Monday, August 31, 2009

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas (and 1 Caution)

I'm hitting the speed reading button this week - a quick journey through some really good books from the past couple of years, by authors I have heard speak in person. First up: "Made to Stick", by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. It contains six principles that help you understand why some ideas survive - and others die. Chip Heath was one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural Church Solutions Expo in 2008. I keep returning to his work to remind me how to have SUCCESs in presenting ideas. They've got a new book coming out next year - can't wait to read it!

1. Simplicity – How do we find the essential cores of our ideas? To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.

2. Unexpectedness – How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically “opening gaps” in their knowledge-and then filling those gaps.

3. Concreteness – How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

4. Credibility – How do we make people believe our ideas? Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves – a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas.

5. Emotions – How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. We are wired to feel things for people, not abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness.

6. Stories – How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in t he physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

7. Beware the Curse of Knowledge – The villain in this story is a natural psychological tendency that consistently confounds our ability to create ideas using these principles.

Looking for a good read on how to help transform the way you communicate ideas? This is a great place to start!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The One-Another Ministry

The ministry of greeting in churches today often seems to rank below that of preaching, teaching, and music. While that may be indeed be true, it is important that the ministry of greeting is most often the first impression guests get of your church – well before any of the others listed above! Greeting is a ministry – one that is becoming more important than ever in today’s experience-oriented culture. The guests coming to your church next Sunday may not understand all the words they will hear, but the warm and caring actions of your greeting team will speak very loud and clear. To a person seeking Truth and Peace, an ounce of kindness is worth a pound of preaching. Christian kindness is a ministry for church greeters who care deeply about people.

No assignment in the church is more one-on-one than the ministry of greeters. The foyer is their chapel, the information desk their pulpit, and the walk-around spaces their parish. Church greeters have a one-another ministry – face to face, hand to hand, and heart to heart with the people they are called to serve. From the largest megachurch to the smallest rural church, their Christian service is to one customer at a time. And to make their service even more important, church greeters are the first face and voice guests meet when arriving at church.

Church greeting should be elevated to its fully deserved and recognized status as a one-another ministry. Scattered throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans are seven references to the one-another ministry. What a great spiritual and biblical foundation for the ministry of church greeters! Here are some brief thoughts about these one-anothers by Leslie Parrot, author of "Serving as a Church Greeter".

Accept One Another – Romans 15:7 gives us the ministry of mutual acceptance, resting on Christ’s teaching of unconditional love. A verbal greeting and the offer of a handshake are ways of focusing on the other person. As Jesus accepts us – no matter what – accept each and every person who comes through the church door.

Honor One Another – Romans 12:10 provides the one-another ministry of an encouraging word. Effective greeters hone their skills at the capacity to come up with a few words or a brief sentence that is appropriate to the person and the situation.

Be Kind to One Another – This one-another kindness is found in Romans 12:10 as well. Deliberate acts of kindness welcome worshippers no matter what their week has been. A greeter with a kind heart can set the tone for the rest of the day with his or her actions.

Love One Another – Found in Romans 13:8, this is the one-another ministry of unconditional goodwill. It is expressed in a positive attitude toward all people, a love that bans all kinds of verbal abuse and an attitude of love toward life in general and people in particular.

Understand One Another – Romans 14:13 phrases it negatively, but a positive approach and a spiritual understanding will overcome a negative attitude. Greeters need to also remember that their lives outside the church make a powerful statement, and must be lived in an uncompromising manner.

Instruct One Another – Romans 15:14 reminds greeters that they are to be role models in the fruit of the Spirit at all times. They live out their craft by being, doing, and demonstrating, not by telling, admonishing, and finger-pointing.

Greet One Another – In Romans 16:16 we are reminded of the ministry of the human touch and its import healing and calming qualities. The greeter needs to be sensitive to the manner of the touch and the recipient; in most cases, the offer of a handshake is appropriate for guests, while a friendly hug may be more appropriate for friends and long-time members. The key is to express a genuine welcome in the manner most appropriate.

A Final Admonition: Serve One Another – Paul, writing in Galatians 5:13, spelled out the final one-another: a ministry of service that leads greeters to welcome all in the name of Christ, serving all who come without prejudice or judgment.

When the greeters at your church understand and practice these one-another ministries, they are well on the way to living out the presence of Christ within – and it becomes very obvious to those to whom they are extending a friendly hand.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rhetoric Always Gets a Bad Rap

In the midst of all the"discussion" about the health care plan, rhetoric almost always got a bad rap. When used in a pejorative sense, rhetoric is equated with empty speech or empty words. In reality, rhetoric is all about influence, and as John Maxwell has said, “Leadership is influence.”

Church leaders, far more than any politician, should master the use of rhetoric.

Compelling rhetoric makes for compelling leaders. Eloquent speech and writing - in a sermon, staff meeting, community gathering, magazine article, or blog - can convert dispassionate observers into committed participants. Leaders want their words to win hearts and change minds.

Aristotle’s work on rhetoric should be a starting point for any leader wanting to use the spoken and written word to persuade listeners to a point of view. Better communication skills demand that we articulate our ideas in a manner that effectively persuades our listeners and readers.

I’ll leave the fundamentals of rhetoric to another time and place, for it deserves an extended examination. More people in more places require more persuasion than ever before. How will you as a leader translate the practice of weaving words into sentences into paragraphs that speak straight into your listener’s and reader’s heart?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to WOW! Your Next Meeting

Are your staff meetings full of unintended exercise? Do your team members get their exercise by…

  • Jumping to conclusions

  • Flying off the handle

  • Carrying things too far

  • Dodging responsibilities

  • Pushing their luck

Instead of unintended exercise in your team meeting, instead try to create a WOW environment for every meeting.

Make sure your meeting room is ready at least 15 minutes before the start time with any anticipated materials you might need. As the team leader, make it a habit to do a personal, enthusiastic, genuine, warm, highly-relational, look-you-in-the-eye greeting to every single person sitting around the table before you even think about starting. Encourage all team members to get acquainted and converse with one another. You may have 7 items to discuss and critical decisions have to be made, but the most important part of any meeting is the people who make up your team.

An agenda, consisting of meeting purpose and time frame, discussion items, and anticipated actions should be distributed ahead of time; the more critical the decision, the longer team members should have the information for their review. The agenda should include a time estimate for each topic. If you have additional information to distribute, make sure there are enough copies prepared in advance for everyone. As your team moves through the agenda, make sure any assignments or action steps are noted for all to see; include a time frame for completion of the assignment and a leader who is responsible to report back to the team. The final ten minutes of every meeting are very important: take five minutes for a quick wrap-up discussion of what decisions were made, which decisions were delayed, and how to best communicate this information throughout your organization. Then, end the meeting five minutes early!

As the leader, your warmth and wisdom will determine the course of the meeting; as an active leader, your success in engaging every participant in the meeting will in large part determine the success of the meeting. The wise leader can gauge the “temperature” of the room and be prepared to inject energy and enthusiasm at the right moment so that even routine meetings don’t become dull and uninspiring. Finally, when the meeting is over, go to the door and give a warm and sincere thank-you to every member as they leave. That communicates direct assurance that you were grateful for their contribution to a successful meeting.

Passionate people with a sense of calling to their mission, gathering to make decisions about direction for future ministry efforts, eagerly participating – that’s a WOW meeting!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A New Literacy?

School begins in our household today – at least for our almost 17 year-old. He begins his junior year at the same high school where his three older siblings graduated from. The Adams family is on the 15th consecutive year at North Mecklenburg High; there are lots of stories there for another time, but here’s one a lot of people are talking about around the world: today’s kids can’t write, and technology is to blame.

Wired magazine’s Clive Thompson has a great article in the September issue entitled “The New Literacy.” His main point: it’s not that today’s students can’t write. It’s that they’re doing it in different places and in different ways. It's a great read - you ought to check out the whole story.

A massive project called the Stanford Study of Writing by Andrea Lunsford, a professor at Stanford University, collected 14,672 student writing samples – everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusion: “I think we’re in the midst of a literary revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.” For Lunsford, technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s revising it – and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The study found that 38% of writing took place outside the classroom - life writing, as Lunford calls it. It's a huge paradigm shift - before the Internet came along, most Americans never write anything that wasn't a school assignment.

The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision.

Most of us think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 24, 2009


If leadership is an art, then one of its most amazing forms has to be the tapestry.

Tapestry is a form of textile art, woven by hand on a loom. The vertical threads are hidden in the completed work; they are flexible in order to be drawn over and under the horizontal threads. The horizontal threads are visible, and thus have a finer quality. Because they are spun with a twist in opposite directions, they exist in tension. Together, the two types of threads create a beautiful image. Intricate, detailed images were created by artists which were then given to craftsmen to produce the finished artwork. Tapestries often contain symbolic emblems, mottoes, or a coat of arms. They were used by kings as a symbol of authority, able to be rolled up and carried to wherever the king was to be. The church used tapestries for displays on special occasions. They also served as a functional item, useful for insulation in drafty castles.

History lesson aside, a tapestry is a perfect metaphor for leaders God uses in His work:

  • God is the master Artist, creating the design of our lives; we are craftsmen who weave individual threads following His pattern

  • Leaders should not have a one-dimensional outlook on life; they need to be vertically connected to God while horizontally connected to people

  • Our connection to God should be constant, weaving over and under throughout life

  • Our connections with people are highly visible even though under some tension

  • Our leadership qualities should represent something; they are a symbol that others see and recognize what they stand for

  • As leaders, we represent authority – the question is how will you represent it?

  • Leaders are certainly visible for all to see, but they must always remember that leadership is not an end unto itself, but a function of “leading” others

  • Leadership is not fixed to a place; true leaders cannot help but lead, whether in the corporate office, the church meeting room, or the family kitchen table.

How are you weaving the threads of life into the beautiful masterpiece God has created for you?

Friday, August 21, 2009

College, 2025

In 1966, economists William Bowen (who became president of Princeton) and William Baumol likened colleges to a string quartet in the area of improving efficiency. If you want to perform a proper string quartet, they noted, you can’t cut the cellist nor can you squeeze in more performances by playing the music faster.

But that was then – before MP3s and iPods proved just how freely music could flow. Before Google scanned and digitized 7 million books and Wikipedia users created the world’s largest encyclopedia. Before YouTube Edu and iTunes U made video and audio lectures by the best professors in the country available for free, and before college students built Facebook into the world’s largest social network, changing the way we all share information. Suddenly, it is possible to imagine a new model of education using online resources to serve more students, more cheaply than ever before.

The September issue of Fast Company has a fascinating article on this topic entitled “Who Needs Harvard?” Some statistics:
  • College tuition has gone up more than any other good or service since 1990
  • Student loan debt is over $714 billion
  • Once the world’s most educated country, the US today ranks 10th

There is a growing movement toward high-tech do-it-yourself education. Many of the loudest voices of change are coming from within the universities themselves. Professor David Wiley of BYU writes: If universities can’t find the will to innovate and adapt to changes in the world around them, they will be irrelevant by 2020.

That catches my attention. In my post yesterday, I talked a little about my education experience and those of my children. But when a prediction is made that universities will be irrelevant by 2020, my attention as a grandfather perks up: my first grandson won’t even be old enough to enter college until 2025. What will it be like for him?

I’m not a fortune teller, but I know that change in higher education is in the air. The Internet disrupts any industry whose core product can be reduced to ones and zeros says Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of education startup Knewton. That’s the foundation of higher education, and change is coming.

From the Fast Company article: The transformation of education may happen faster that we realize. However futuristic it may seem, what we’re living through is an echo of the university’s earliest history. “Universitas” doesn’t mean campus, or class, or a particular body of knowledge; it means the guild, the group of people united in scholarship. The university as we know it was born around AD1100, when communities formed in Bologna, Italy; Oxford, England; and Paris around a scarce, precious information technology: the handwritten book. Illuminated manuscripts of the period show a professor at a podium lecturing from a revered volume while rows of students sit with paper and quill – the same basic format that most classes take 1,000 years later.
Today, we’ve gone from scarcity of knowledge to unimaginable abundance. It’s only natural that these new, rapidly evolving information technologies would convene new communities of scholars, both inside and outside existing institutions. The university of the future can’t be far away.

College 2025? Who knows? One thing I'm pretty sure of: it won't look anything like it does today. And that's probably not an all together bad thing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Choices in Education

Seth Godin recently wrote about “Education at the Crossroads”. As with all of his writing, he packs a lot to think about in a few paragraphs. I encourage you to read his entire post, but here are his 3 questions about choices in higher education:

  • Should this be scarce or abundant?

  • Should this be free or expensive?

  • Should this be about school or learning?

I actually have a stake in this conversation (we all do, but that’s another post). I have a college degree, a master’s degree, several years of post-graduate work, and two professional certifications. With all that, at age 51 I find my pace of “learning” accelerating.

Two of my four children have completed their college experience – for now. I fully expect them to extend that in some way in the future. My daughter is in her junior year at college, and I have a junior in high school that is just beginning his college search.

And then there is my grandson, who is 16 years away from college. What will college be like in 2025?

Seth Godin’s closing comment might be a clue: Eight combinations of the three choices above are available and my guess is that all eight will be tried. If I were going to wager, I'd say that the free, abundant learning combination is the one that's going to change the world.

How different is that from current practices? Only about 180 degrees. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

College, 2013

I'm working on a series of posts about college in 2025 - which just happens to be the year my grandson will begin his higher education experience. As I was finalizing it, the annual list from Beloit College has just been published. It's a perfect set-up for what's coming, so here it is in its entirety.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Emeritus Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. It is used around the world as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation. It is widely reprinted and the Mindset List website at receives more than 300,000 hits annually.

As millions of students head off to college this fall, most will continue to experience the economic anxiety that marked their first two years of life just as it has marked their last two years of high school. Fears of the middle class--including their parents--about retirement and health care have been a part of their lives. Now however, they can turn to technology and text a friend: "Momdad still worried bout stocks. urs 2? PAW PCM".

Members of the class of 2013 won't be surprised when they can charge a latté on their cell phone and curl up in the corner to read a textbook on an electronic screen. The migration of once independent media—radio, TV, videos and CDs—to the computer has never amazed them. They have grown up in a politically correct universe in which multi-culturalism has been a given. It is a world organized around globalization, with McDonald's everywhere on the planet. Carter and Reagan are as distant to them as Truman and Eisenhower were to their parents. Tattoos, once thought "lower class," are, to them, quite chic. Everybody knows the news before the evening news comes on.

Thus the class of 2013 heads off to college as tolerant, global, and technologically hip…and with another new host of The Tonight Show.

The Beloit College Mindset List for the
Class of 2013
  • Most students entering college for the first time this fall were
    born in 1991.For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael
    Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene
    Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
  • Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always
    been felons.
  • The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking
  • They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
  • Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
  • Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
  • Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
  • Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
  • They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their
  • Rap music has always been main stream.
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor
  • Someone has always been building something taller than the
    Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
  • The KGB has never officially existed.
  • Text has always been hyper.
  • They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been
    electromagnetic stud finders.)
  • Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
  • They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
  • Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
  • They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
  • American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes
    educational testing.
  • Except for the present incumbent, the President has never
  • State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
  • The European Union has always existed.
  • McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
  • Condoms have always been advertised on television.
  • Cable television systems have always offered telephone service
    and vice versa.
  • Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
  • The American health care system has always been in critical
  • Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
  • Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin
  • There has always been a Cartoon Network.
  • The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross
    Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
  • They have always been able to read books on an electronic
  • Women have always outnumbered men in college.
  • We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on
    television in real time.
  • Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
  • Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia,
    Lithuania, and Estonia
  • have always been independent nations.
  • It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die
    of arsenic poisoning.
  • Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
  • Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
  • Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
  • Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on
  • There have always been flat screen televisions.
  • They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
  • Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a
    Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
  • Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that
    deserves respect.
  • Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of
  • Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and
    Commerce International (BCCI).
  • Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the
    Evening News came on.
  • Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
  • They have never been Saved by the Bell
  • Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
  • Most communities have always had a mega-church.
  • Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
  • The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of
    political debate.
  • Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
  • There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
  • For one reason or another, California’s future has always been
    in doubt.
  • Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
  • “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
  • Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks
    balanced since the closingof the House Bank.
  • There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
  • CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
  • Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
  • NATO has always been looking for a role.
  • Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
  • Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been
  • The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
  • Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
  • Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding
  • Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and
    compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
  • Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get
  • Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
  • There has always been blue Jell-O.

Copyright © Beloit College

Yeah, I'm feeling a little old...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


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.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Learning to Stay Three Steps Ahead

Over the last year, three couples who are friends of ours, along with my wife and I, have all enrolled in dance lessons at a local studio. None of us had much experience at this dance thing, and it had certainly been a few years since any of us had a regular occasion to be in a “dancing” situation. Nevertheless, we signed up, and participated in the first class session – and a second, and a third. No, we’re not slow learners – we learned two different types of dance (waltz and swing) and a couple of hundred steps – at least it seemed like that many. In reality, there are a few basic steps for each type of dance, and everything else builds off the patterns of those few steps.

Successful, enjoyable dance requires that you not only concentrate on the step you are doing, but to look ahead to what you are going to do next – and beyond that.

Church leaders often find themselves in the same situation: it’s not just enough to know where you are at now; you also have to be looking several “steps” ahead. In the powerful little book The Big Moo, edited by Seth Godin, there is some advice that church leaders would do well to heed: stay three steps ahead.

One step is easy – but it isn’t enough. If you are only one step ahead, by the time your church acts on your ideas and initiative, it is too late. One-step innovations are deceptive – things seem to work for awhile, but then one day you wake up and they are no longer working.

Two steps is tempting – it means you’ve partnered with someone else on your staff or in another group. Together, there is more momentum behind an innovative idea or direction. It’s easier to convince others to go along, to get support for the project. But two steps is still a problem, because the world (the real competition of the church) is three steps ahead. The world wins out because it always seems to be ahead of where you want to be.

Three steps changes the game – it means you are a groundbreaker and a pathfinder. You’re not just thinking outside the box; the box hasn’t even be put together yet. At this point in the dance, you’re challenging the structure and organization of your church – and ruffling feathers along the way. Three steps is difficult. It’s difficult to sell the idea to your board, hard to assemble dancing partners along the way, and seeming impossible to get some of your key leaders to understand.

Follow the music in your heart and head, and lead your church three steps ahead – now that’s a dance worth being in!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Real Leaders:...Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way

The task of leadership is always in a state of constant change. It doesn’t matter whether you lead a business, a department, a family, a church, or a small group. True leadership demands the ability to be flexible, knowing when decisive leadership is required. True leaders sometimes know when to follow, stepping aside to let someone else lead for a specific season or part of the project. And sometimes, leaders step aside to let the tribe lead.

Seth Godin’s book "Tribes" describes this new type of leader. Sometimes it is okay not to take the lead, sometimes it’s okay to let someone else speak up and show you the way. The power of this idea of a new dimension of leadership is simple: if you want to lead, then you can. But if this isn’t the right moment, if this isn’t the right cause, then hold off. Generous and authentic leadership will always step forward.

Here’s a great example: In the small home group which I "lead", a schedule change forced me to ask the group for someone else to step up for our next session. In this group of eight adults – all very capable leaders in their own right – there has always been a little reluctance to lead. But over the last six months or so, as our relationships have grown deeper and our conversations about sharing with others have become more intentional, the leadership spark within each person has begun to burn brighter.

When I asked someone else to lead the session, Gary, a member of our group, was quick to send this email to everyone:

I will be glad to…1) Lead, 2) Follow, or 3) Get out of the way. If nobody
else chooses #1, and everybody else is willing to do #2 or #3, then I will take
#1, and we’re in business.Don’t you love it when a simple request can be
magically transformed into an annoying, obtuse flow chart?

Gary is a brilliant guy; an engineer who has was a part of Jeff Gordon’s string of four NASCAR championship seasons. Now he owns his own company: a wind tunnel designed and built by him and a few team members. It stays busy 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, testing everything from race cars to bicycles. His reply to our group was typical, but it demonstrates this type of leadership perfectly.

Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new.

How are you leading in your “tribe?”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lone Rangers Need Not Apply

There are no Lone Ranger leaders. If you’re alone, you’re not leading anybody.

Think of any highly effective leader and you will find someone surrounded by a strong inner circle. Every leader’s potential is determined by the people closest to him. If those people are strong, then the leader can make a huge impact. If they are weak, he can’t.

I was recently speaking to a group of church leaders on the topic of transitioning the volunteer to a leader, and in the dialogue following the presentation the question of leadership resources came up. My first reply was the Scriptures, because they have a wealth of leadership principles that are applicable and relevant today. Another resource I recommended was the works of John Maxwell. What better way to talk about an important leadership principle than combine the two!

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is a great book by Maxwell, containing pure gold leadership experience and guidelines. One of those laws, The Law of the Inner Circle, is illustrated very well by the life of David. Maxwell rightly believes that a leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Examine the way David pulled together the core people who made him great:

  • He started building a strong inner circle before he needed it – David began building his team long before he was crowned king. First Chronicles 12:14 emphasizes how many of the warriors who flocked to David were leaders.
  • He attracted people with varied gifts – David attracted men of diverse abilities. Experienced warriors, men of valor, hundreds of captains – with the help of these men, David felt ready for anything.
  • He engendered loyalty – David’s followers displayed incredible loyalty to him throughout his life. Even when his own son rebelled against him (2 Samuel 15:21), his closest men stayed with him.
  • He delegated responsibility based on ability – David continually gave authority to others. Joab was the commander of his army; to others, he gave civil authority (1 Chronicles 18:14-17). Great leaders risk delegation in order to reach the highest level of leadership.

When God wants a leader to do something of value for Him, He provides that leader with the men and women to get the job done. That was true for David, and it will be true for you. Look around – who is in your inner circle?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


When it comes to effective communication, small beats large;
short beats long; and plain beats complex.
Sometimes, visual beats them all.

The quote above, from Dr. Frank Lutz in his book “Words that Work”, is an appropriate challenge for every leader. Good Leaders communicate. They may use the written word, they may use the spoken word, they may use only visuals and no words, but good leaders communicate.

How are you doing in your communication? Are your words simple, to the point, and memorable? Are your words consistent with your actions? Can the reader or listener visualize your intent?

Or, are no words at all the best path to take? We live in a society almost overwhelmed by the visual image – and we ask for more! Sometimes, a visual image is the best “word” we can use.

Communication – written, spoken, or visual – is just a tool you as a leader have at your disposal. But what a powerful tool! Communicate with passion, purpose, and persuasiveness in all your communications – and you will be well along the path to becoming a great leader.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers

In his book “Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers”, noted church consultant William Easum developed the concept of permission-giving churches. Permission-giving churches believe that the role of God’s people is to minister to people, in the world, every day of the week, by living out their spiritual gifts instead of running the church by sitting on committees and making decision about what can or cannot be done.

Permission-giving churches:

  • Encourage autonomous, on-the-spot decision making by collaborative individuals and self-organizing teams
  • Encourage ministry to be delivered any time, any place, by anyone, no matter what
  • Have leaders who are secure enough to equip others for ministry and then get out of their way and let them develop their ministries even if it is not something in which they might participate
  • Do need boundaries
  • Develop a flat organizational structure that encourages and facilitates ministry instead of coordinating or managing it

“Gourmet Burgers” was the first of many resources that influenced my ideas of what church had become – and what it could still be. As an associate pastor and leader, I began to ask a very different question:

How am I going to use my spiritual gifts today to encourage someone else to help the Body of Christ to grow and mature tomorrow?

Fifteen years later, I’m still asking that question – and am continually amazed at how God answers that in His people.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Do You Have the Right Stuff?

Inc. magazine is a great source of innovative trends in the business world. There’s always a lot of information that is transferable to the church world as well. Take this story in the July/August issue, also available online here.

Before you start a company (or church, or new ministry in a church), ask yourself these 6 questions:

  1. Do you believe you have what it takes?
  2. Are you able to let other people down?
  3. How do you handle setbacks?
  4. Are you really an inventor rather than an entrepreneur?
  5. Can you accept that your organization may outgrow you?
  6. When you look in the mirror, does an entrepreneur look back?

Yeah, these are from a business magazine. But you can never go wrong as a leader if you keep asking the right questions when are considering starting a new ministry – or a new church.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ask the Right Question

Tim Stevens at Granger Community Church had a great post the other day, leading off with the title "Meeting Needs...the Jesus Way".

Jesus asked the blind man in Mark 10:51 a question: "What do you want me to do for you?"

Granger staff ask themselves the following questions all the time:
  1. What does our community need help with?
  2. What do the friends and neighbors of our church members need help with? What is the greatest need they have?
  3. Do they need help with their marriage? Relationships? Money management? Do they have physical needs like clothing or food? How can we help meet these needs?

What kind of questions are you asking?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Identifying Catalyzing Leaders

Following up on yesterday's post, Alan Nelson, former editor at Rev! magazine and now a leadership development consultant, says the primary reason that churches find themselves stuck is because they’ve marginalized or run off their catalyzing leaders. These are the people who have the God-given ability to sense where organizations are stuck and are able to strategize ways to move them forward. So how do you find these types of leaders? For the full article, read this post. Here's a quick look:

Here are 5 traits for identify catalyzing leaders:
  1. They currently supervise at least 10 people in their work; 20 or more is even better.
  2. Interview the person and listen for past experience in terms of being in charge of clubs or groups.
  3. They’ve successfully established ministry teams at church. When you give a catalyzing leader a task, he or she will round up a group of people and "git r done".
  4. They’re talked about when absent or are looked to when in a group.
  5. Look at those in your church who get things outside of the church. Catalyzing leaders can’t not lead.

You may find one or two of these indicators in people who aren’t catalyzing leaders, but most catalyzing leaders will have at least four of them, if not all five. When you ID them positively, do your best to cast a personal vision. Better yet, find three or four of them and get them all together at one time. They’ll recognize the trait in each other and when they realize they’re not alone in the church, they’re more apt to hope things really can change. Then, turn them loose, and watch what happens.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stuck in Neutral - or Reverse?

A conversation at Catalyst last fall with Alan Nelson, former editor at Rev! magazine, led to this reminder about different types of volunteer leaders in the church.

  1. Relational leaders are the care givers and sales people of the world. They influence through their superior people skills. Relational leaders gain followers by genuinely caring for them. They are both introverts and extroverts, but they excel in making people feel good about themselves.

  2. Teaching leaders have the power of communicating information that helps people gain knowledge. Many pastors are teaching leaders, as they enjoy investing 20-25 hours weekly in sermon prep and presenting. They are wearied by other ministry aspects, but love the task of preparing to feed the flock.

  3. Managerial leaders are good organizers, tracking details, and following through on plans. They are the people who get things done, so long as there is something to be managed, maintained, or carried out. Managers make sure that the bills get paid and things get put where they belong. They are administrators and task oriented.

  4. Catalyzing leaders are the pioneers and strategists. They are willing to take risks, problem solve, and make the tough calls where they need to happen. Because they are willing to step out in faith, they are sometimes spurned by others who grow weary of the full-speed-ahead attitude of these go-getters. These are the Joshuas and Calebs needed for Promised Land ventures.

To get Nelson's full take on the idea, see the whole post here.

As I deal with churches every day, I often see frustrated leaders that are "stuck", which leads the church to become "stuck", or worse.

When you look at this list, where do you see yourself? Where do you see your key leaders? Are there types of leaders missing in action in your church?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The More Things Stay the Same...

Are you a Nickelodeon kid? Or a parent of one?

Alex Varnese, over at the Duarte blog, has a fascinating post on logo development of a couple of icons of the 90s - and what lessons they have for us today.
The Nickelodeon identity was created by the same people behind MTV’s generation-defining logo, and it shows–just as MTV needed the visual flexibility to keep up with ever-changing music trends, Nickelodeon needed a way to reflect the spontaneity and imagination of their programming. In both cases, the result was not so much a traditional “bug” but a more modular core that could be modified, rearranged and repackaged indefinitely while remaining surprisingly memorable.

His point: ... while brands tend to live and die by their consistency, it’s worth remembering that two of the most iconic logos in the pop culture lexicon were built with the goal of constantly changing. I think it’s an interesting lesson, easy as it may be to forget while a client is breathing down your neck. But we can all probably think of a few trademarks that would do well with a little less order and a little more good-natured chaos.

Check out this site for all the details of the "official" logo guidelines.
What does it mean for your world when consistency has to be designed to be constantly changing?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Perpetual Motion

Scientists are always seeking to understand perpetual motion and its possibilities for future energy use.

Sorry - I've already discovered it, bottled up in my 17 month old grandson, a couple of balls, and a yard on a sunny day.