Category Archives: leadership

Talent is Overrated

How do you turn around a team in the hurry?

Washington Redskins' coach Mike ShanahanIf you want to turn a locker room around in a hurry, fill it with a bunch of guys who really need the jobs. Pack it with players who are just happy to have contracts, who don’t think certain work is too menial for them, who have a sense of sweaty desperation. That’s the secret to how the Washington Redskins have been playing. A team that a year ago was overpaid and too precious for its own good is now leading the league in hard-fought victories.

Run your eye down the Redskins’ roster, and notice how many players have recently won starting jobs by doing the dirty work of special teams, running down punts and kickoffs. Anthony Armstrong. Lorenzo Alexander. Chris Wilson. Consider the number of guys who have worked their way up from the practice squad to the active roster. Ryan Torain. Brandon Banks. Keiland Williams. Count the undrafted free agents who have become regular contributors on the field: Seven of them.

See what’s happening?

Each week, the shape of the team the Redskins are building becomes more apparent. Coach Mike Shanahan doesn’t give much away about his philosophy or his methods, but a couple of things are plain. One is his sharp eye for overlooked and undervalued players, whom he seems to prefer over coddled draft choices. Another is his penchant for using special teams to school those players. He’s clearly sifting and grooming a new generation of starters through the utility squads, so if you want to see the Redskins’ stars of the future, watch them closely.


Missional Challenges

Urban LandscapeOver the last year I have noticed a trend when in a mixed group of churches (often evangelical) and NGOs.  It is the local evangelical churches inability to organize or work with outside groups.  All of them share the following characteristics.

  • The needs and convenience of the local church are more important than other partner agencies.
  • Other partner agencies or the community are expected to conform to the church’s convenience, even though it is a big inconvenience to other parties.
  • The church has a much bigger need for recognition than other agencies and groups.

The result is the same, the church is excluded in future discussions and is left on the margins while it’s reputation is hurt.  One frustrated NGO leader that I know talked about dealing with adults and children and evangelical churches was put into the children category.

Over the years several people have seen this and suggested that pastors are relationally retarded, they just can’t interact outside of a hierarchical power structure.  Bill Kinnon and I have talked about the narcissistic personality disorder and he also suggests that some pastors are sociopaths.  I have noted that many evangelical churches don’t play well with others but I am sure in some cases that is the issue.

I wonder if in many cases it is a case of never interacting outside of the confines of the church.  Growing up in the church –> Bible College –> Youth Worker –> Seminary –> Associate Pastor –> Sr. Pastor leads to fairly limited worldview as it totally focused on the life of the church.  The church has been and continues to be a persons entire life.  An entire career spent organizing within the community mean when in a situation where they need to be part of something bigger, they behave the same way they do inside the church, the needs of the church become the most important.  The issue isn’t that pastors are jerks, it is that their education and career path hurts them.  The more I think about it, the more it becomes a correctable issue.

What if we slowed down the path to the pulpit, either as denominations or as seminaries.  What if a two year stint in the Peace Corps or something like working for the Canadian Coast Guard or navy was part of the journey?  What about a two year stint in the mission field working grunge jobs and funded by the church that is sending them out to ministry.  My friend Gloria always says that church staff need to work in the real world and the more I think about it, the more I agree with it.

The purpose is to show potential church leaders a bigger world and also put them outside the church for a while.  Let them figure out some more about their personal faith, their calling, but also teach them how to work with other groups, learn what it means to be at the bottom of the totem pole. It would also teach them how hard it can be to make ends meet, be a good spouse, parent and participate on the life of the church.  It would give them an idea how how much they are asking and how much people are giving towards the life of the church and what that means.

I know some people will leave the ministry along the way, they are going to find a better spot and serve.  They may choose a career in the Navy, a career working in microfinance in Africa, or choose a career in business.  Some will even lose their faith but that happens now.  For those who are really called to pastoral ministry, it will give them a bigger worldview, a network a friends outside of the church, some more life experience, and the ability to understand how to work as part of a team, rather than just “lead” a team.

There is a reason why for years, culture valued leaders who served in the military as we felt that being part of something bigger than ourselves was a prerequisite of leadership.  Even President Obama did this during his years as a community organizer in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods.  Maybe a four year Bachelor’s of Theology needs to become a six year degree with a year breaks between year two and three and year three and four.  A Masters of Divinity may require an approved year of learning outside of the seminary applying what has been learned.  The Peace Corps, becoming a reservist, serving coffee in a Starbucks, being an intern in a shelter, or spending a year with YWAM become a required part of the curriculum.   By moving people outside the church for education, we may just make them better church leaders who have learned some important skills connecting with others, building partnerships, and living in the community.

Seminary 2.0

Bill Kinnon talks about a video he shot a couple of years ago with Eddie Gibbs

In an interview I shot with Eddie Gibbs a couple of years ago (no longer available online, I’m afraid), Eddie talked about the present seminary model that leads to students incurring huge debts in pursuit of their Masters Degrees. He commented that his banker, financial advisor and a real estate agent he knew were all M.Div’s who couldn’t afford to work full time at a church – they wouldn’t be able to service their seminary education debt.

Eddie was bold enough to suggest that seminaries needed to learn how to give their education away for free – like MIT and Stanford are doing. (Not that I expect to see that any time soon.) He also suggested that churches needed to be the ones sending folk to seminaries, paying for that education and expecting the seminarians to return to their sending community to work there or to be sent out from that community to plant new churches.

This is where the Disseminary makes so much sense to me.

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Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Bill Kinnon is writing about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder and church leaders.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not simply about taking normal egoism to extremes. NPD is one of fewer than a dozen personality disorders described by the American Psychiatric Association. These differ from the major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and manic-depression, which are believed to have a biological origin. Personality disorders are seen as a failure of character development.

As Bill points out, it is a disorder that is seen in church leadership.

For the NPD church leader, church is all about numbers and size. The church reflects who they are. And provides them with the lifestyle they believe they deserve. NPD’s are particularly gifted at winning affection by selling you what you want to be sold.

Like Bill I know of a couple of pastors who fit this profile.  One told me once that as long as he as the visionary leader survived, everyone else on his staff was expendable.  His vision and best interest trumped that of the community and the community’s primary job was to support him.

Of course one would like to see the wider church community confront and help bring healing to these leaders (and their communities) but in many ways the system feeds their disorder.  Powerful pastors are often outside their denominations or in some ways, bigger than their denominations.  In many ways they become in a microcosm  AIG’s or Citigroup, they are the ecclesiastical version of too big to fail, or in this case, fall.  Robert Webber once said that what drives the evangelical church was big buildings and powerful pastors and I don’t think he is that far out of line.

If the building is getting big and the pastor has influence, we tend to look the other way.  I heard one person dismiss the ethical failings of their pastor by observing what a great evangelist they were.

Over the last couple of days I have been getting a new computer up to speed.  Lot’s of downloading, updating, rebooting, downloading, updating… While I was sitting there I picked from Good to Great by Jim Collins.  I have always been a fan of Collins.  His views on business are often quoted in the church out of context but in the field which he is writing, I appreciate him a lot.  It’s odd because for all that he is quoted on leadership, people seem to ignore that he is describing the antithesis of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder leader.  His Level 5 leader is devoted to the cause, not to the fame.  He has a great line in one of his books about Lee Iacocca where he said that Lee Iacocca was distracted from running Chrysler by being Lee Iacocca.

He writes

Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.

He continues with more thoughts on a Level 5 leader

On the one hand… Creates—and is a clear catalyst in creating—superb results. Yet on the other hand… Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation and never boastful.

On the one hand… Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult. Yet on the other hand… Acts with quiet, calm determination and relies principally on inspired standards—not an inspiring personality—to motivate.

On the one hand… Sets the standard of building an enduring great organization and will settle for nothing less. Yet on the other hand… Channels ambition into the organization and its work, not the self, setting up successors for even greater success in the next generation.

On the one hand… Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck. Yet on the other hand… Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

I used to think of these leaders as rare birds, almost freaks of nature. But then a funny thing happened after a seminar where I shared the Level 5 finding and bemoaned the lack of Level 5 leaders. After the session, a number of people stopped by to give examples of Level 5 leaders they’d observed or worked with. Then again, at another seminar, the same thing happened. Then again, at a third seminar—and a pattern began to emerge.

It turns out that many people have experienced Level 5 leadership somewhere in their development—a Level 5 sports coach, a Level 5 platoon commander, a Level 5 boss, a Level 5 entrepreneur, a Level 5 CEO. There is a common refrain: “I couldn’t understand or put my finger on what made him so effective, but now I understand: he was a Level 5.” People began to clip articles and send e-mails with examples of people they think of as Level 5 leaders, past or present: Orin Smith of Starbucks Coffee, Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, Kristine McDivitt of Patagonia, John Whitehead of Goldman Sachs, Frances Hesselbein of The Drucker Foundation, Jack Brennan of Vanguard, John Morgridge of Cisco Systems, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and so on. My list of Level 5 leaders began to grow exponentially.

Then it dawned on me: Our problem is not a shortage of Level 5 leaders. They exist all around us. Like the drawing of two faces that transforms itself into a vase, depending on how you look at the picture, Level 5 leadership jumps out at us as soon as we change how we look at the world and alter our assumptions about how it best works.

the_brand_called_you1No, our problem lies in the fact that our culture has fallen in love with the idea of the celebrity CEO. Charismatic egotists who swoop in to save companies grace the covers of major magazines because they are much more interesting to read and write about than people like Darwin Smith and David Maxwell. This fuels the mistaken belief held by many directors that a high-profile, larger-than-life leader is required to make a company great. We keep putting people into positions of power who lack the inclination to become Level 5 leaders, and that is one key reason why so few companies ever make a sustained and verifiable shift from good to great.

Sadly you don’t see a lot of Level Five leaders writing books or speaking at conferences (although there are exceptions).  Tom Peters may disagree with me but they aren’t that interested in the Brand Called You, they are serving out there serving somewhere and trying to make a difference in the world and not worried about themselves or their own career.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin

I decided to pick up Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us.  I don’t generally read business or leadership books any more but I have enjoyed Seth Godin’s books in the past so I decided to grab a copy while I was in Indigo.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth GodinA tribe is a group of people connected around an idea, dream or a vision (it was also a great video game in it’s time but that’s off the topic).   Note that I didn’t say vision statement.  Everyone has a vision statement.  Marketing campaigns for Old Spice have vision statements.  Godin is talking about a group of true believers.  Think Apple fanatics or followers of Barack Obama.  The vision needs to be passionate and paint a picture of the future. Believing in that vision of the future is critical to getting things done and innovating.  Since the vision of the future is often different than what most people see it as (or hope it will be), it puts the members of the tribe out of the mainstream and at odds with the status quo.  Godin (and the western church) refers to them as heretics.   These heretics undermine established systems, question the way things are and constantly push everyone around them now towards into what they believe the future will be like and what’s needed in that future. 

In other words they are are pain to be around because in many organizations because they chafe against the established norms.  The heretics don’t appreciate most systems or established organizational procedures or structures.  In these ways the book echoes what Malcolm Gladwell is talking about in Outliers.  It is often harder for those inside organizations (and therefore harder to buck the system they are familiar with) to bring out (or even see) the change needed to innovate.

Apple Inc. logo Heretics don’t need the blessing of the sanctioning body (corporate headquarters or a denomination) to lead.  The vision of the future and passion for the community around it is what gives them permission to lead.  They care more about the idea than the market.  In many ways it reminded me of an article I read about Steve Wozniak talking about the Mac.  He took the lack of market penetration as a sign of the Mac’s supremacy.  Apple didn’t need the adoration of the market to make a computer, they needed the adoration of the tribe, those who got what a superior computer was all about.

Tribes are easier to start today because communication barriers have drop.  With the web it is easier to create a wider geographical tribe (Resonate, Emergent Village, or even something like what Robert Scoble is doing with Fast – he is a one person network).  The ease that it takes to spread an idea is exponentially easier than it was a generation or even a decade ago.  Not only that but if you look at something like Wikipedia, it is easier to bring people together around an idea irregardless of geography.  It’s more than communication, it’s also about the community that grows around the idea.  Nurturing that may well determine whether or not an idea thrives or dies. 

Software companies have slit their own throats but upsetting their developers (which are occasional competitors).  Sometimes the good of the idea may be at odds with the good of the tribe.  Learning to balance, resolve, or address this tension is a leaders hardest task at times.

I generally give away books on leadership but this one I plan to tuck away to read again another day.  My tribe deserves that.  That and I have something big to start.

Mustard Seed Sized Solutions

I was recently with the Inner City Council of Churches giving a presentation on homelessness.  It was a good time and at the end of the talk, there was a Q & A time where someone said, "While we all want to do something, we don’t have the resources or the expertise to do all of it.  We need to get behind and support those that do have the expertise."  It was a nice thought and I appreciate the encouragement and support of the churches in the inner city of Saskatoon.  They deal with the same clients that we do and have similar experiences.

Over the last week I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing (internally) about the system.  It’s a complicated system.  In Saskatchewan you have the Ministry of Social Services, the Ministry of Justice, Corrections Services of Canada (two half-way houses downtown), the City of Saskatoon police, Fire and Protective Services, the Friendship Inn, Catholic Family Services, the Salvation Army, the YWCA, Core Neighborhood Youth Co-op, Quint, Egadz, both school boards, White Buffalo Youth Lodge, Westside Clinic, Friendship Centre, Crocus, the Lighthouse, Saskatchewan Health Region, Mobile Crisis, Youth and Family Services (especially the 16-17 program) Crisis Management, Mental Health, CPAS, Sask Housing, the Bridge, and I am missing quite a few more organizations but those are the numbers on my call list this week.

It’s a complex inter-related system which is reliant on a lot of external factors.  Private sector funding, government funding (and in some cases three different levels of government and even within that, multiple government departments), the ability to hire staff, influx in population in need, facility space, and even the weather outside.  If one of those external factors changes, it affects the entire system.  I experience that first hand every day.  Where I work, we are the safety net for when other parts are overflowing, overwhelmed, or just not working.  That of course places burdens on us which reverberates back through the inter-connected system.

Churches are often outside of that system.  Part of it is the awkward relationship that conservative evangelicals have with the social gospel.  Part of it is that most larger churches are upper middle class by nature and full of people who chose to live in the suburbs to get away from the social problems of the core neighborhoods (who wouldn’t want to live where schools are better funded, skating rinks are actually maintained, there is less violence, and less property theft?) Other problems is that it isn’t just a financial problem that leads people to the streets but there are complex mental health issues that haven’t always been addressed and in some cases, the people refuse to address them.  Those issues take a lot of time and a physical presence to overcome and in case you haven’t noticed, in times of a tough economy, coming up with money to have a long term presence if you are not all committed to the cause, is a tough, tough sell.  Finally, too many churches see the problem and see themselves as the solution as opposed to being a small but important part of the solution.

I was reading offline article the other day about a Jewish congregation deciding to host community dinners aimed at building community ties between people.  They brought the food, invited community leaders, police, and other parties to a giant neighborhood party.  They made special invites to those involved in a city wide housing initiative with the intent to creating community roots and relationships.  Over a couple of years a lot of food was eaten but studies showed that those in that area enjoyed a more stable, less crime, and used less city resources then those in other areas.  The reason was the relationships built not only between the congregation and the community but between the community itself.  When I think of the resources needed to host a dinner/bbq a couple times a year, I was amazed at the dividend that investment in the community made.  The most interesting part of it was that wasn’t the Jewish congregations first idea, their first idea was to provide blankets for the homeless but the city asked them to stop because it was enabling people to sleep outside when there were the resources for housing for them.  They reoriented and have made a big difference in a local community and from the article, it seemed to fit their core competencies really well.  It’s a mustard seed solution which has paid off for the men and women in that community.

One of the reasons why I am cynical about political rhetoric when it comes to homelessness is that it tends to focus on too big of a picture while ignoring the incredible complexity of the problem.  Generations of bad parenting, low incomes, institutional racism (think of the impact that redlining had on the development of inner city black and Latino communities), substance abuse, child abuse, residential schools, or even being the victim of the domestic violence that I see way too often now.  Many guys that I work with really struggle with living in a community, they struggle with basic instructions, many don’t have basic literacy skills, others have socialization problems.  Whatever the cause, they can’t function in the system very well.  So we can talk about visionary big picture expensive ideas all day but in some ways I am starting to see that small solutions work well because the problems are so very individualized. 

Today one of the readers of this blog dropped off a bunch of winter work gloves, gear and socks to the shelter that had been collected by his work.  People have been doing it all winter.   He was gone 10 minutes when a couple of guys came in and asked if we had some winter gear because they had outside instant labor jobs tomorrow.  Most of the guys who come to the shelter get jobs at day labor places.  It’s tough work but often they get hired on full time someplace if they work hard.  I can’t tell the future but it is safe to say that in an economy that is shedding 250,000 jobs, more than a couple of jobs will be found by guys who benefit from that donation.  Over the last two years many of you have dropped off a jacket at a shelter of at a depot like Sleep Country and Mark’s Work Warehouse is running.  You have no idea how many people have been overwhelmed by a free winter jacket this winter.  We have them hanging in our lobby at the hostel.  Every time I think we will run out, more appear.  In Saskatchewan you don’t really take warmth for granted (Wendy is from Guyana, she starts complaining about the weather in September and doesn’t stop until May) but I have to admit I don’t think a lot about frostbite.  Yet for a lot of people across the country, they never had to worry about it either which is a big deal.

We were working through the budget the other day at work.  It was a good process and as we finished up, I spent some time discussing a scenario of what we would do differently if we had the resources to build an ultimate shelter from scratch, We had a good discussion about it and after deciding we needed one of these in it (I am also trying to talk Wendy into allowing me to have one as well), we agreed that while a bigger facility would allow more people to be housed (which is a good thing) but it would also need to be a space where people can take small steps to whatever help they will need.  For everyone that is different.

I am a red-Tory which means that I grew up being indoctrinated with the idea that says, if you work hard you will prosper.  Even people living on sidewalk believe it. It’s not true for everybody. Some people need help. Some need a lot of help. Some people are damaged in a way that they are not going to recover from and need to be taken care of. Others can get reconnected but it’ll take time and money.

Skid Row That’s where it gets tough.  Where is the best place to connect?  Sam Slovick talks about informed philanthropy during his films of Skid Row.  It is is investing the underlying causes of a disenfranchised community that is at the bottom rung of our society.  I am biased but I think the Salvation Army Community Centre does an excellent job is helping provide emergency housing for men (and soon women) who are in crisis and need safe housing.  At the same time we are dealing with the result and not the cause of the problem.  The Core Neighborhood Youth Cooperative and the Bridge are twp of my favorites because of their involvement with teens.  Right in the back of our building is a Saskatoon Board of Education program called SAGE (I can’t believe it’s not online) which works with a lot of teens as well.

Invest in the kids (youth groups, after school programs) and invest in the parents (support drop in centres, CHEP community gardens), and invest in things that tie local communities together (inner city sports, the arts, the new Station 20 West), perhaps most importantly is invest in to invest in the gaps.  Passion has to play a factor in this.  What is your church really good at?  What do you care about:  Domestic violence?  Community involvement?  Literacy?  Job creation?  Teens?  Single mothers? 

There isn’t a fix to homlessness and poverty in Canada.  It won’t come from the government, there are very few cities in North America who have the political will to do anything about it.  Instead of waiting for the meta fix, there are a lot of opportunities to support something existing or help form something new.  Start small, see what happen, those mustard seeds start to add up.

Training for today

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend who is in leadership in his local seminary.  While some seminaries are theologically focus, this one is a pastor factory whose primary mission is to produce pastors.  Years ago if you remember, I talked about a Personal MDiv and I was asked for some feedback.  I didn’t have that much to add to the conversation but I offered this up.

  • An understanding of how communities work:  The church can be a prophetic voice in a neighborhood or city but unless it is a big box mega church outside of town, it is often a neighbor and therefore has an impact on how that neighborhood interacts with it and each other.   Some churches are amazing neighbors while others can be jerks.   Each neighborhood has a different vibe and feel to it.  I walk the 15 blocks to work quite a bit and just by walking through Mayfair, Caswell Hill, and Riversdale and I can feel the differences.  Jane Jacobs may be the best pick to start with if you are talking about an urban context but there needs to be a framework for understanding the ebb and flow of a local neighborhood and community.  I am not sure how we missed this but I imagine that for long the church was the centre of the neighborhood that we haven’t adjusted to being ignored or looked down on by the neighborhood.  As Darryl Dash wrote in Christian Week, at one time being near a church meant a higher property value.  That isn’t the case today.
  • How to start something: After reading Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, you realize that many of the missional examples are not churches but are businesses, NGO’s, or non-profits.  Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks.  How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire.  Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere.  I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum and he may be right.  If it isn’t a part of a formal education, make it readily available to those that do need those skills.  Guy Kawasaki and Garage used to do a Bootcamp for Startups.  Perhaps something like that offered occasionally from a denominational perspective would be helpful.
  • Ethics: A lot of church leaders I know of have odd ethics.  Maybe it is just me that finds it odd but hiding money from the taxman, lying to avoid conflict or accountability, a love of money, or just going through the motions is considered okay.  When I worked at Lakeview Church, we posted the full script transcripts of sermons there.  Friday the site was busy but on Saturday it was even busier.  Most of the traffic was from outside Saskatoon and it was all browsing and downloading sermons.  A friend of mine used to joke that if you wanted him to preach better sermons, Max Lucado had to preach better sermons.  It isn’t just out of the way pulpits where this happens.  I listened to one speaker who has written on leadership and integrity steal a litany from Len Sweet without credit.  Although to his defense, he probably never wrote the talk himself or his books.  My point is that ethics seems to have been lost along the way.  Either that or we are doing a horrible job of vetting clergy.
  • Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy or accept the fact that only the wealthy or the heavily indebted will be able to enter pastoral ministry.  Tom Sine has talked about this for years and he is right.   The impact will be that only affluent congregations will be able to hire seminary educated clergy and smaller rural, inner city, missionary organizations will be priced out of the market.
  • Common Sense: A friend of mine wanted to plant an inner city church yet decided to move into a middle upper class neighborhood.  Does this strike anyone else as idiotic.  He wanted to be their pastor but not live around them.  (yeah, I just realize that I offended some of you)   I hesitate to add this because

I am oversimplifying the issues quite a bit and these were real simple off the top of my head answers but I thought some of you may find them interesting.

I am sure you have your own opinions.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

The John Edwards Sales Pitch

For some reason, super-strivers have a need to sell what is secretly weakest about themselves, as if they yearn for unmasking. Edwards’s decency and concern for the weak in society — except for his own wife. Bill Clinton’s intellect and love of community — except for his stupidity and destructiveness about Monica. Bush the Younger’s jocular, I’m-in-charge self-confidence — except for turning over his presidency, as no president ever has, to his Veep. Eliot Spitzer’s crusade for truth, justice and the American way — except at home.

Celebrity Culture

Scott is talking about the celebrity culture in the church on his weblog and he makes a good point, the church is obsessed with celebrities and superstars like the rest of the world. I don’t know if I accept his examples totally but his point is right on.

I have a similar story about being at WillowCreek. I worked at a church that used to purchase 20 tickets or so to the Leadership Summit and fly down most of its staff to hear “leaders” talk about leadership. The second time I was there, Wendy, myself and others were milling about in the lobby and people were literally lined up at the door. When the door to the lobby opened, these people ran into the auditorium so they could get to the front of the building supposedly so they could get close to Bill Hybels. I am assuming they were under the impression if Bill sweat on them or they could smell what kind of deodorant he used, they would be better leaders. It was a little odd to see and not the norm but at the same time I think it is something that permeates church culture.

The church is a lot like NASCAR, it markets and sells those that are successful. The stories of success are what is needed to sell books, book people into conferences, sell DVDs, or have people come to your church. While there is a lot of talk about faith and God’s blessing, there is an entire industry out there that is selling the opposite message, it is about speaking, leadership, vision and they have the tools to help get the church there and I think we have bought into that far more than we will ever admit. To sell those items, they need a face and a story to share and depending of the product, they partner with those that people resonate with, kind of like George Foreman and his grills.

Some people in the church seek out celebrity status while others it just happened to. Those that seek the status will quote whore themselves to irrelevance and keep releasing the same book with a different cover and a couple new stories again and again. Others will be stuck with it because at a certain point they captured the imagination of a people. I don’t blame them and I don’t even blame the industry that produces them. Their bottom line is the bottom line and for decades have been producing all sorts of crap. The people I blame are those of us who are looking for the secrets, the easy way out, the success, the glory, and will pay $295 for a one day seminar with them as they tell us what they wrote in the last three books.

It comes from a lack of leadership, a lack of confidence, a lack of trust, and a lack of faith in our ownselves and instead of admitting it, we go looking for it from someone else. This is a deep structural problem in the church, one that is reinforced by the system rather than challenged which is why I think people are often attracted to movements on the fringe of the church, it’s where they would be if they had the courage to go there. Instead we make those who are there into celebs and try to live through them.

The End of the Road for AOL?

Fast Company has a good article on what happened to AOL.  This paragraph from the article seems to sum it up.

In April 2005, he launched AOL Internet Phone, an entirely new product that he spent millions developing. To recoup costs, the monthly fee was set at almost double what competitor Vonage charged. “The rationale they told each other internally was that, ‘Oh, well, we have all these extra features customers want,'” says a former executive. “In fact, people didn’t want features. They wanted a phone, cheaper.” And because of tangled billing systems, at first only AOL’s ISP customers could subscribe to Internet Phone. This was no small glitch: Internet Phone ran on broadband only. So AOL’s dial-up subscribers would need a separate high-speed connection to make it work. As if that weren’t farcical enough, sources say that just before the launch the company’s board refused to let the service compete in cities where Time Warner Cable was offering its own VOIP service. In the end, Internet Phone had a mere 2,000 subscribers when it was canceled in October 2006.

I don’t read the amount of business books that I used to but this was painful reading.  How can a company this large be run so poorly?  Well then again they aren’t alone; GM, Ford, Air Canada, ABC, AOL, and at different times, Apple.  via

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Manager vs. a Leader

John Maeda wrote this today

A manager is the person that designs the construct of a line, sets the expectations for the line to form, thinks through how the line might be best composed and prioritized, and ensures that the queue is executed per spec. On the other hand, a leader is the person that is able to take the line forward in an orderly fashion by setting the example for others, providing the vision for how the line fits into the larger scheme of things, and engages the line-followers in a respectful manner. The manager sets up the win with perfection for her team; the leader executes the win with passion. What is common across these two different roles is that both people need to implement or execute their plans in a participatory nature, otherwise they will surely fail. Because in the end, a manager never manages alone; and a leader surely cannot lead alone either.

So in conclusion, to become the hybrid leader/manager is an important goal in life. My own philosophy of do both continues to make sense to me. Sometimes I wish it were all a bit simpler. But then I think it would be less of a challenge and I would be bored instead. So for today, complexity in life wins as the guiding principle.

Organic Community by Joe Myers

A couple of weeks ago Baker Books sent me a copy of Joe Myers second book, Organic Community. A book in which he builds upon the ideas of a Search to Belong. I finally got around to reading it yesterday while sitting under my patio umbrella. I am not sure how long it took me to read it but no longer than a couple of hours which is an endorsement of Myers’ writing style. Despite being a quick read, it had a lot of good stuff in it and made me rethink some ideas about Church of the Exiles, Resonate, and some other organizations I am apart of and I have several pages of notes and ideas that I took from the book and want to put into practice.

While in Search to Belong, Joe deconstructed the thinking that goes into small groups and gatherings in the church, he expands his thinking and looks at the impact of sacred cows like “vision casting” and planning have on church communities and how a change in the questions we ask can change the results. In the end, Myers is describing a community centric vision of a church (or business) rather an a hierarchical centric generated vision of the church which demands conformity with the vision about all else. By using real world examples from the church and his own business, SETTINGPACE, Myers shows that it is not only plausible theory but is happening in practice.

As I glance over my notes, the following thoughts hit me.

  • While not taking anything away from what was written, I think this is a lot easier to do in new communities rather than old ones. As Pete Ward talks about in Liquid Church, churches do have certain expectations of their leaders (Ward uses the illustration of prisoners and guards acting a certain way in prisons because that is what is expected of them by each other) and do expect others higher up the org chart to lead in a certain way. For some reason, many men cling to the idea that their pastor needs to be a visionary leader, perhaps to justify their involvement in the church.
  • True community and traditional churches are incompatible. Part of the problem is the idea of a pastoral calling being a career and also the view that church leaders are interchangeable parts that can be swapped in and out for the good of the community. In both ways, the commodification of those who are a part of the community destroys it and makes it not much different then any other profit driven company.
  • Speaking of profit driven companies, some official and many unofficial church vision and mission statements are variations and spiritualizations of the old axiom, “maximizing shareholder value” rather than existing as a community.
  • As good as Joe Myers book is (and it is excellent), it is a minority voice in a crowded market of people trying to sell the exact opposite of what Joe is writing. The leader/pastor has been so ingrained in how we see the church and we have spent so much time building him or her up, it is going to take a long time and a lot of discussion for the church to move away from it. Ironically, for the first bit, it may even take a strong leader to have the church to stop thinking in terms of heirarchical leadership and start thinking in terms of community (rather than just blather on about it).

Related Links:

Richard Dawkins as an "enthusiast"

On Becky’s blog she is quoting Richard Dawkins who makes the claim that he may be passionate but is not a fundementalist.

No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

First of all, I might as well just say this. I am an evangelical but I am not an fundamentalist.

The confusion of these terms is irritating and until George W. Bush became President, they did mean separate things. Jimmy Carter is an evangelical. Tony Campolo is an evangelical. Jim Wallis is an evangelical. At the same time James Dobson, John Hagee, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell all claim to be evangelicals as well. It is an awfully large camp but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists and to be honest, we don’t all believe the same things like evolution, only male leadership, or Biblical literalism. I grew up in an evangelical household and I don’t even remember discussing these things growing up. I think my mom may have been a closet literalist but the lack of moat and parapit around our house meant that she was too ashamed to being it up much 🙂

Secondly, I disagree Dawkins insistence that science is somehow pure in its pursuit of knowledge. One of the better books I read last year, 1491 ( is a tale of scientists refusing to give up on their theories and attacking other theories of the origin of civilization in North America. It is a story of people not changing their minds in face of evidence. I am not saying all scientists are fundamentalist, just that fundamentalism can be found in all fields. If you have ever listened to Joe Morgan call a Oakland A’s game, even baseball has people who can’t see something that is outside of how they see the world and this is a game which is supposedly all statistics (and yes I am killing the metaphor by calling Joe Morgan a fundementalist but his closed mind approach to sabremetrics shows an awfully closed mind).

Also, in one of my favorite blog posts of all time, AKMA, writes to incoming seminary students about the pursuit of truth in theology and the Christian life.

I start from the premise that everything about discipleship (and ordained ministry is in many respects simply an intensified mode of discipleship) grows out of the practice of truth. All the different theological disciplines, all the techniques and skills and habits you learn, derive their importance from the Truth you live; whatever facts you memorize, whatever devices for handling parish (diocesan, academic) organization, if they do not contribute to articulating a Truth that goes deeper than your personal preferences, your family’s habits, your community’s prejudices, those learnings amount to nothing more than gilding on a goose-egg. sooner or later, the egg will rot, and a pretty exterior won’t take away the stink.

The Truth will sustain your discipleship, even the intensified kind, with a nourishment, a light, a harmony, and a sense that do not depend for their validity on buzzwords, platitudes, fads, simple answers or correct answers (whether of the popular or academic sort). It’s not for nothing that Acts shows us the earliest followers of Jesus calling their fellowship as “the Way.” Ours is a Way entrusted to us from saints who knew it much better than any of us is likely to know it. That Way grows in us by the work of the Spirit, but we ought to make room for the Spirit to form us in the Way and cooperate with the Spirit in bodying forth the Way in our lives.

Are there fundamentalists out there that fear a truth outside of their worldview? Absolutely. Some of them are listed above and proclaim their fundamentalism proudly. Even among the GOP presidential candidates, some believe in a young earth seven day creation of the earth in face of overwhelming scientific evidence (This undermines my argument but last summer at Arlington Beach during the Free Methodist camp, there was a display up that linked people like me who don’t accept a seven day creation/young earth to secular humanists and homosexuals who are destroying the faith – I thought I should let you know what a heretic I am). While there are Christian fundamentalists out there that can not or will not accept new information outside of a specific framework, there are many of us whose pursuit of truth lead us to faith. For others it was witnessing the supernatural (in my case seeing a miraculous healing in response to prayer growing up) while for others it was a personal encounter with God or as Plantinga has written over the years, some of us just have “faith in God” and it is logical to do so. I don’t see that as a contradiction to evidence. In the end, I have to disagree with Dawkins, he is as much of a fundamentalist that he claims to be against.