Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dessert Time

Today is the final day to order off the Soul Fast Food menu! For previous orders, see here. These thoughts are driven by my ongoing learning experience with the Will Mancini's Vision co::Lab - a collaborative group learning experience designed around the principles found in "Church Unique".

Apple Pie “People”
Perhaps the greatest substitute for healthy membership identity is the group of people at church – whether ten or a hundred – who “know my name.” This is not to be seen as a knock on relationships! It is identifying “community without a cause” as both unbiblical and a common source of identity for the churchgoer. Want a demonstration? Suggest a change in service times – or ask a Bible Study class or small group to multiply. People don’t want you to mess with their relationships.

Our familiar friends, albeit essential to church life, have become central to the person’s identify.

Relationships are critically important to community life in a church. But, like too many apple pies or anything taken to excess, they can be damaging to the overall health of the body.

Tomorrow: the source of real nourishment for your church - and it's not found at your local drive-through!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Soul Fast Food

Big Mac “Personalities”
Spiritual leaders matter to our people. But most pastors do not want their personality to be the primary umbilical cord connecting their members’ identity to the church. Charisma is not vision. It is a vehicle to deliver the vision. But for many churchgoers, connection to their church is connection to the pastor. The “person” of the pastor can easily become the primary connection point so that in the absence of vision, people cling to something – or someone - even those with little capability to lead.

Supersized “Programs”
Programs are important, and good methodologies for doing ministry should come and go. Unfortunately, most of them come and stay – like sour milk, they hang around long after their expiration date! For years, church leaders have struggled with how to dismount a dead horse. When the program exists in a vision vacuum, the how of doing the program displaces the why in the heart of the program’s leaders. Mastering the how is what makes the volunteer feel important. The problem is not the volunteer but the vision. We need the vision to raise our sight to see the why behind the program to begin with. Their hearts find more meaning in working efficiently on yesterday’s methods than in working effectively into the future.

What about your church? Does your fast food diet include Big Mac personalities and Super Sized programs?

Part 2 of Soul Fast Food: Adapted from Will Mancini's "Church Unique."

Tomorrow: Dessert Time

Monday, September 28, 2009

Filling the Vision Vacuum

When life around our house gets hectic, we often slip into a bad habit: fast-food for our meals. Both my wife and I enjoy cooking, especially when we can try out new recipes. But when the work day gets long, that's one of the first things tossed aside. That usually means a quick stop at a neighborhood fast-food place for a quick meal. I'm not here to debate the health issues, but generally speaking, what we consume in a hurry is not as nutritious as what we would prepare on our own at home.

Will Mancini, author of Church Unique and founder of the Auxano Group, makes an application to many churches by using the fast food metaphor. I've just completed my second training session in the Church Unique process, and the concept of vision vacuum is fresh on my mind. This week, let's take a closer look at what Mancini calls "Soul Fast Food".

To set this up, consider the following Scripture from Psalms 29:18 in The Message version:
When people can't see what God is up to,
they stumble all over themselves.
Unfortunately, most churches today are living that Scripture out. There is no clear vision of what God is up to, and the result is a vision vacuum. And when a vacuum exists, something is going to try to move in to fill it.

The Heart of the Matter – what really happens in the soul of a congregant when left in a church’s vision vacuum over time?
  • What is left to excite the heart of your church attenders?
  • What then fuels the dreams of your people?
  • What nourishes the identity of those who call your church home?
The simple answer is something does, even when vision is absent. People need vision and they need hope. If visionary leaders are not providing and nourishing it, were do people find meaning?

Soul Fast Food – According to Mancini, there are four substitutes for a well-balanced diet of vision. They fuel your most faithful people; it is how they get hope for a better future. Unfortunately, they are also four sources of a malnourished membership identity. Each of these junk food categories are not bad in and of itself. They all malnourish, because they are used inappropriately as a substitute for a well-balanced vision.

French Fried “Places”
The places of our encounters with God matter – but space itself has addictive features, just like your favorite fries. There are spots where we encounter God; they are important. But in the absence of a vision that transcends our favorite nooks and crannies, the space itself becomes the vision supplement. The primary use of the term church to connote place compounds the issue.

The meaning of place reflects God’s design, starting with the Garden and ending with the New Jerusalem. But space is essential, not central, in the economy of vision.

Do not underestimate the gravitational pull of the physical place on both members and leaders. Is it possible that the building itself becomes a cheap substitute for real vision?

If you put too much focus on the physical place, people can be robbed of the more substantial articulation of the church's future.

The result? Anorexic vision.

What about your church? Is it time to pass the salt - or pass over french fried places all together?

Tomorrow: More Soul Fast Food

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thinking for a Change

I close Thinking Week by presenting the main points of "Thinking for a Change" by John Maxwell. Maxwell is probably my favorite author of pure leadership writings, and I have never been disappointed by his works. In this case, they speak volumes for anyone interested in developing their thinking.

  1. Understand the Value of Good Thinking
  2. Realize the Impact of Changed Thinking
  3. Master the Process of Intentional Thinking
  4. Acquire the Wisdom of Big-Picture Thinking
  5. Unleash the Potential of Focused Thinking
  6. Discover the Joy of Creative Thinking
  7. Recognize the Importance of Realistic Thinking
  8. Release the Power of Strategic Thinking
  9. Feel the Energy of Possibility Thinking
  10. Embrace the Lessons of Reflective Thinking
  11. Question the Acceptance of Popular Thinking
  12. Encourage the Participation of Shared Thinking
  13. Experience the Satisfaction of Unselfish Thinking
  14. Enjoy the Return of Bottom-Line Thinking

You can change the way you think.

Whatever things are true...noble...just...pure...lovely...are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; think on these things Philippians 4:8

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Got Your Thinking Hat On?

Thinking is the ultimate human resource. Yet we can never be satisfied with our most important skill. No matter how good we become, we should always want to be better.

-Edward de Bono

Dr. de Bono is an internationally acclaimed authority in the teaching of thinking as a skill. I've posted on his most famous book, The Six Thinking Hats, here. In this week's ongoing discussion of thinking, I wanted to revisit his work briefly.

In "Six Thinking Hats" the author presents a simple but effective way to become a better thinker. He separates thinking into six distinct modes, identified with six colored "thinking hats":

  • White - facts, figures, and objective information

  • Red - emotions and feelings

  • Black - logical negative thoughts

  • Yellow - positive constructive thoughts

  • Green - creativity and new ideas

  • Blue - control of the other hats and thinking steps

"Putting on" a hat focuses thinking; "switching" hats redirects thinking. With the different parts of the thinking process thus clearly defined, discussions can be better focused and more productive.

There are two main purposes to the six thinking hats concept. The first purpose is to simplify thinking by allowing a thinker to deal with one thing at a time. Instead of having to take care of emotions, logic, information, hope and creativity all at the same time, the thinker is able to deal with them separately.

The second main purpose of the six thinking hats concept is to allow a switch in thinking. If a person at a meeting has been persistently negative, that person can be asked to take off "the black thinking hat." This signals the person that he has is being persistently negative. A person may be asked to put on "the yellow thinking hat;" this is a direct request to be positive.

By referring to the color of the hat instead of the emotion or perceived style, the concept of the hats minimizes the impact on a person's ego or personality and allow for the possibility of focusing on one thing at a time - instead of trying to do everything at once.

Got a tough meeting coming up?

Make sure you carry six hats in!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Continuing our Thinking Week, let's move from from the structure of Morgan Jones to the adaptive unconscious of the mind as depicted in Malcolm Gladwell's "blink".

Gladwell weaves compelling stories as diverse as the uncovering of a fraud in ancient statuary to that of a classical trombonist auditioning for the lead chair in a world class orchestra. The power of these and other stories in the book is that our mind has an uncanny ability to quickly make decisions that can be every bit as good as decisions made curiously and deliberately. So much for structure and analysis!

The problem is that our unconscious is a powerful force. But it can be fallible. It can be thrown off, distracted, and disabled. Our instinctive reactions often have to compete with all kinds of other interests and emotions and sentiments. Are we then not to trust our instincts?

Gladwell does an amazing job of laying out the case that the mind can be educated and controlled when it comes to making snap judgements and first impressions. Gladwell captivates the reader with stories that help us understand the power of instantaneous impressions and conclusions that spontaneously arise whenever we meet a new persons or confront a complex situation or have to make a decision under conditions of stress.

What do you think? Can there be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Problems We Have With Our Thinking

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on thinking, here are some additional comments by Morgan Jones, former CIA analyst and author of "The Thinker's Toolkit".

Troublesome Mental Traits That Produce Analytic Missteps

  1. There is an emotional dimension to almost every throught we have and every decision we make.
  2. Mental shortcuts our unconscious minds continuously take influence our conscious thinking.
  3. We are driven to view the world around us in patterns.
  4. We instinctively rely on, and are susceptible to, biases and assumptions.
  5. We feel the need to find explanations for everything, regardless of whether the explanations are accurate.
  6. Humans have a penchant to seek out and put stock in evidence that support their beliefs and judgements while eschewing and devaluing evidence that does not.
  7. We tend to cling to untrue beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence.

Quite a list! So do we even stand a chance to analyze the complexity of our lives and make sound decisions? Jones thinks so - and the remainder of his book outlines 14 tools that will help anyone - not just the CIA - develop a structure for decision-making.

In my service on church staffs, and in consulting with churches now, I quite often turn to these tools to help the decision-making process. I recommend you check out "The Thinker's Toolkit" for a unique collection of proven, practical methods for simplifying any problem and making faster, better decisions every time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thinking About Thinking

Have you ever thought about how we think? Since reading Brain Rules and posting on it earlier this year, I have been fascinated by the thought process we go through to make decisions. Here’s a whirlwind tour of some great resources on thinking.

The Thinker’s Toolkit

Former CIA analyst Morgan Jones argues that the single most important factor missing from most decision-making processes is structure. Structure for him means a logical framework in which to focus discussion on key points, keeping it focused so that each element and factor of a problem is analyzed separately, systematically, and sufficiently. Jones goes on to say that humans tend to avoid analytic structure that because structuring one’s analysis is fundamentally at odds with the way the human mind works.

Human beings are problem solvers by nature. Yet in order to reach most solutions, we go through a process of trial and error. In all human affairs, from marriage to marketing to management, success is generally built upon failure. And why some failures are justly attributable to bad luck, most result from faulty decisions based on mistaken analysis.

Here is a list of some of what Jones calls analytic sins:

  • We commonly begin our analysis of a problem by formulating our conclusions; we thus start at what should be the end of the analytic process.
  • Our analysis usually focuses on the solution we intuitively favor; we therefore give inadequate attention to alternative solutions.
  • Not surprisingly, the solution we intuitively favor is, more often than not, the first one that seems satisfactory.
  • We tend to confuse “discussion/thinking hard” about a problem with “analyzing” it, when in fact the two activities are not at all the same.
  • We focus on the substance (evidence, arguments, and conclusions) and not on the process of our analysis.
  • Most people are fundamentally illiterate when it comes to structuring their analysis.

If we take a structured approach in thinking, the mind remains open, enabling one to examine each element of the decision or problem separately. The outcome is almost always more comprehensive and more effective than following our instincts alone.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bottom of the Ninth

The NACDB's 2009 Certified Church Consultant training event is over. Now the real work begins! I'm not referring to the test, or the case study, or the thesis project. Yes, all the participants have additional work to do in order to complete the requirements of the certification. But the real work, engaging churches where they are at in order to help them move forward, is just beginning.

All week long I've been posting excerpts from "7 Practices of Effective Ministry", a book by Andy Stanley and the leadership team at Northpoint ministries. To wrap up the week, and look ahead, here is a summary of those seven practices.

  1. Clarify the Win fuels your momentum

  2. Think Steps, not Programs protects your alignment

  3. Narrow the Focus points you toward excellence

  4. Teach Less for More guarantees that you stay relevant

  5. Listen to Outsiders keeps you focused on growth

  6. Replace Yourself assures you of longevity

  7. Work on It positions you for discovery

Church leader, the game is still on! If you are challenged in some of the areas above, it's time to act on that. The pitch is coming your way: step up to the plate, keep your eye on the ball, and swing away!

Play Ball!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crossing Home Plate

Celebrate the Win

Take time to evaluate your work – and to celebrate your wins

Questions to Ask/Actions to Take

Does your present meeting structure allow time for sharing learning experiences? What percentage of your meetings is spent simply downloading information?

Discuss ways you can effectively encourage learning throughout your organization.

Make a list of issues your team needs to discuss that don’t directly impact what happens in your weekly activities.

Would the members of your organization say that their contributions are valued and that time is taken to properly honor these contributions? In what areas and what ways could you improve in this area?

Identify a specific win you could celebrate with your team. What would that celebration look like? Now put it on the calendar!

Adapted from "7 Practices of an Effective Church" by Andy Stanley and the leadership team at Northpoint Ministries

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Advancing to Third Base

Communicate Less for More Impact

Say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it

Fours Steps to Communicate Less for More Impact
1. Decide what you are going to say
2. Decide to say one thing at a time
3. Decide how you are going to say it
4. Say it over and over again

Questions to Ask/Actions to Take

Identify a handful of must-know, can’t-be-without principles (irreducible minimums) for each target group of your organization.

State your irreducible minimums in a creative way that your team members can remember.

Practice crafting in a memorable way the “bottom line” you hoped to communicate in a recent presentation.

Evaluate a recent presentation and identify which elements did not complement the focus of the presentation. Remember, the goal is for everything to reinforce the bottom line. If you were approaching the same opportunity next week, what could you change to effectively communicate less for more impact?

Brainstorm some new tools or creative elements you can use to enhance your next presentation.

Adapted from "7 Practices of Effective Ministry" by Andy Stanley and the leadership team at Northpoint Ministries

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stealing Second Base

Narrow the Focus

Do fewer things in order to make a greater impact

Narrowing your focus means you must resist complexity and pursue simplicity.

Narrowing your focus means creating environments as distinctive brands.
· The more you focus, the greater the relevance to you client’s needs
· The more you focus, the better the connection with your client
· The more you focus, the higher the quality of service delivered
· The more you focus, the stronger the impact on your client

Questions to Ask

Identify any activities in your organization that are providing the same step. Which one has the greatest potential to become more effective if you eliminate the other?

Is there an effective practice or process that you should eliminate because it is preventing a more important activity from becoming more effective?

Are there activities, practices, or processes that have become barriers to excellence at your organization?

Create a “not-to-do” list outlining activities your organization shouldn’t do. In other words, decide now what you will never do.

Try to attach a word or short phrase to each of your different services to “brand” its distinctiveness in the minds of your staff.

Assign each person on your team to describe, in one sentence each, every other team member’s primary contribution to the organization. Share and discuss each list.

Adapted from "7 Practices of Effective Ministry" by Andy Stanley and the leadership team of North Point Ministries

Getting On Base

Think Steps

Before you start anything, make sure it takes you where you need to go

Steps: one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal

How to create an effective step
· Every step should be easy
· Every step has to be obvious
· Every step must be strategic

Questions you should be asking:

What is the ultimate destination your organization provides for clients?

How can you create a “road map” outlining the steps that lead clients to this destination?

Are there any steps that need to be eliminated because they don’t take clients where you want them to go?

What steps may be need to be created to help clients get to the desired destination more effectively?

Are there steps that take clients where you want them to go but have not been clearly communicated?

Part 2 of 5 from the NACDB CCC training event - adapted from "7 Practices of Effective Ministry", by Andy Stanley

Monday, September 14, 2009

In the On-Deck Circle

I'm at the Texas Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where the offices for the National Association of Church Design Builders are located. Today we kick off the sixth annual training event for our group, with the goal of becoming a Certified Church Consultant. I was part of the inaugural class in 2004 and have had the privilege of being involved in leadership in every event since.

Our theme this year: Fielding a Winning Design-Build Team. The three jam-packed days of learning include a review of every process that goes into a church building process, from initial dream to completed building - and beyond! We will be also be introducing four principles for consultants to apply to their companies and to the church clients they work with. So, let's get started by heading to the on deck circle!

Clarify the Win

Define what is important at every level of the organization

When you don’t clarify the win:
  • As long as the win is unclear, you force your team to guess what a win looks like
  • If the win is unclear, you may force those in leadership roles to define winning in their own terms

The advantages of clarifying the win:

  • When you clarify the win, you help your team stay on the same page
  • When you clarify the win, you can manage your resources more effectively
  • When you clarify the win, it creates the potential for positive momentum

Four steps to clarifying the win

  1. Sum up the win in a simple phrase
  2. Keep the win as specific as possible
  3. Restate the win frequently and creatively
  4. Meet to clarify the win at every level

This material has been adapted from the book "7 Practices of Effective Ministry" by Andy Stanley and his team at Northpoint Ministries. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it as a great leadership text for your team to read - and apply!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Danger of Being the Brightest Person in the Room

Recently I was speaking to a church about the formation of a team to work on the planning for a new building. During one of the sessions I was speaking on the importance of including the facility manager on the building team in a church project, and I tossed out the following statement: The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom. That brought out a lot of chuckles from the attendees, but the point hit home: Operational staff members almost never get the chance for input into the decision-making process, yet they are held responsible for the ongoing outcomes of the decisions. That statement and the following story came to mind recently while working on a teamwork project for a future presentation.

James Watson and Francis Crick can arguably say they answered the question, “What is the secret of life?” The pair discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, the biological material that carries life’s genetic information. During an interview on the 5oth anniversary of their discovery, Watson was asked how he and Crick had solved the problem ahead of many other highly accomplished, recognized scientists. Watson’s answer included identifying the problem first, being passionate and single-minded about their work, and their willingness to attempt approaches outside their area of familiarity. Then he added something that was astounding: they had cracked the DNA code primarily because they were not the most intelligent scientists pursuing the answer.

Watson went on to say that the most intelligent person working on the project was Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant British scientist who worked alone. “Rosalind was so intelligent that she rarely sought advice. And if you’re the brightest person in the room, then you’re in trouble.”

That comment highlights a common occurrence in church leadership: When dealing with a specific problem or issue, leaders should ensure that they collaborate with team members toward its resolution, even if they are the best-informed, most-experienced, or most skilled person in the group. Far too often, leaders – who, by virtue of greater experience, skill, and wisdom, deem themselves the ablest problem solver in the group – fail to ask for input from team members.

Scientific studies have shown that groups who cooperate in seeking a solution are not just better than the average member working alone, but are even better than the group’s best problem-solver working alone. Lone decision-makers can’t match the diversity of knowledge and perspectives of a multi-person unit that includes them. The ability to distribute many subtasks of a problem to its members – parallel processing – enables the group to outperform the individual who must address them sequentially.

Are you a church leader working in a group? Don’t relinquish your leadership role, but make sure your process allows group members to offer insights, cooperate, and collaborate with each other. The Bible has a lot to say about that, but that’s for another time!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Be Ordinary?

The first step to becoming extraordinary is simply to stop being ordinary. Here are five suggestions to help you:

  • Avidly collect firsthand experiences - Sherlock Holmes greatest claim to fame was his power of observation. Make the effort to observe and understand the nuances of what is going on in your organization. Just one among many leaders? You are still the only "you", and you know your experiences better than anyone else. Get out from behind your desk, and know what's happening out there. First-hand observations are critically important-make it a part of your regular routine to gather them.
  • Have a "beginner's mind" - set aside what you know and be open to looking at things with a fresh perspective. You have have extensive education and experience, you may understand tradition, you probably have preconceived notions about things. Don't forget the importance of starting with a blank page when confronted with new opportunity.
  • Keep an "idea wallet" so you don't lose momentary insights - anthropologists carry a notebook and camera to record their discoveries. Try recording ideas in real time - make use of current technologies like your mobile phone with camera, or do it the old-fashioned way with a journal or index card. When you see or hear something interesting, record it for later development and exploration with your team.
  • Become a proactive "idea-broker" and practice continuous cross-pollination - Develop solid, trusted relationships across departments and lines in your organization so that you can understand and apply the lessons you learn in one context to another. Combine learning and collaboration so that you become a conduit for fresh ideas for your team.
  • Embrace the power of storytelling - telling a story has an emotional appeal that transcends the raw data we often collect. Listen to your team. Encourage them to listen to those they come into contact with. Let the stories that come out of those conversations become the vehicles for communicating your message. It will be powerful, memorable, and uniquely yours.

Stop being ordinary TODAY. Reject routine and set yourself and your team on a course to becoming extraordinary.

The world will notice.

from "The Big Moo", edited by Seth Godin

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Living on the Digital Divide

My parent's generation viewed office paperwork in terms of duplicate copies made by using carbon paper. Correcting mistakes was a laborious process of erasing the original, erasing the copy (messy), and then correcting the mistake.

I've been around to experience the same thing, but not for long. In graduate school I can remember writing and dictating research papers while my wife typed on an IBM Selectric with self-correcting type. We thought we were in heaven!

My first position out of graduate school came with my very own workstation, part of a network of 20 staff positions, with the wonderful world of word processing. We all used a central printer for the output. Like Henry Ford said, we could have any color we wanted as long as it was black.

Through several church staff positions, and now as a consultant, I have come to accept the digital universe as normal. I'm typing this in one of my dozens of field offices around the region (Starbucks, for appointments of 1 or 2; Panera Bread, for 3 or more). My laptop is my assistant; I carry a printer around in my 4-wheel office, along with just about anything I would need to talk with a client. I can produce anything from my files in full color, customized for the client, in minutes.

And yet, there's something gratifying about sketching an idea on a napkin (literally-I do it all the time). And I have several "theme" notebooks that I jot ideas, quotes, and the like in. Sometimes they make it into my digital files; sometimes not.

My world is a digital divide - I can't do my work without all the innovative developments of the last couple of decades, but I'm drawn to the "old-fashioned" way of writing, in ink, on paper pages.

I'm looking around at kids (anyone under 35) typing on laptops, talking on cell phones, texting on their mobile phone and wondering: Do they have this same feeling? Or are they over the digital divide, living on the next level, moving forward?

Just wondering today...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Power of Small

Why little things make a BIG difference

The positive impressions we make through little words, deeds and gestures are what lay the groundwork for success in life. It isn't difficult, but it does take commitment.

Every phone call, every email, every pint of contact with another customer, client, or colleague is an opportunity to excel, to do the unexpected, and in doing so, reveal yourself.

So what about you? Why not embrace the power of small in your life? There's a world that needs fixing, a career waiting to soar, a life ready to be transformed into the extraordinary.

Take the first step TODAY.

And then keep on walking.

- From"The Power of Small", by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Monday, September 7, 2009

On Labor Day

Find something you love to do and you'll never work another day in your life

Friday, September 4, 2009


I had read several of Craig Groeschel's books prior to Catalyst last year in Atlanta. I had heard him speak online several times. But it was really his main stage presentation at the Catalyst event, coupled with his last book "it", that leads me to close Speed Reading Week with a focus on one chapter of "it" - Kingdom-Mindedness: You Share it.

Groeschel opens the chapter with this quote:

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others
and the world remains and is immortal.
-Albert Pine

There are very few ministries in this country (maybe in the world) that do so much for others with no expectations. Here's just a sampling of the work they have provided - free - for anyone to use in their own church:

  • YouVersion


  • Second Life campus

  • Swerve blog

  • OnePrayer movement

  • Facebook application for their Internet campus

  • ChurchMetrics


  • YouVersion Bible app


I'll let you go online and take a look at these resources on your own ( Craig Groeschel and the amazing team at LifeChurch really get "it".

Here are a couple of thoughts from "it" that sum up LifeChurch pretty well:

A kingdom-minded ministry is one whose leaders care more about what God is doing everywhere than what God is doing in their own ministry. A kingdom-minded ministry is generous and eager to partner with other to get more done for the glory of God.

And some it factors:

  • The more possessive and competitive we are, the more divided we become

  • When you have it, you know that it doesn't belong to you. It belongs to God. He gives it

  • Since it is His and not yours, you're willing to share it

  • The more you try to keep it, the less of it you tend to have. The more you are willing to give it away, the more of it God seems to give.

What can you do? More than you think.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stupid Leadership Mistakes

Tony Morgan is the executive director of ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta. He’s also a strategist, coach, writer, speaker and consultant who equips leaders and churches to impact their communities for Christ. More important, he has a passion for the people. He’s all about helping people meet Jesus and take steps in their faith.

The following list was delivered by Tony at the 2008 Church Solutions Conference, but portions of it have also appeared in his latest book, Killing Cockroaches. Not only does this book have a great title, but it's full of helpful advice for church leaders. Got cockroaches in your life - reach for this book, not the bug spray!

1. Hiring too fast and firing too slow. The right people don't need to be managed--they just need to be pointed in the right direction. Jim Collins said, "If the person came to tell you that he or she is leaving to pursue an exciting new opportunity, would you feel terribly disappointed or secretly relieved?" If you'd be relieved, it's time for them to go.

2. Putting the projects before the people. Ecclesiastes 7:18 says, "The man who fears God will avoid all extremes." This is one of those areas where we need to embrace the tension between relating with people and accomplishing the mission/getting the job done.

3. Trying to fix the problem rather than the process. It's like continuing to change diapers instead of potty-training your kids. You can either continue to react to the problem, or you can fix the process. 90% of the time it's a systems-problem rather than a people-problem.

4. Delegating tasks instead of responsibility. I told the story of the three little pigs. "if all I've known is straw houses and I control every detail of their construction, then my leadership will never generate brick house ideas."

5. Assuming it's always black and white. Following rules is easier than the messiness of relationships. Following rules is easier than discerning God's will. The policies or guidelines we establish should actually remove barriers and allow more freedom within our organizations. But, innovative organizations don't value the rules over the mission.

6. Not following my gut. (...or is that the Holy Spirit?) Sometimes when I'm facing a big decision, I try to acquire more information rather than seek God's direction. When we stop listening to God, he stops talking to us. God stopped talking to Abraham for 13 years between the last verse of Genesis 16 and the first chapter of 17. And, sometimes, God requires us to take a step, in faith, before he reveals his plan. Check out Joshua 3.

7. Dwelling on the worst case scenario. I have the spiritual gift of discernment. That can be a positive gift when God's in control of my life. When I try to take control, that "gift" turns into sin. It's called worry or anxiety. I've wasted way too much time worrying about challenges or problems that never happened. This is my biggest area of vulnerability. What's yours?

8. Waiting until there's a problem to provide feedback. I'm encouragement-challenged. My tendency is to only speak up when expectations aren't met. That can create a culture of fear. I need to discipline myself to encourage my team. As Tom Peters has said, "Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes."

9. Staying busy. I've too often made the mistake of assuming that since I'm busy I'm adding value. It's very possible to be constantly busy and be completely ineffective. By the way, email can be the biggest trap of all. If I wanted to, I could spend every hour of every day processing email and getting absolutely nothing accomplished.

10. Spending too much time on the details rather than the dreams. Perry (Noble, Tony's pastor at Newspring) showed me this one. Check out Genesis 11:31-32. Terah intended to go to Canaan. Instead he stopped in Haran. He got stuck there for 205 years. Then he died. Why? Was it disobedience? Did he lose sight of God's vision? Did he just get too comfortable? Did he settle for less than God's best? When I get too focused on responding to the urgent, I lose sight of the big picture. And, frankly, my tendency is to settle into a routine that's very comfortable but doesn't accomplish the full mission God has for my life and my ministry.

Tony's closing comment: Those are my leadership mistakes. They are a reflection of my personality. They also reflect the sin that's sometimes present in my life. Your list likely looks different. But, do you know your list? You should. Ask yourself. Ask your spouse. Ask your team. Ask God. Don't settle.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Focus the Message, Multiply the Impact

The average Christian is educated
at least three years beyond their obedience.

I'm continuing my version of Speed Reading Week: a book a day from authors that I have had the privilege of hearing speak in person in the last year, and/or have had a conversation with about their work. Today, it's Dave Ferguson and "The Big Idea" from Community Christian Church in Naperville IL - and many other sites. One of the leading proponents of the multi-site church concept, Ferguson and CCC begin with a simple premise:

More Information = Less Clarity
More Information = Less Action

Instead, they submit that The Big Idea = More Clarity and Action. Here is a brief outline of the major points of "The Big Idea".

  • The Big Idea = Directional Alignment
  • TBI moves the whole family in the same direction
  • TBI moves all small groups (circle groups) in the same direction
  • TBI moves all ministries in the same direction
  • TBI moves all campuses and sites in the same direction
  • TBI moves the whole network in the same direction

Big Idea = Speedy Obedience
The measure of maturity is determined by the speed of obedience
Transformation: when a person hears God and responds with swift obedience

Paradox: The Big Idea is Less AND More

  • Energy: Less Effort AND Better Stuff
  • Innovation: New Ideas AND Always Good Ideas
  • Target Generations: Boomers, Busters AND Mosaics
  • Curriculum: Targeted AND Reproducible
  • Creativity: Planned AND Spontaneous
  • Christ Followers: More AND More Maturing

Advance Planning:
Gives Freedom to Think Creatively
Gives Freedom to Suspend Skepticism
Gives Freedom to Postpone Decisions

The Secrets Implicit in The Big Idea

  • Collaboration – Our ideas are always better than your idea. So get over it.
  • Humility – Let me introduce you to the pastor’s helper.
  • Trust – I know you won’t let us down; we’re banking on it.
  • Fun – If you want this much commitment, it had better be fun.
  • Competition – This week has to be better than last week.
  • Yes – Just when you’re about to say, “Why?” think, “Why not?”

Jesus’ Really Big Idea
Challenge 1: Take Bold Risks
Challenge 2: Be Spirit-led
Challenge 3: Continually Reproduce

Four Developmental Stages to Accomplishing the Big Idea
Phase 1: A Really Big Idea Church
Phase 2: A Reproducing Church
Phase 3: A Network Church
Phase 4: A Movement Church

A closing quote from Ferguson sums it up pretty well:

I am a Christ follower. I follow Jesus step by step as his Spirit moves me in His community called the church. When Jesus steps, I follow. When Jesus speeds up, I increase my pace. When Jesus slows down, I slow down too. The direction, the speed, and the ultimate destination of my life are determined by keeping in step with Jesus’ Spirit. Simple. Clear. Not easy!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Christianity Has an Image Problem

Using the lens of careful, scientific research that the Barna Research is known for, "unChristian" is an invitation to see what Christianity looks like from the outside. The title of the book reflects outsiders’ most common reaction to the faith: they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what is was meant to be. They admit they have a hard time actually seeing Jesus because of all the negative baggage that now surrounds Him. Research of the topic revealed six most common points of skepticism and objections. It was my privilege to hear author Gabe Lyons speak at the 2008 Church Solutions Expo and again at the Catalyst Lab. Here are the six broad themes of the book:

1. Hypocritical – Outsiders consider us hypocritical – saying one thing and doing another – and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes. They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate. Christians think the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.

2. Too focused on getting converts – Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them. They feel like targets rather than people. They question our motives when we try to help them “get saved,” despite the fact that many of them have already “tried” Jesus and experienced church before.

3. Antihomosexual – Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians. They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them.

4. Sheltered – Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality. Outsiders say we do not respond to reality I appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers. We are not willing to deal with the grit and grime of people’s lives.

5. Too political – Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues. Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.

6. Judgmental – Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others. They say we are not honest about our attitudes and perspectives about other people. They doubt that we really love people as we say we do.
"unChristian" is a fascinating study that reveals why the negative perceptions above exist, but more importantly, gives us clues on how to reverse these perceptions.