Category Archives: Leadership

Feeling the Bern of Trump – In My Church

If you only have time to read one thing today (besides this blog), go here and read David Brooks talking about why he misses Obama.

Brooks’ book The Road to Character lists 15 keys at its conclusion.  #3 & 4 are:

  • Pride is the central vice
  • Humility is the central virtue.

Take the current leaders in the Presidential primaries and you’ll see this.

Bernie first, I’ll call him dynamite pride: the unfiltered belief that since the system sucks, we should blow it up.  Literally, “anything is better than this.”

Turning to Trump, I’ll call his nostalgia pride: the unexamined belief that the ‘good ole days’ are where we have to get back to – no matter what.  “Making America great again” can mean so many things and thus doesn’t mean anything.

In my church these two prides show themselves demographically.

  •  The olderlies (my daughter’s word when she was 4) suffer from nostalgia pride.  They want to make this church great again and there’s no hesitation (a la Trump) to harken back to a past memory or time when it was good.Memory
  • The younger crowd who, while committed to church (“I’m here aren’t I?”) want to blow it up – Bernie style.  Invoking “this is stupid” they can’t understand why we keep doing it this way.Dynamite

At 46, I’ve been a charter member of both of these camps – it just depends on when.

Here’s the problem: at root they both suffer from that central vice – pride.  Dynamite can’t hear nostalgia because dynamite only sees one solution – destruction.  Nostalgia can’t hear dynamite because it’s only view of a better church is historical.

If we truly want to follow that Crazy Carpenter, we have to do three things (revolutionary in their own right):

  1. Stop comparing our best to the other’s worst.  Is that my brother or sister in this crazy family or is that an idiot who doesn’t get it?  Family?  Oh, I need to listen to you.  Idiot? I have to shout you down.
  2. Stay in the room with difference.  Am I going to learn something from you?  Yes, but only if you’re different and I stay – and shut up – long enough.
  3. Trust the slow work of God.

Bernie dynamiters are right in that some things really need to change.  Trump nostalgics are right in that there’s 2000 years of hard-won Jesus history that shouldn’t be thrown out.  But both are wrong in what they deny.  Both lack the essential humility to say, “Not my will but yours be done.”  I’m more convinced than ever that the Spirit animates our work and our lives.  But we have to grow up – every day.  If we’re not willing to grow, why are we following that Crazy Carpenter?  Why does it matter?

Develop or Use

Imagine this: You get up and go to work.  When you arrive,

  • the doorman swings a 2×4 at your knees.Doorman
  • If you dodge him, then your assistant plunks down a dozen donuts on your desk as you sit down.
  • After sitting, said assistant straps you into your office chair with a time-lock of 8 hours on the belt.  You’re not to move until this afternoon.  (No it doesn’t matter if you need the bathroom, sorry).

Here’s my question: How long would you work there?

As Tom Haberstroh shows in this ESPN Magazine article,


this is what the NBA is doing to its players.  The league is literally killing its players – not as overtly as the 2×4 wielding door-man, but relentlessly, drip by drip, over-scheduling.  NBA teams play 82 regular season games in about 160ish days.  If spread evenly that’d work out to an alternating sequence of game-day/rest-day.  But that’s not how the schedule works.

It looks a lot more – as Tom shows – like:

  • Monday – flight to Portland, play, flight to Utah
  • Tuesday – play Utah, flight to San Antonio
  • Wednesday – play San Antonio, fly home.

Combine the relentless physical pounding of an NBA game with the airline miles (54000 in the NBA v. 29000 in MLB) and you have players getting hurt in major numbers.

Here’s the take-away: The NBA is using its players.  In fact, it’s using them up.  What if the NBA developed them instead?  What if it developed a schedule that allowed players to get better as the season (or seasons) went along?

In your organization are you the NBA or the NBA?  Simply put, are you developing or using your people?

How do you know?  Simple, ask them.  NBA players are telling the league they’re getting used, but the NBA doesn’t seem to be listening.  Are you?

Links for “May the 4th Be With You”

May the 4th be will you today.
Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve read the past couple of days.  Feel free to discard or ignore whatever isn’t in your zone.

Cheese, the Prisoner’s Dilemma & the Church

5254159199_a6675601f0_oI love cheese.  Really, I freaking love it.  But T and I are doing the Whole 30 diet this month.  It’s pretty simple.

  • No beans
  • No sugar
  • No grains
  • No dairy.

That last one is the killer.  No dairy = no cheese.  That’s the rub.  If I want to feel better, lose some pounds and be healthier, I have Continue reading Cheese, the Prisoner’s Dilemma & the Church

Geno v. Cal? Geno’s offensive philosophy wins

There’s a critical difference between the two dominant NCAA basketball teams:

  • Kentucky ( in the men’s tournament) and
  • Connecticut (in the women’s).

UConn doesn’t slow down offensively.  As evidenced by last night’s unrelenting pressure against Maryland, the Huskies play great defense (like UK) but they never ‘hold the ball’ on the offensive end.  As Nate Silver shows at 538, Kentucky did slow things down and it killed them (literally). Here’s a picture of it:  Continue reading Geno v. Cal? Geno’s offensive philosophy wins

“Our church won’t collapse” – until it does

3461384691_b66ec3d0b0_oBeing 45 is interesting.  I’m old enough to appreciate order (‘this is the way we do it around here’) and yet I still sympathize with the younger crowd (demanding an answer to the question ‘Why do we do that, that way?”)

The problem is both groups are right in what they assert.  The Boomers have spent 30 – 40 years learning the ropes of church. Moving to top of the food chain, they’ve waited their turn and now they control the budget or the music or the __________.

The youngers – those revolutionaries – want (even need) things to change.  When they don’t, they vote with their feet.  They’ve decided to play somewhere else with their time and with their attention.

So, it’s really about the status-quo.  Who wants to keep the future looking just like the present?  Turns out, the Boomers do.  In my church they have exactly the kind of church they want.

Every nation gets the government it deserves.     Joseph de Maistre

So does every church.  What my church Boomers want is

  1. to keep the church exactly as it is
  2. have younger people (especially families) show up and
  3. play along with them.

Hockey ActionThe reality, however, is that # 1 dictates that #2 and #3 aren’t going to happen.  This is always the case with the status quo.  It’s why NHL hockey teams play different in a tie-game than trying to win it in regulation.  It’s why there is no longer any cod fishery in Eastern Canada.  The reason we like the status quo is two-fold:

  • it’s comfortable, knowable, familiar &
  • we probably had something to do with making it (we’re invested in it, even loyal to it.)

As Isabel Wilkerson shows in The Warmth of Other Suns, people only do radical things (like The Great Migration) when they’re desperate.  Why did several million blacks move from the Old Country of the South from 1915 – 1975?  Because they had lived under the very real possibility of lynching long enough.  So when northern companies sent undercover hiring agents (officially they were insurance salesmen), that whisper of a better future (economically and culturally) was enough.  What started as a trickle before WWI turned into a torrent for the next 60 years.

Like the South, Boomers are trapped by their own established customs and culture.  What works for them creates momentum – for them and their status quo.  It works against the very people that they want to come however.

Seth Godin puts it this way:

It’s easy to defend the status quo, except when the very foundation you’ve built everything on disappears. Incrementalism ceases to be a good strategy when there’s a cliff on the route.

Here’s the cliff – at least for my church.dfchcfad

We have lots of olderlies (as my youngest used to call them).  Older than 50, we have’em stacked like cordwood.  Under 50, we’re hurting and in the 20’s & 30’s we’re downright scary.

That’s a picture of collapse – but it’s 10 or 15 years away.


So here’s the question (and the Boomers have to answer it because they have the power to change things):

Are you willing to give up # 1 (how you do things) to get # 2 (younger generations)?

My guess is no.  Like those NHL teams playing “not to lose” and the Eastern Canadian fishery before 1992, the status quo is just too comfortable and collapse seems a long way off.

Customers – for church

helpWho do you want to help?

Who you believe Jesus misses the most?

I know, he loves everyone, but who does he like?

If you want to know, ask yourself an easier question: Who do I like?

Guess what. Jesus likes them too.

How do I know?

Because Jesus likes you and he likes me. So of course he likes our friends.

When you consider your church’s customers you have to focus on two things:

  • Who do I know (and like)?
  • Who’s local?

Liking matters. Don’t discount it. Humans have been doing business with family for thousands of years. Why? Because in low-trust environments, blood is way thicker than water.

If I can see you, or sit at a table with you, there’s a much greater chance I’ll trust you. If we’re Twitter friends, I’ll find you entertaining, but trust is still a long way away.

Facetime is primetime.  facetimeWe trust people we can see. So flip it around. If you want to know who your customers are, think about who you’re seeing – today, or this week.

These are your potential customers. These are the people who can tell you their story – and listen to yours. If you don’t know them, they can’t know you. Facetime is primetime.

This primetime is also local. If you drive the same streets, get coffee at the same haunts, get groceries at the same market, that’s common ground. Common ground is the only currency when it comes to deep, spiritual work.


Because we have to know each other’s names. The rules change when we learn each others names – and we need the rules to change. We have to trust each other. No trust = no chance.

To see this think about 2 circles: your church and your community.

2 Circles

Notice two things. Every church sits inside a bigger community and the community is always bigger than the church.

Let’s redraw that picture though – it’s not quite right.

gray area




This shaded area is crucial. It’s your space. Sure, you spend time in and with a church, but that’s not the extent of your community. We go to soccer games with community (non-church) people. We watch the Seahawks with all kinds of people. Why?

Because we like them & they like us.

This shaded circle is the like-circle (yours & your church’s) potential customers.

If we really want to understand this shaded circle we have to shift from bounded-set to centered-set. Imagine two churches: A & B.

Church A looks like this:Bounded Set

It has a very distinct boundary between itself and the community. Sure you can come in from the community – if you agree to the rules, the dress-code and the statement of faith. (Lie detector tests may be administered without prior notice. Sort of kidding.)

Church A has a hard boundary. Like a surgeon protecting her sterile field, Church A is vigilant for germs.

Church B looks like this:open boundary

There’s a boundary between Church B and the community but it’s permeable. Church B is also trying to move (individually & corporately) toward the center inside the circle (let’s call that the Jesus dot.)

Church A is a bounded-set church. You’re either in or out. Church A is binary. Church B is a center-set church. There’s no clear in or out. We’re just all trying to get ever closer to the Jesus dot.

Remember that like-circle? That’s where we get to go seriously center-set.

By prayer, solitude and reflection, we’ll find out who Jesus is missing the most – who he really likes.

To understand the like-circle, we have to go ancient – all the way back to the 14th century. A 14th century monk once said, “Pray until you have to do, or do until you have to pray.”

Putting his words into practice we get this:

pray doWe can start at either end. If you know what to do or who to do it with, then start doing. Keep doing until you have to pray.

If we don’t know what to do, that’s fine. Pray. Pray for who in that like-circle Jesus misses the most. The Spirit is quite good at telling us “who”.

If you have a who, great. What about what to do? Pray about that too.

The most powerful thing you can do – at that point – is to pray behind their backs. Go ahead. It’s America. Don’t tell them, that’ll wreck it. Just pray – for them.

Eventually – you’ll get an idea. Something you can do with or for them. It’ll feel like you thought of it yourself. That’s OK. Blame God if you want. Don’t do it yet. Keep praying.

Eventually you have to do it. You just will. Now you’re on the doing side. Keep doing it until you have to pray.

Our customer problem in the church has nothing to do with marketing, digital presence or biblical thinking. The problem is us – and our lack of imagination.

When it comes to imagination, we’re impoverished. We literally can’t think of the people (names and faces) that Jesus misses the most. The good news is we don’t have to think of them ourselves.

It’s only on us to ask. The technical word for this is prayer.

Jesus said the fields were white with harvest. Clearly he was seeing something the disciples weren’t.

Here’s the really good news – Jesus isn’t selfish. He wants us to see with (his and his Dad’s) eyes. He wants us to share his vision – so it’s ours and his.

But – we have to ask. “If anyone will open the door, I will come in and dine with him.” He’ll share. Facetime is primetime.

“God created war so Americans would learn geography”

I heard this quote on the Tim Ferris show with Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding. During the show, Potts mentions this quote (attributed to Mark Twain):

God created war so Americans would learn geography.

Being a human geography teacher, I know this to be true. Many of my students don’t remember 9/11, they were toddlers or smaller. They don’t remember our 2nd go-round in Iraq, much less the first in 1990-91.
So when Obama gives a speech about ISIL, they wonder several things:

  • What is he talking about?
  • Where in the world are the places he’s talking about?

Vox (in their 14 maps that explain ISIS) has done a great job of showing this critical geography to us.  Here’s one of the maps that shows ISIS control.

isis control vox mapIn our Theory of Knowledge class this past week, we assigned groups of students to represent each of the players involved:

  • Turkey
  • ISIS
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Kurds
  • Israel

What’s amazing is how fast my students could get up to speed on the complexity and dynamics of the region.  Secondly, when each group presented what their country wanted, you get a sense of the challenge involved.  Every country wants something different in this part of the world and there’s very little commonality.

Regardless of what you (or I) think should happen in this part of the world, or what American involvement should be, we should take Twain’s advice and learn the geography – if for no other reason than it’s a gift (divine or otherwise).


1st Step to a Better Meeting? Admit the 1 you just ran sucked

H/T to Fast Company for this.
I try to stay out of meetings as much as possible. I find them brutal and these ‘types’ in this video are immediately recognizable.

If a meeting is inevitable, I propose these three things:

  1. Follow Jason Fried’s advice and don’t have the meeting in the first place.
  2. Follow Seth Godin’s advice and do not ask this question
  3. If you must have a meeting, plan, plan, plan it well. As the great John Wooden once said:

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.