Family Friday

Another "finishing well" post this morning...

Casen got his middle name from my grandmother, Donna Mae Knox Johnson. This morning at about 5:30, she left the Land of the Dying and entered the Land of the Living. 

Memaw struggled with health issues almost her entire adult life. She first got cancer back in 1968, and it almost took her life then... twice. She struggled with a neuromuscular condition called "Myasthenia Gravis" that affected her muscles and caused her to get extremely tired after any elevated amount of activity at all. For the past decade, the Myasthenia Gravis and other issues affected her ability to breath and forced her to be on oxygen constantly. 

But aside from the oxygen cord that followed her wherever she went, and a slow pace that earned her the nickname "Lightning," you would have never known of any of her conditions. She trekked all over the world with grandchildren in tow (They took us all on a trip when we turned 8 years old). She loved my grandfather well - they were fast approaching 60 years of marriage. On days she couldn't make it to church, she and my grandfather would sing along with hymns over the stereo and listen to one of their favorite sermons on tape. She loved her family, but especially loved her Savior. 

Pray for my Grandfather, my mom and her two brothers. They don't grieve as those who have no hope, but they still grieve. Yet this morning, as I opened my Bible to reflect, I couldn't help but have a little private worship service as I read Isaiah 40:31:

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

This morning, as you read this blog post, at least one person is experiencing this metaphor in a very real sense, more alive than ever. 

Finishing Well

I was going to post something else about leadership economics today, but just had a nursing home visit that I have to tell you about instead. 

I went and visited a 90 year old member of our church who is in an assisted living center here in Fort Worth. It is always a treat to get to visit Mrs. Helm, and today was no different. Everything she says is profound, but one particular piece of the conversation today shook me to the core.

Mrs. Helm is struggling with her eyesight these days. She's fought glaucoma for a few years and the drops she puts in her eyes to hold off the disease have started to lose their effectiveness. And that's hard for her because she's a voracious reader. She reads through the Bible several times per year, and has a Bible Study plan that puts mine to shame. She's in a nursing home, but went on and on about how she's applying Scripture to her life.

Towards the end of the visit, I told Mrs. Helm I'd like to pray for her, and asked if there was anything specific I could pray for. Here's what she said: 

"It would be a real blessing if God would allow my eyesight to last as long as I do. My times in His Word are so sweet, I just can't imagine having to give them up. Then again, if God does choose to take my eyesight from me, I'm absolutely confident those times will be sweet as well. Pray that I'll have the perspective to keep my head up and finish well." 

Silly me, praying for her. She needs to be praying for me. 

Leadership Economics - Part 3

I had lunch yesterday with Jay Shellum. Jay is a CPA with a firm here in Fort Worth and a co-contributor to an extremely helpful blog written to help non-profit agencies think through financial issues. More than that, he's a really great guy. 

We got on the topic of the economics of leadership yesterday, and Jay made a strong point about making deposits to your credibility account. I'm paraphrasing what he said: 

"Leading people is a lot like raising kids. If you want your kids to talk to you about sex, dating, drugs, and other hard stuff, you have to be willing to invest the time talking with them about X-Men, sports, and the easy stuff. You have to lead people the same way. Care about the small stuff and they'll trust you with the hard stuff."

He's absolutely right. 

I worked for a guy at one point in my life who would only pay attention to me when he wanted me to do something hard for him. He would send me nice emails, make encouraging phone calls, and then within the same week would ask me to have a hard conversation with someone on his behalf. 

Today, that guy is leading no one. He's on the sidelines, because he has no credibility.

If you only make deposits when you need to make withdrawals, you aren't investing in your credibility account - just cashing checks. And when all you've ever done is cash checks, your credibility account balance is zero.

The great leader makes both deposits and withdrawals, but the two are almost never directly connected. He/she makes withdrawals and deposits, but rarely cashes checks.

Leadership Economics - Part 2

Yesterday I talked about how leadership is a lot like maintaining a bank account of credibility. Each leader makes investments and withdrawals throughout the course of their leadership. When the leader begins bouncing credibility checks, he normally gets the opportunity to find a new place to bank. 

There's another dynamic in this that I think is important:

Good leaders always know what is in their account. Great leaders are the ones who keep a steady low balance in their account (Assuming the leader is leading in the right direction). 

That is, the very best leaders are the ones who pace their leadership in such a way that they're constantly moving people toward a goal without either hoarding credibility or overdrawing their account. 

Leaders who hoard credibility are destined to lead organizations that go nowhere. Change and progress are impossible to implement because they always require an amount of discomfort and resistance - withdrawals from the credibility account the leader is unwilling to make. 

Leaders who overdraw their credibility account by moving too quickly are destined to lead no one; even if they themselves are headed in the right direction. The graveyards of full-time ministry are littered with youth pastors who had brilliant cutting edge ideas, but lacked the patience to build a balance in their credibility account to make their ideas a reality. 

The very best leaders are the leaders who lead in such a way that that they always keep a balance in their account, but who move and change at a pace that ensures the balance doesn't get too high. 

Leadership Economics

I was never a math person. Half the reason I was a music major in college was that I didn't have to take any math classes. Unfortunately, Kari isn't much of a math person either, so when we distributed roles right after we got married we decided I would keep the finances managed, and she would do the laundry, cook dinner, do the dishes, and clean the house. Both of us felt like that was a fair trade - that's how bad it is. 

Recently, I'm realizing that leadership is all about math. There's an economics side to leadership that has everything to do with budgeting, but nothing to do with money. 

I think leadership is exactly like managing a bank account. Most leaders, often by virtue of his/her position, are given a starter sum of credibility capital when they assume a leadership role. With every decision the leader makes, he/she has to decide how to invest that capital. 

Regular investments in the people and organization you lead allows you to make bigger withdrawals, most often coming in the form of change.  You can withdraw as much as you wantor as little as you want, but when it's gone, you're done as a leader. 

I'm convinced that many young leaders don't understand the economics of leadership, which is why they so often fail. A young guy takes a leadership role, where he is given quite a bit of credibility capital up front, and spends it like a 5-year-old spends a weeks-worth of allowance. A few of those expenditures actually give the young leader more credibility capital, but also more confidence to spend more. And before he knows it, he's bouncing checks and the organization is looking for someone else. 

Good leaders have to keep a close eye on their credibility accounts to make sure they're investing wisely. 

In the Beginning...

We have a 4-week Thursday night worship service for young singles every quarter. It's a great chance for young singles to worship together, and to connect their friends with what God is doing in Fort Worth. It's also the time I've used to teach more topical lessons - over the past year we've been primarily expository in everything else we've done. 

We're starting a new series tonight called "Ultimate Questions," thinking through the 4 critical questions that every person answers throughout their life. And, the way we answer those questions will shape the course of our lives. So it should be fun. 

Want to know what the questions are? You'll have to show up tonight, or send a young single person in Fort Worth to spy it out for you. 

I will tell you that tonight I'm teaching from Genesis 1. 

Have you ever asked yourself why Genesis 1 is the first chapter in the Bible? Most of us probably assume it's there for chronological purposes. It makes sense to start the book at the very "beginning." 

That's partially the case, but I'm convinced that there's a lot more to it than that. The fact that God was "in the beginning," and "created the heavens and the earth" informs every single other letter throughout the rest of the Bible. Genesis 1 establishes God's sovreignty over the entire creation. The other several-hundred chapters in the Bible explain what is the appropriate response to Genesis 1:1. 

Bronze Snakes

The speaker for our Church Leader Retreat last week was Jim Rose. Jim serves on the board at Dallas Seminary, and has pastored all over the country. Over the weekend he led us through a discussion of two kings in Judah's history: King Asa (2 Chronicles 14-16), and King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 31, 32; Isaiah 37). Both were considered "good" kings, but both failed to finish well. 

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament involves King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18. He was a 25 year old kid when he became king, and immediately (it seems) took the bull by the horns in removing the Canaanite high places, smashing idols to false gods, and cutting down the phalic Asherah poles. But he didn't just clean up all the idols built to false gods - he tore up an idol that had once represented the True God. Look at the last part of 2 Kings 18:4. 

"He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it." (NIV)

Can't you just hear the voices of a different generation as this young king smashed their idol to pieces? 

"Wait just a second young man. My grandmother was healed by looking at that snake." 

"Moses' fingerprints are on that snake. How dare you dishonor his memory?" 

"This young king has no reverence for our nation's traditions." 

It wasn't just a problem with Israel - it's often a problem with us. We as humans have a propensity to take things that once directed our worship, and turn them into the things to which our worship is directed. Musical styles, specific programming, outreach methods... They were once tools to point us to God, but we tend to make they themselves into gods.

And it isn't just the older generation who has a tendency to do it. We're all guilty.

Thank God for leaders like Hezekiah with the courage to name those things and smash them to pieces, while in the process directing the focus of the people back to the One who should be the true object of our worship. 

What are the bronze snakes where you worship? What are the bronze snakes you worship yourself? Smash those things to pieces. Don't wait another day.   

Not an Evangelist

I overheard a fascinating conversation the other day that took place between one of our global ministry partners and an elder at our church. 

This particular missionary is serving in Cuba, and God is doing some pretty phenomenal things through his ministry. If only half the things he says are going on are really going on, this guy is to the Cubans what the apostle Paul was to the Ephesians. Thousands of people are coming to Christ every month, and are connecting with churches in a vast church planting movement this man is overseeing. A group of our guys followed Manny around for 4 days not long ago, and saw nearly 100 people trust Christ in just those 4 days. 

Well, not long ago one of our elders introduced Manny to another person in our church, and mentioned that Manny was a person with an exceptional gift of evangelism. 

Manny was really quick to correct him. "I don't think I have the gift of evangelism at all." He went on to say, "I'm not a great evangelist, I'm just a great listener. Lots of people are ready to trust Christ if you'll just listen and ask questions."

You know what? He's on to something. 

This guy has personally led thousands of people to Christ in his life, but doesn't think he is a gifted evangelist. He's just a guy who listens well to people, and asks questions of them.  And they are trusting Christ everywhere he goes. 

People all over the world want to be respected and valued. They also need Jesus. Fortunately, we are able to share Jesus by respecting and valuing the people around us. We don't have to be extraordinarily good evangelists - we have to be intentional conversation partners.

When was the last time you had a conversation with a person about spiritual things in which you focused solely on listening and asking questions in return? It's been a long time for me - I think I'll do it today. 

Forced Organic Conversation

Each year, our church leaders take a 2-day trip to New Braunfels, TX. We spend some time golfing, some time praying, some time in sessions with a guest speaker, and a lot of time eating. But ask any of those guys what their favorite part of the trip is, and they'll tell you "the bus ride." 

We drive 4 hours each way on a charter bus, and it's a great time to connect with other guys who are pulling in the same direction. There are some serious discussions, but a ton of laughter. 

I love the leadership at our church. These guys are serious about their faith, and are the epitome of servant leadership. But they're also just plain great guys who know how to have a great time. I love watching some of our 70-year-old elders pulling practical jokes on some of the younger guys. I love to listen to them tell stories about each other, just trying to see who gets embarrassed first. These guys are the real deal, and I love serving with them. 

We could "retreat" a lot of places closer to home. But that would cause us to miss the true value of the retreat. If we retreated only 1 hour away, connection with leaders would have to be forced or programmed. Otherwise, guys would be tempted to head to their cabins and sleep or read a book. The bus forces organic communication, which seems like an oxymoron but isn't. We provide a catalyst that we know will create the reaction we desire, and then we let it happen. And, it's the most critical part of our retreat. 

Church Unique - Review

I mentioned Church Unique in my post about the best books I read in 2008. One of my favorite genres of book is books on church strategy and philosophy. The clearest test of a pastor's true theology is its manifestation in the church he leads. So, these types of books stretch me in a lot of different ways.

Will Mancini is a former pastor (now a church consultant), who is still extremely young. So, I was cautious about reading his book at first, honestly wondering if he had enough time leading a church to be an informed consultant. But I decided to give it a shot.

I'm so glad I did. This book is easily in my top 3 within a genre of several extremely strong books.

The first thing this book does that I love is to blow up the old-school strategic planning method where church staffs develop comprehensive mission statements, vision statements, and core value descriptions, and then wonder why "the people" don't fall in line. Mancini rightly points out that "too much information shreds the big picture into so many small pieces the vision is hopelessly lost." The big picture never emerges out of complexity; it's gained through simplicity. That's the crux of Mancini's book.

It isn't that the old method was bad; it was simply incomplete. It stopped short of giving leaders the tool they need to help solidify a direction in the minds and hearts of the average churchgoer. Throughout "Church Unique," Mancini helps church leaders clarify their vision, and simplify the old-school strategic planning process by viewing it as the frame that holds (and points to) the big picture.

The big picture is the "organizational sweet spot" - the reason God has your church on the planet. People need language to understand what God is uniquely doing through their involvement, and why they should step-up their level of involvement.

Mancini gives handles through which to understand what your church is about, how it does what it does, why it does what it does, and how it knows when it's successful - all in an attempt to help leaders clarify the finish line for the people they serve - at a staff level and congregational level.

This book is outstanding. It's well-written, easy-to-read, and easy to implement. In fact, I'll go so far as to say if you are the primary strategic [human] leader of a ministry, I may come into your office someday. When I do, if I don't see "Church Unique" on the shelf, I'll ask you why you're not serious about maximizing your ministry's effectiveness. It's that good.
(In my best LeVar Burton voice) But don't take my word for it...

Cool Stuff

Thought I'd post about something cool that's happening at McKinney Church. 

Every month, on the second Tuesday of the month, we have a time of Churchwide Prayer. We encourage everyone to come pray together about the things going on in our church and in the world. We spend focused time on the missionaries we support, and the local ministries we partner with in Fort Worth. It's a really neat time. 

For the 2 years I've been at McKinney, Churchwide Prayer has been like prayer events at every other church with whom I'm familiar; sparsely attended. 

Actually, that's probably an understatement. You could fire a rubber playground ball out of a canon in the worship center, and never worry about hitting anyone. The elders, deacons, and pastors showed up, along with a handful of other people, but the turnout was somewhere around 1 percent of our congregation. 

Over the last few months, something has been happening.

Back in September, a teenage girls' discipleship group showed up to Churchwide Prayer because their leader was going following the group meeting and invited them to join her. In October, two teenage girls' discipleship groups showed up. In November, the guys figured out where the girls were, and they showed up. And in December, for the first time ever, teenagers outnumbered adults at Churchwide Prayer, and we were closer to 5 or 6 percent of our overall congregation at Churchwide Prayer.  Still not where we want to be, but getting there in a hurry. 

If you study church history, you know that many of the great movements of God in the past began with a small group of praying young people. I don't know what God is up to at McKinney, but I'm excited to be a part of it. 

10,000 Hours

I just finished "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. I'm not sure if you would call Gladwell a sociologist, a statistician, or a strategist, but his books are always fascinating (he also wrote "The Tipping Point," and "Blink"). 

Outliers is subtitled "The Story of Success." In it, Gladwell tries to show why some people are successful, and why some people who have more raw skill, knowledge, or talent are unsuccessful. The book, much like Gladwell's other books, is an explanation; you have to pull your own application.  

Although there are several variables to success, one of the interesting notes Gladwell makes is the "Rule of 10,000 Hours." 

He says it takes 10,000 hours of focused investment to be an expert in something. He isn't aware of anyone, even child prodigies, for whom this is not true. 10,000 hours of investment in something is required before someone is able to truly excel. 

So, if you want to be an expert musician, you need to invest 10,000 hours in your instrument. If you want to be an expert Bible Student, you need to invest 10,000 hours in your Bible Study. If you want to be an expert swimmer, you had better start swimming. 

It's a staggering number, but it's also an attainable number. If you spend a 40 hour work week invested in growing in a specific area, with two weeks of vacation every year, you're looking at a 5 year investment before you can attain "expert" level. 

Most of us aren't able to be that focused. We, either by personality or necessity, tend to focus on a ton of things rather than one or two things. We spread our hours out, which makes 10,000 a difficult number to reach. 

Sure makes you want to reevaluate how you spend your time, doesn't it? 

Best Books of 2008

I'm moving offices this week, so it's likely my blogs will be a little disjointed. My apologies in advance.

One of my favorite things about a New Year is the year-in-review shows that everyone broadcasts. They evaluate everything from the top infomercials of the previous year to the top news stories of the previous year, and I love watching them. Well, in that spirit, here are the top 5 books I read this past year.

Church Unique - Will Mancini - This book barely made the list, but only because I just read it over Christmas. I'll write a proper review of it one of these days when/if I get it back - it was so good I loaned it out. It offers tremendous insight into the mistakes most churches make through the strategic planning process. Excellent, excellent book for anyone on the strategic planning side of ministry.

The Future of Justification - I wrote a review on this book fairly recently. It's not the easiest read of the year, but one of the more important. John Piper does a great job defending justification against the current writings of some popular theologians (N.T. Wright being foremost).

Vintage Jesus - I love the fact that Mark Driscoll is writing about significant theological issues. He and I aren't together on everything, but we're together on almost everything, and I really really liked this book. I'm praying that God will continue to raise up a younger group of guys who will think theologically, and preach biblically. Mark seems to be one of those guys. I hope to be one too, but a little less angry than Mark...
Why We're Not Emergent - I said much more about this book in a review earlier in the year. It's a well-written, easy-read, but is a very thorough (and fair) treatment of the "Emergent Church." These guys resist the urge to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but aren't afraid to throw out the bathwater.

Soul Revolution - This one was a weird one for me. I didn't love the book as much as I loved John Burke's former book, but I really love the concept of the 60/60 experiment - that our lives need to be more devoted than just a 30 minute "devotional" time in the morning. I'm doing the experiment with a group of guys in 2009, and think it's going to be a great thing for us.

I'm looking forward to some good reading in 2009. And I'm especially looking for some great books. How about you? Anything you read this past year that was particularly helpful to you?

New Years Resolutions

I realize most people aren't Resolution-minded, but I love them. I'm extremely goal-oriented, and love challenging myself to improve in the coming year with a clean slate. I think most of us overestimate what we can get done in a day, but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. Resolutions help me be focused and intentional about the things I hope to accomplish in the coming year. 

So, here are a few I'm working toward this year: 

52 Books  - I posted about this a few weeks ago, so I won't go into a lot of detail. I try to read at least a chapter a day, and shoot for around a book a week. I'm always looking for recommendations... anything non-fiction. 

Paperless - By the end of 2009, with the exception of books, I won't have a shred of paper in my office except in the trashcan. Scanning technology combined with the convenience of Google Desktop and an amazing administrative assistant are going to help me put all my seminary notes, miscellaneous files, and paperwork a click away.  Al Gore will thank me. 

One year Bible - Kari and I did the NIV One-Year-Bible together this year, and that was good. This year, I'm going to do the NLT. YouVersion for my iPhone is going to make that a lot easier. Everyone should read through the Bible at least once every year. You're talking about an investment of about 15 minutes per day that is the best investment you could make.  
Re-Pimped Devotional Time - Several years I blogged about my Pimped Out Devotional Time. I got away from that this year to try something new, and wish I hadn't. I'm re-pimping and looking forward to it. (If you're interested, I'll be starting with Nehemiah). 

Focus Facebook  - One of the downfalls of going paperless is that everything is on my computer. Over the past couple of months, I've really struggled with maintaining my focus... especially when I'm studying. I get stuck, or need a quick brain-break, and find myself wasting time in places like Facebook, or reading other blogs. Those things are important, but can also be a distraction for me. I need to nip it in the bud, and plan to do better in 2009. 

I've got a couple of others that I'll probably post more about later - they demand more explanation than I'm able to do without making this post a marathon post. 

But, I'm curious. Any of you have Resolutions for 2009 that you plan to keep?