he was 5, Aaron made the switch to rugby full-time this year. He plays for the North Mecklenburg High School team, wearing the #2 jersey.

The hooker position is in the center of the front line. It requires superior hand-eye and foot-eye coordination, flexibility, agility, upper body strength, and quickness. Powerful legs are also an asset.

At 5'6" and 190 lbs. Aaron fits the bill. He can drive the ball forward in a pile of opposing players, often carrying three or more with him.

The pictures are after a game in the rain and cold today. He had already turned his jersey in, but it was covered in mud as well.

It's literally a whole new game, as we are learning new positions, plays, strategy, field layouts - everything.

It's going to be an interesting year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's Your Biggest Challenge for 2010?

2009 is winding down and 2010 is looming large. For ChurchWorld leaders, December is a busy time of year; most of you just want to survive! I would like for you to think in different terms:

What's going to be your biggest challenge in 2010?

I'd like to know. Leave a comment or send me an email. Your responses, and those of other thought leaders across the country, will form a series of posts next week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Leader's Legacy

I was still thinking about "legacy" from yesterday's post, so I turned to John Maxwell's writings for a few more thoughts on what it means to create a legacy - in the present tense.

The most strategic expression of Moses' leadership had to be his training of Joshua. Through that training, Joshua became a key element in Moses' legacy.

Joshua finished the task that Moses started: leading the people from Egypt into the Promised Land. This was definitely a joint effort: Moses' example and equipping AND Joshua's hunger and giftedness.

Notice the way Moses passed along his legacy:

  1. Moses empowered Joshua and have him authority (Num.27:20)
  2. Moses gave Joshua experience and opportunities for application (Num. 27:21-22)
  3. Moses gave Joshua encouragement and affirmation (Num. 27:23)

Because Moses spent the time necessary to equip Joshua, his dream of Israel entering the Promised Land came to pass even though he did not personally see it happen.

Now that's a lesson in legacy building! How are you going to put it into practice?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


With apologies to Mr. Webster, I think it’s time to create a new definition of legacy – as in “living legacy”.

The term “legacy” is almost always thought of in the past tense – if not in terms of a deceased’s gift to heirs, then actions or memories of a person no longer in a position to have an impact any longer. This is a correct and proper use of the word, but I would like to suggest that legacy is actually much richer in terms of the present.

I benefited from growing up in a home where Christian values were both taught and lived out daily. My parent’s legacy, then, was expressed in actions right before my eyes. Even in their mid-80s, my parents are still imparting wisdom to me – they are living out a legacy. But I was also impacted in profound ways by other adults along my life’s journey who lived out a legacy of faith that was powerfully impacting in my faith development.

I have four children, whom I love dearly. With two of them out of the house with families of their own, the third well on the way as a senior in college, and the fourth a junior in high school, I realize my significant impact on them has already occurred. But my legacy to them lives on in the way they interact with others around them. It’s not finished; it’s just a different perspective, still very much alive.

The community of faith we live in – our church family as a whole, and in smaller groups even more so – is a legacy builder in just as strong a fashion as a parent. I have noticed it even more as my children have grown into young adulthood – there are men and women who impact their lives in a regular and intentional way. These godly leaders and friends are continuing to shape the legacy of those around them. As a parent, I appreciate the close friendships and time these “legacy builders” are investing. In ways that I, even as a parent, can never do, they are living a legacy that is shaping my children’s lives. In quiet but powerful demonstrations of love, they are passing on a heritage of faith through the lives they live day in and day out – often unnoticed by others, but truly a treasure of the Kingdom of God.

Sister, brother in the faith: you are a living legacy to those around you – even when you don’t realize it. Keep true to your Lord’s guiding hand, and know that you are loved and appreciated beyond words.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fridge Art

Our four children range in ages from 17 to almost 29, so it's been awhile since there has been any artwork on our fridge.

That's changed.

Proudly posted on our fridge is the first of what I'm sure will be many masterpieces by our grandson Jack.

Think what you will, those scribbles on the paper represent unlimited potential for Jack. He has loving parents, doting grandparents, and a gleam in his eye.

That's what being 20 months old is all about...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spiritual Redwoods

Images are often powerful reminders of our past. One of my boyhood memories is that of eagerly anticipating the monthly delivery of “National Geographic” magazine. The familiar yellow border outlining an amazing photo was my ticket for travel around the country and the world. It’s a pleasure I enjoy to this day, as one of our family continues give the magazine as a gift each year. I keep them all – now going on 30 years, plus dozens of other pre-1979 issues I have picked up at occasional yard sales (but that’s another story!).

The October 2009 issue has a striking image of a redwood tree on it. As soon as I saw the magazine in its shrink-wrapped shipping bag, I was transported back to first grade show and tell: my crude drawing of a redwood tree, taken from a July 1964 NG story. I filed that thought away, and not long afterwards, had the occasion to visit my boyhood home in Tennessee. I asked my dad about that magazine, and sure enough, he had kept the magazines too! I pulled the issue off the shelf and thumbed through it, gazing again at living giants thousands of years old, comparing them to the same family of trees 45 years later. While I enjoyed that trip down memory lane, there was still something tugging at my thoughts.

When I returned home, I searched my library and found the answer: “Growing Spiritual Redwoods” by William Easum and Thomas Bandy. Published in 1997, it was a striking call for church leaders to understand the new paradigm the church was entering. They likened the healthy church to a redwood tree. I remember reading the text when it first came out, and my copy bore highlighted sections, Post-It© Notes, and scribbles throughout.

Using the metaphor of the redwood tree, the authors described the growing and healthy church as follows:

  • They stand taller than any other tree, but their visibility is less a function of the numbers of their adherents, and more the magnitude of their ministries

  • They hold aloft an enormous umbrella of intertwined branches, which shelter a huge diversity of life in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect

  • They are resistant to crisis from beyond and disease from within. Political winds do not break them, and ideological fires cannot burn them down

  • They put down strong, extensive root systems that intertwine with those of other Redwoods. They draw nutrition from unexpected sources, and reach out into unlikely places

  • They regenerate in abundance. Not only do seeds initiate new life across the forest floor, but they sprout vigorously even from the stumps of felled trees

What can you learn from the redwood tree?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who Killed Change?

Every day organizations around the world launch change initiatives – often big, expensive ones – designed to improve the status quo. According to leadership expert Ken Blanchard, 50 to 70 percent of these change efforts fail. A few perish suddenly, but many die painful, protracted deaths that drain the organization’s resources, energy, and morale.

In his recent book “Who Killed Change?” Blanchard offers a murder mystery setting investigating the death of another change. One by one, a list of thirteen suspects are interviewed, with the startling conclusion: they all contribute to the change process.

  • Culture-the predominate attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that characterize change
  • Commitment-a person’s motivation and confidence to engage in new behavior required by the change initiative
  • Sponsorship-senior leader who has formal authority to deploy resources toward change initiative
  • Change Leadership Team-group of leaders with day-to-day responsibilities for executing change leadership strategies
  • Communication-effective communication is critical
  • Urgency-why change is needed and how quickly people must change
  • Vision-clear and compelling vision allows people to see themselves succeeding
  • Plan-A plan is important, but the process of planning is even more so
  • Budget-analyze change from financial perspective, allocating limited resources to ensure healthy return on investment
  • Trainer-provides learning experiences to develop skills needed to lead change
  • Incentive-reinforces the desired behaviors and results that enable change
  • Performance management-process that sets goals and expectations regarding behavior and results
  • Accountability-process of following through with people to ensure behaviors and results are in line with agreed upon goals and expectations

Blanchard’s bottom line: Change can be successful only when the usual characters in an organization combine their unique talents and consistently involve others in initiating, implementing, and sustaining change.

Change is a very present reality in today’s culture – and in churches just like yours. How are you dealing with change in your church? Are you part of the process that will make change succeed? Or are you one of the suspects that will contribute to its death?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The High Cost of a Left Hand Turn

It’s about eight million dollars a year – at least on the scale of the operations of UPS and its fleet of over 95,000 trucks. It seems that in today’s troubled economy, the importance of the bottom line is becoming increasingly critical to organizations of all sizes.

No doubt you have experienced sitting in a left-turn lane, waiting on the light to change so you can make your turn. It’s a waste of time and money – not much of either on an individual scale, but if you are big enough, say the size of delivery giant UPS, all those pennies begin to add up.

This realization — that when you operate a gigantic fleet of vehicles, tiny improvements in the efficiency of each one will translate to huge savings overall — is what led UPS to limit the number of left-hand turns its drivers make.

The company employs what it calls a “package flow” software program, which among other highly-efficient practices involves the packing and sorting of its cargo, mapping out routes for every one of its drivers, and drastically reducing the number of left-hand turns they make (taking into consideration, of course, those instances where not to make the left-hand turn would result in a ridiculously circuitous route).

In a recent report, UPS revealed that the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas (at today’s average price, that’s almost the above mentioned eight million dollars) and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons. That’s significant.

Your organization is probably a fraction the size of UPS. You don’t have the economies of scale to gain such huge benefits. But look beyond the specifics to the principles behind this action:
  • You are probably not operating at peak efficiencies of your ministry, people, facility, and financial resources
  • Your bottom line could probably use a boost these days
  • You probably have people in your congregation that could help you analyze your operations to look for improvements in efficiencies

The question is, are you willing to “pay the price” to gain the benefits?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Think Urgency, Not Panic

Due to family genetics plus a serious passion for chocolate, I have to be concerned about my cholesterol. I soon learned that there was “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and that to be healthier, I needed to increase the good and decrease the bad.

According to noted leadership guru John Kotter, there are also two kinds of urgency – and like cholesterol, one is good and one is bad. The good kind is characterized by constant scrutiny of external promise and peril. It involves relentless focus on doing only those things that drive your organization forward, and doing them right now, if not sooner. The bad kind, which has been on everyone’s mind for months now, is panic-driven and characterized by frantic activity which generates a lot of heat and motion but no substance.

Interviewed in a recent Inc. magazine article, and recalling sections of his book “A Sense of Urgency,” Kotter thinks that most of what we see now is a lot of people running around trying to come up with solutions. Calling that “ineffectual at best,” he feels this type of activity is driven by a fear of losing. Want to change that? Develop a gut-level determination to win and to make absolutely sure that you and your leaders do something every single day to keep pushing your goal forward. That, Kotter says, is true urgency.

What about ChurchWorld? What do you see when you look around? Frenetic activity? Totally exhausted leaders, working long hours trying to keep ministry efforts going? Difficulty in scheduling meetings to work things out? Check this thought out: true urgency will cause people to leave plenty of white space on their calendars, because they recognize the important stuff – the stuff they need to deal with immediately – is going to happen, most times unplanned.

That’s exponentially true in the ministry world. Interruptions and people in crisis are our ministry, and only if you have margin in your life can you deal effectively and with Christ-like love.

Don’t panic – but lead with urgency. True urgent leadership doesn’t drain people, but energizes them. It makes them feel excited to be a part of an organization that is moving forward with purpose, even audacity, in times like these. Now that’s a group I want to be a part of!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Focus on the Ultimate to Make Your Vision Sharp

What does it take to gain the focus required to become a truly effective leader? The Apostle Paul had absolute focus on his mission – a focus that enabled him to let go of everything that was not critical to his mission. In Philippians 3:5-9, Paul willingly discarded his heritage, his lineage, his former legalism, and his past zeal in order to advance his mission.

Paul’s focus was so sharp that he discarded everything he once counted gain. But he goes beyond that: he counted everything as garbage for the sake of obtaining Christ.

Leaders who want to change the world need to have this same kind of sharp focus. The keys are priorities and concentration. A leader who knows his priorities but lacks concentration knows what to do, but never gets it done. A leader with concentration but no priorities has excellence without progress. But when leaders harness both, they gain the potential to achieve great things.

John Maxwell, writing in “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” says that leaders base their decisions on a variety of things:
  • The Ultimate – First things first
  • The Urgent – Loud things first
  • The Unpleasant – Hard things first
  • The Unfinished – Last things first
  • The Unfulfilling – Dull things first

Paul exemplifies a leader who focused on the ultimate every day. How about you? To get back on track with your focus, work on these items:

  • Work on yourself: you are your greatest asset or worst liability
  • Work on your priorities: fight for the important ones
  • Work in your strengths: you can reach your potential if you do
  • Work with your colleagues: you can’t be effective alone

Focus on the ultimate, and your vision will become sharper.

Monday, November 16, 2009

3D Leadership Vision

Earlier this year my family and I saw our first digital 3D movie – G Force. The movie was fun entertainment for a family night, but what captivated me most was the use of the latest technology to show a film in 3 dimensions, giving a richness and depth to the movie.

The thought later occurred to me that leaders, too, have to work in 3 dimensions to have richness and depth. These 3 dimensions are not length, width, and depth, but 3 representations of time: past, present, and future. A wise leader recognizes the importance of all three:

  • Past is history
  • Present is reality
  • Future is opportunity

History – Every past success and failure can be a source of information and wisdom – if you allow it to be. The wise leader learns both from success and failure. Don’t be satisfied with your successes, and don’t be dismayed by your failures. History is important: it is not a rock to hold on to, but a bridge to the future.

Reality – No matter what a leader learns from the past, it will never tell you all you need to know for the present. The wise leader is constantly gathering information from many sources about what’s going on in the here and now – because that’s where we are at. They ask others on their team, they talk with their peers; they look to other leaders for insight. Wise leaders also become students of the culture they are seeking to minister to.

Opportunity – Wise leaders see tomorrow before it arrives. They have a vision for a preferable future, they understand what it will take to get there, they know who they will need to be on the team to be successful, and they recognize obstacles long before they become apparent to others.

The 3D movie I saw required me to wear special glasses; even then the view was only an illusion of depth. Wise leaders will understand the three dimensions of past, present, and future, and realize they are not an illusion, but a powerful force that will help them lead others with real depth and dimension.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Could You Accomplish If You Weren't So Busy?

Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things (Stephen Covey, First Things First).

We live, work, and minister in a 24/7 world today. Demands on your time come from every direction-family, friends, work, and church. How can you keep pace – how can you manage time? Here’s a big clue: time can’t be managed. The idea that you can manage something that is unchanging and fixed is almost ridiculous. But the very idea that you can manage time has been a staple of leadership development for years – and where has it gotten you? Have you ever thought about the expenditure of your time, and how it might be redirected from the urgent to the important?

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “the tyranny of the urgent.” That’s when a task calls for instant action – even when you had planned to do other, more important things. Crises, pressing problems, deadlines, meetings…church leaders know what the tyranny of the urgent is all about! While many things can’t be planned for and must be dealt with as they come up, many times important things become urgent through procrastination, or because we don’t do enough prevention and planning.

But what about the important things in life, work, and ministry? Things like relationship-building, meditation, planning and preparation for future events, skill development, mentoring, etc. How do they fit into your busy schedule – if at all?

God has given us many gifts – not the least of which is a whole new 24 hours each day. In Psalm 90:12, Moses (as he leads the children of Israel on a 40-year “tyranny of the urgent” exercise in futility) cries out to God:

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom

We can employ the skills and principles of time management, use the latest technology to integrate our calendars into every aspect of our lives, and employ a better scheduling system. But all are of little benefit until we understand the value of time. We measure the value of time by how we spend it, not how we schedule it. Knowing the difference is wisdom!

Embracing our time on earth as a limited resource and a gift from God has incredible power to liberate us to attend to the really important things in our lives.

What time is it…for you?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wheat and Weeds

When do churches cross the culture line?

This question has been on my mind a great deal in the last week as I continue to process all the events of Catalyst with my consulting work with churches. On the one hand, there is the powerful call to the simplicity of the Gospel, as so clearly articulated by speaker after speaker. When we are obedient to God's calling and follow His command to live out the Gospel, we will see lives changed by the simple, powerful proclamation of the Word.

But on the other hand, the Church today pulses with the heartbeat and power of a new energy, based on the power of the gospel, led by the Spirit, and articulated in methods almost beyond imagination: multimillion dollar complexes that cater to the every need of a participant; music and technological productions that rival (and often exceed) the best Hollywood and Broadway have to offer; community/social/fellowship “third places” that take their cues straight from the corporate menus of Starbucks and the like. Have we crossed over the culture line?

Over 50 years ago Yale professor H. Richard Niebuhr delivered a series of lectures that resulted in his book Christ and Culture – still one of the most influential Christian books of the past century. Niebuhr’s five classifications of Christ and culture continue to serve as the foundational thought and reference point about the intersection of Christianity and culture. Here’s a very simplified version:
  • Christ against culture – the world outside the church is hopelessly corrupted by sin; God calls His people to come out from the world and be separate.
  • Christ above culture – all good in human culture is a gift from God, but requires Christian revelation and the involvement of the church.
  • Christ transforming culture – nothing is outside of Christ’s dominion, and all of society is to be reclaimed in His name.
  • Christ and culture in paradox – Christians live in tension knowing that God ordained worldly institutions, but God’s kingdom is in the world here and now.
  • Christ of culture – there is a harmony of both, with Christians seeking the highest moral and spiritual common ground between the two.

Christ and culture in paradox immediately resonate with me. As soon as I see the words, I connect with Jim Collins’ book “Built to Last” with his powerful chapter on The Genius of the “And”. In business, he found that successful companies no longer were forced into an either/or situation. Instead, they embraced the paradox of both/and.

That leads me to the sower parables of Jesus: God plants wheat in the field, but his enemy comes along and plants weeds. The natural thought is to pull the weeds as soon as you can distinguish them, but the wise farmer lets them both grow to harvest time.

God calls us into the difficult world of the paradox, where values, intentions, and visions often compete with the world. But we also have faith and hope that His promise will come about, and what is confusing now will be crystal clear then.

Continue to plant wheat, but beware of the weeds, and wait for the harvest.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Play the Way You're Facing

As the father of four children, I suppose it was inevitable that they would become involved in sports, and therefore I would be involved in coaching their teams. My initial adventure in coaching was with my oldest son in pee wee basketball, coaching a coed team of first-third graders. After three years of that, he migrated to soccer and I began a ten year soccer coaching career with all four kids: team manager, assistant coach, and coach, with teams ranging from a preschool beginning team to an senior high old classic team – and everything in-between. From 5 year old “herd” ball to 16 year old girl’s recreation to 18 year old classic, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Not growing up with soccer, it was pretty much on-the-job training for me. I read the books, watched the CDs, went to training classes, and got the coaching certifications. Practices for my teams were all the same: learn the game, learn to play together, and have fun doing it. In spite of the practices, hard work, and game plans, when game day rolled around and the first whistle blew, it was like a blank canvas for a painter: where do you go from here?

Sometime along that coaching journey, I picked up a saying that became my favorite instruction as a coach, whether on the practice field or in a game situation:

Play the way you’re facing

In soccer you must be prepared for instant action no matter what the situation. Your opponent may be driving down the field, heading toward your goal; you may be set to defend them one way but a sudden pass finds a whole new situation confronting you. You don’t have time to call a timeout, put in new players, and start a new play. The situation calls upon your instincts and training and awareness of your surroundings. You have to play the way you’re facing, and make the best out of it.

Isn’t it like that in ChurchWorld too? We have our long-range plans and strategic actions and bold initiatives and so on. More often than not, the world doesn’t work like that. New challenges can arise overnight. A crisis doesn’t wait on us; we have to meet it head-on. At that point, your leadership team can’t call a time out to let you regroup and develop a new action plan.

Church leadership is at its very best when the skills and characteristics instilled in the normal everyday learnings of a disciple are allowed to mature and be put into practice when the situation demands it. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but we know the Creator and Lord of the days. If we are obedient to Him, He will see us through any circumstance, all the way to the other side.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Do You Have 20-20 Leadership Vision?

Have you had a vision check-up recently?

Not seeing-with-your-eyes vision, but leadership vision.

No matter what your definition of leadership vision, you inevitably see it through a lens and a filter.

An optical lens is a device with perfect or approximate symmetry which transmits and reflects light, converging or diverging the beam. Your leadership lens (you may have more than one) works in a similar fashion, allowing you to focus in on a specific matter on one hand, while sometimes causing you to lose focus on others.

An optical filter is a device that selectively transmits light having certain properties while blocking the remainder. Your leadership filters work-consciously or unconsciously-to let some things register while keeping out others.

What lens are you looking at your world through?

What filters do you view reality through?

Knowing the answers to those two questions won't give you 20-20 leadership vision, but to trying to lead without an awareness of your lens and filters will surely cause leadership myopia at best, and leadership blindness at worst.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street

Sesame Street Turns 40 Tomorrow

Sesame Street DVDs now come with a warning label. According to the New York Times, the release of Volumes 1 and 2 of the perennial children’s favorite contains the following: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.” Gen X parents all over the country are now faced with a dilemma – do they view these videos with their Gen Z kids?

On November 10, 1969 sunny days hit the airwaves of public television for the first time. We were introduced to a cast of real and make-believe characters who interacted throughout all the situations of a typical brownstone in the Upper West Side of New York City. Reality television? NOT!

“The people on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, even funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading. Don’t tell the kids.”

Fast forward to 2009: churches all over the country are now focusing on children’s ministries which use multi-sensory communication of the Bible lesson. Not content to have children sit in chairs in rows facing a teacher who reads a lesson and asks questions, many churches now have some variation of the following:

  • Classrooms transformed into biblical scenes duplicating a Palestinian village or a hillside outside Galilee through the use of theatrical sets
  • Costumes and short dramas (for both teachers and children) to communicate the stories of the Bible
  • Props that visually reinforce the Bible story

This multi-sensory environment is a product of the Sesame Street generation: puppets popping out of trash cans, windows, and all over the set to interact with real people. Today’s adults grew up on it; now they are refining it for their children and taking the concept to even higher levels.

Current approaches to ministry with children can be grouped into three broad areas of secular media classifications:

  • Sesame Street – a cognitive learning style
  • Disney – an entertainment learning style
  • Nickelodeon – a multi-sensory style

It’s beyond the intent of this post to analyze the pros and cons of each, but consider this:
Research from the Center on Missional Research indicates that all the high quality programming utilizing and dynamic activities is great and very effective in reaching children (and their parents), but it never seems to be enough.

Churches having a life-changing impact with their children are the ones that connect children to one another and have adult leaders (and/or mature older students) who regularly interact and care for them. Despite all the pizzazz and glitz of incredible programs, mentoring seems to be the key to sustained, effective evangelism among children.

I think Gordon may have had it right after all. Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Skills to Make the Future, Part 2

It's a VUCA world out there, according to Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future. We live in a time of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity - and it will only continue to increase in the future.

In his recent book "Leaders Make the Future", Johansen lists 10 new skills that leaders need to develop in order to help make the future. I listed the first five yesterday; here are the final five.

  • Constructive Depolarizing - the ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down - and bring people from divergent cultures toward constructive engagement.
  • Quiet Transparency - the ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you - without advertising yourself.
  • Rapid Prototyping - the ability to create quick early versions of new innovations, with the expectations that later success will require early failure.
  • Smart Mob Organizing - the ability to bring together, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social-change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media.
  • Commons Creating - the ability to stimulate, grow, and nurture shared assets that can benefit other players - and allow competition at a higher level.

Nobody can predict the future, but the four-decade long track record of forecasts of Johansen and his colleagues at the Institute for the Future are plausible and consistent views of what might happen. I found the book (and additional research of the Institute) to be a fascinating journey into a new land of leadership skills - one that all leaders need to be making.

Johansen wrote the following in his introduction: The space between judging too soon (the classic mistake of problem solvers) and deciding too late (the classic mistake of academics) is a space leaders of the future must love - without staying there too long. Leaders need to reflect on the future, but they must also make decisions in the present.

Where do you find yourself in that continuum? Do you want to be somewhere else?

Then create your own future!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Skills to Make the Future, Part 1

It's a whole new world out there - and it's changing more rapidly than ever. The dilemma we confront, the workforces we lead, the technologies we use, and our organizational lives will continue to change sharply in the decade ahead.

Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow with the Institute for the Future, has written a fascinating book on the development of a new set of new skills that are uniquely suited to the "threshold" decade ahead. It's called "Leaders Make the Future". Here is a summary of the first five skills; the remainder will come tomorrow.

  • Maker Instinct - the ability to turn one's natural impulse to build into a skill for making the future and connecting with others in the making. The maker instinct is basic to leadership in the future.
  • Clarity - the ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. Leaders are very clear about what they are making, but very flexible about how they get it made.
  • Dilemma Flipping - the ability to turn dilemmas - which, unlike problems, cannot be solved - into advantages and opportunities.
  • Immersive Learning Ability - the ability to dive into different-for-you physical and online worlds, to learn from them in a first person way.
  • Bio-empathy - the ability to see things from nature's point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from nature's patterns. Nature has its own clarity, if only we humans can understand and engage with it.

Johansen places the development of theses skills in what he labels the VUCA world: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It's a world that has both danger and opportunity, and one that requires learning new skills in order to make a better future.

Can you find room in your busy schedule to learn these new skills?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

World Architecture Festival

The annual World Architecture Festival opens today in Barcelona, Spain. At this year's festival, nearly all the showcased projects were designed with sustainability in mind. And with good reason - while cars and airplanes may get all the press about being energy hogs, buildings win hands down:

Keeping our offices and homes lit, heated, and cooled accounts for a staggering 72% of electricity consumption and 38% of all carbon emissions in the U.S.

Green building is more than just a trend - it's becoming a requirement.

Church facilities are no exception. At last week's Worship Facilities, there were multiple sessions on green building. Green products and services were all over the exhibit floor. The conference itself made special efforts to be seen as a leader in sustainability.

I welcome the conversation and action on the church's part. I've been writing, speaking, and encouraging churches since 2005 to move in this direction. But for all the good reasons we hear about sustainability, there's really only one reason:

It's a stewardship issue: God created the world, and then mankind. Then He put us in charge over it. Not to exploit it and waste it, but to sustain it for our use, and for future generations.

How are we doing? Not so well.

How are you doing?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Avoiding Misunderstandings

The way to avoid a misunderstanding is to have an understanding.

I heard those words from my father years ago, and they have come to be an important part of an ongoing learning curve involving that most difficult of social skills – communication.

Communication between individuals or groups of people is never easy. Some people think that all we have to do is to listen. Others think we just need to hear them out. However, there is a great difference between hearing and listening. Hearing refers to the physical dimension of the sound waves striking the ear and the brain processing them into meaningful information. Listening, however, involves far more than the hearing process. It incorporates paying attention and focusing with the intention of understanding and responding appropriately.

One of the most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and to be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Not only that but when people feel that you have really listened to them, you will gain their respect and they will value and give you the credibility to speak.

Consider how you feel when you sense someone is really listening to what you have to say. You feel good, you feel understood, and more connected to the person who is listening. The fact that they are interested causes you to feel cared for.

True listening is a skill which needs to be learnt and practiced because the mind functions seven times more quickly than it is possible to speak. Therefore the mind needs to be slowed down and focused on what the person is saying, and not pay attention to other irrelevant thoughts or distractions.

One of the best ways to build up your listening skills is to ask a question, and then be quiet and listen to the answer. Questions will give you a greater understanding of the person, give them encouragement, and instill a sense of connectedness. Make sure that ask questions and listen more than you speak.

When you have the opportunity, use a question or questions and experience the power of creating understanding with others through the power of listening.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

WFX Wrap-up

The MORE vertical display caught the attention of all the attendees in the Exhibit Hall.

JH Batten President David Batten being interviewed by Dr. Brenda Miller of the BodyBuilder's television network.

MORE booth personnel engage some attendees in relevant discussion.

Our Grand Prize winner was Stacey Ward, Media Director at the People's Community Baptist Church in Silver Springs MD.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Worship Facilities Expo is here!

Charlotte Convention Center - site of the Worship Facilities Expo for the next four days!

WFX by the numbers:

  • 3,500 attendees

  • 220+ exhibitors

  • 60 educational sessions

  • 5 different conference tracks

  • 5 keynotes from leading church visionaries

One event to get your church team moving!

JH Batten will be present in a big way. We are the exhibit hall sponsor, we have a Design Central project displayed, I will be hosting an early bird breakfast discussion on "Creating Leaders", I'm speaking on "Turning the Ordinary into Extraordinary" (about Guest Services), and I serve on the Advisory Board for future WFX planning.

It's going to be a busy week!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Making Generations Personal

The legions of ancient Rome were composed of ten cohorts each: cohesive units of 300-600 men who trained, ate, slept, fought, won, lost, lived, and died together. The strength was their ability to think, act, and react as a unit. Though composed of individuals, training and socialization equipped them to behave as if of a single mind when called to battle. Social demographers, students of the effects of population on society, use the term cohort to refer to people born in the same general time span who share key life experiences - from setting out for school for the first time together through reaching puberty at the same time, to entering the workforce or university or marriage or middle age or their dotage at the same time.

The five primary generations of American lifestyle span a remarkable slice of American and world history. Three major wars, countless minor (?) ones, economic booms and busts, social upheavals, rocketing technological achievement, and even stepping beyond our planet are among the milestones that have directly and indirectly shaped the times.

I count myself fortunate to have a direct connection to all five generations. To me, understanding more about how each of them think, feel, and act is not just a mental exercise - it's necessary part of life.
  • Veterans (1922-1945) My father falls into the early part of this cohort. He entered military service just as WWII was ending, part of what some call "The Greatest Generation". Think "American values" and you've got their number: civic pride, loyalty, respect for authority, and apple pie. Though moving into their twilight years, they still control a significant part of the economy and will continue to be a force in the years ahead.
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964) I am a late Baby Boomer. Born in 1958, I am a part of what was until recently the largest cohort in US history. For over thirty years, the sheer size of the Boomer generation defined the organization's social landscape in a majority-rules cultural takeover. We were the civil rights, empowerment, and diversity generation. Never content with the status quo, we are always redefining what it means to be old and cool and important and successful.
  • Generation X (1965-1981) My oldest son is an Xer, even though he sometimes exhibits characteristics of the next cohort as well. Technologically adept, clever, and resourceful, the Xers are a deeply segmented, fragmented cohort. Their need for feed back and flexibility, coupled with the dislike of close supervision is but one of the many complex nuances of this generation. They are all about change- they've changed cities, homes, and even parents all their lives. Often seen as pessimistic with an edgy skepticism, many Xers are more positive about their personal future than the group as a whole.
  • Millennials (1982-2000) My other three children all fall into this cohort. They are the children of the soccer moms and little League dads, and endless rounds of swim meets, karate classes, dancing lessons, computer camp and ... you get the picture. They consider themselves the smartest, cleverest, healthiest and most-wanted group to have ever lived. Born into the technology boom times, barriers of time and space have little absolute meaning to them. They are willing to work and learn. By sheer numbers (their total births eclipsed the Boomers by several million) they are going to dominate history in new ways. They are the hyper-connected: constantly connected to multiple devices in order to now what and whom they need to know.
  • Gen 2020 (born after 2001) This is so brand new that sociologists have little data yet. But it is the generation of my grandson, and it is important to me! There are some indications that generational cohorts repeat every four generations, so we'll just have to see. At least from my viewpoint, their generation will be about social technologies, a decreasing importance of the US, and a growing global awareness. For now, I'm content just to read books to him and play with Legos!

The next five to ten years are going to be very interesting as each of these five generations exert influence on each other. I will be actively watching my own microcosm of society!