Welcome Mats

Several years ago I taught a series in which I talked about the hypocrisy of welcome mats. I stumbled back across the series the other day and was reminded of the illustration.

Kari and I don't have a welcome mat on our front porch that says "Welcome." You shouldn't either. In fact, when you walk into a home that has a big mat out front that says "Welcome," you ought to be utterly and personally offended because your hosts really don't mean it.

What the mat ought to say is "Welcome, but not like that." Fix yourself up, clean yourself off, and then you're welcome in my house. You're welcome once you meet the standard of what I find acceptable in my house, namely clean feet. Until then, "Stay Out."

Welcome mats only tell part of the story.

I wonder if sometimes we're not like that, especially in our churches? We tell people they're welcome, but have several provisions of what that it takes to be deserving of an actual welcome. Our sign says, "everyone welcome," but when the homeless guy comes in smelling like urine, we're surprised that he doesn't recognize the welcome doesn't apply to him. The teenager who is pregnant "out of wedlock" doesn't recognize that the welcome applies to her.

I'm not talking about being soft on sin or shy about tackling difficult issues. I'm also not talking about being at a place where we compromise safety in order to accommodate "messy" people. I am talking about dealing with those issues the same way Jesus dealt with us - sacrificing Himself to meet our need. Moving toward us when we were despicable.

The problem is, so many of the things that cause us to "unwelcome" people have nothing to do with Jesus. That's the part I'm hoping we can re-think.

An Unqualified Yes

I spend quite a bit of time in the trees of Bible Study, so I try to discipline myself to stop and look at the forest on a regular basis. This year, I'm reading through The Message. It wouldn't be great for intense Bible Study - it isn't a "translation" of the Bible, just a paraphrase. But, it's a really good paraphrase and I regularly find that it shines new light on a passage I've read a hundred times somewhere else.

For example: I love how Eugene Peterson handles Joshua's challenge to the people of Israel at Shechem in Joshua 24.  These are Joshua's last words to the people of Israel and they're determined to convince him that they'll be faithful long after he's gone.

He knows better.

He walks back through Israel's history with them and reminds them that Israel has always been unfaithful, but that God has remained faithful nonetheless. Time after time, Israel was unfaithful even after watching God work miraculously, but time after time God took them back.

The people say "Count us in: We too are going to worship God. He's our God" (Joshua 24:18).

Joshua knows better.

Joshua challenges them again: "You can't do it; you're not able to worship God... He won't put up with your fooling around..." But the people remain convinced.

Joshua knows better, but he draws a line in the sand for them, and I love this:

Joshua said, "Now get rid of all the foreign gods you have with you. Say an unqualified Yes to God, the God of Israel."

Say an unqualified "yes" to God, the God of Israel.

It's easy to say to God, "Yes, but..." or "Yes, if..."

Joshua's words make it really clear: God desires the unqualified Yes. For Him, it's the difference between worship and idolatry.

In what area of your life do you need to say an unqualified Yes to God, the God of Israel?

More or Less Choices?

Whatever it is you're leading - whether a corporation, church, or family, there is a pressure to satisfy as many people as possible. We all feel it, even if we aren't "people-pleasers" by nature. 

Most often, our instincts tell us that the way to satisfy the most people is to offer more choices. We feel as if, for example, the way to satisfy more customers is to expand our product line. The way to satisfy more church members is to offer more choices in programming or worship style. The way to satisfy more of our kids is to offer a buffet every night for dinner. 

The truth is, this is one area where our instincts will almost always lead us astray. 

In reality, more choices lead to what Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch call "decision paralysis." They say, "more options, even good ones, can freeze us..." When we have too many choices, we normally revert to whatever the status quo is in order to minimize risk; we don't want to choose wrong so we don't choose at all. The result is, we still find ourselves dissatisfied. 

The other problem with offering more choices is that the desire for more choices is insatiable. I go to the pizza buffet where I have access to an unlimited supply of pizza with an ability to request any combination I desire, and leave frustrated because they don't have green olives on their make table. If people have the illusion of limitless choices, they'll almost inevitably fixate on the one thing they can't have. 

My experience is that you normally satisfy more people when you limit the choices, do what you can do well, and resist the temptation to try to satisfy everyone; you'll only make them more unhappy. 

God Doesn't Want to Be On the List

Last Sunday I started a series in Luke 10:25-42, which begins with a hat tip to the Great Commandment. We looked specifically at the command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength" from Deuteronomy 6.

A lot of times we talk about our "priorities" as a checklist: I put my relationship with God first, my wife second, my kids third, my job fourth, and so-on. The problem with that is that (a) it's impossible to measure priorities that way and (b) it assumes that you can't love God by loving your wife, your kids, or item #462 on your checklist.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 is fairly clear: God doesn't want to be on your priority list. He wants the whole thing.

It ought to be as if when people look in our eyes, (Deuteronomy 6:8) they see a person who loves the lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength that it is as if the message was tied on our foreheads; as if it was written on the door frames of every door we walk through.

Every day, every time, through every door, every part of us ought to be on a mission to love God.

When you look at it that way, the point of Deuteronomy 6 is that there's not much of a difference between secular and sacred; only a difference between loving God and idolatry (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

Two Pizzas and a Meeting

I was reading last week about Amazon.com's theory on meetings. They have a two-pizza rule on projects and teams: If a group would consume more than two pizzas in a sitting, the team is too big and destined to get bogged down in bureaucracy.

Aside from the fact that Amazon.com's execs have never watched me consume pizza, the general principle of this "two-pizza" concept makes a whole lot of sense.

Small teams are more agile and able to ensure that every person has an opportunity to fully understand the issues at hand. Questions and concerns can be dealt with quickly and comprehensively without leading to rabbit trails and other discussions which are only tangentially connected to the actual objective of the team.

Yes, smaller teams leave some people out of the conversation. But ultimately, those people were likely to be left out of the discussion of a bigger team too - they would have been present, but not a real part of the discussion. Inevitably, the real decisions will be made outside the meeting by a smaller group of people anyway.

If the team will consume more than two pizzas, you might consider making it smaller. The result will be teams that are more productive, efficient, and because they won't have to meet as frequently, happier.

Pray Specifically

I'm far from the world's leading expert in prayer, but I'm learning. 

For most of my life, my prayers have been vague, broad, expansive "Lord, help the world" kinds of prayers. Even when they're more specific than "help the world," I tend to find myself praying "blessings" for people and "provision" for people and for "guidance" in situations. Then I find myself frustrated because I so infrequently see specific answers to my prayers. 

Why do we expect God to give specific answers to non-specific prayers? And even more, how would I know if He did give specific answers to the vague, broad prayers I pray so often? 

I'm learning to pray more specific prayers. Rather than praying general, broad, vague prayers, I'm asking God for specifically what I hope he will do. It takes more time and a lot more focus, but I'm finding it helps my prayer life quite a bit. When I ask for specific things, I receive specific answers, and prayer gets a whole lot more exciting.

Professional or Amateur

Not long ago I was visiting with Eric Swanson, Leadership Network's Externally Focused guru.

As a part of the conversation, he made a contrast between amateurs and professionals that I thought was brilliant.

He said, "The difference between amateurs and professionals is this: amateurs work until they get it right. Pros work until they can't get it wrong."

Amateurs practice until it's enjoyable. Pros practice until it's worth something.

Whatever you're doing today, know whether you're expected to be an amateur or a professional. It changes things.

The Middle East and Psalm 87

As you might expect of someone who has a heart for the Nation of Israel and hasn't been under a rock for the past few weeks, I've followed the situation in the Middle East with quite a bit of interest.

Unrest in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, and much of the rest of the Middle-East world has caused serious concern about the rise of radicalism in most of the countries that surround Israel. Combined with world perception about the settlements on the fringes of Israel, Israel finds itself in quite the predicament.

So what else is new? Israel has been in predicaments since shortly after Moses descended from Sinai.

I am (of course) praying Psalm 122:6-9 for the peace of Jerusalem. But I also find myself praying Psalm 87 for the whole Middle-East.

In Psalm 87:1-3, God declares that He loves Jerusalem more than any other place Israel has lived, calling it "The City of God." But the rest of Psalm 87 records a promise to Israel that provides as much comfort and hope today as it did when God first declared it.

God promises that Rahab (Egypt), Babylon (Iraq), Philistia (Gaza), Tyre (Lebanon) and Cush (Northern Africa) will someday be recorded as those who acknowledge Him - literally as those who "know" the Lord.

In fact, he goes a step further to say that the people from all those nations will someday be recorded as those who belong with God's people because they will believe and know the God of God's people.

To quote Steve Strauss, "God doesn't see them as 'them.' He sees them as potential 'us.'"

When God fulfills Psalm 87, there will be quite the party (Psalm 87:7) between all the nations of the Middle East, including Israel. The countries won't need allies; they'll have common ground in a relationship with the Most High God.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Guy Kawasaki's book "Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions" was released last week for Kindle. It's worth reading.

One of the concepts Kawasaki talks about is the importance of doing "premortems" on a new idea or program.

In ministry, much like in other organizations, nobody ever bothers to conduct a "postmortem" on an idea that has died. There isn't enough time, resources, or interest to spend time thinking about a program that didn't make it. Leaders' plates are full enough.

Kawasaki recommends conducting a "premortem" review early in the launch phase. The premortem review is the discipline of asking before an idea, product, or program is launched, "Think toward the future and assume what we are talking about is launched, and fails. What would be the cause of death?"

According to Kawasaki, the premortem review allows you to solve problems before they happen, reduces the likelihood of a false-start, increases the likelihood of creativity on the front-end, brings light to early warning signs, and opens the pool of shared knowledge to more people because the environment is less political. People won't criticize a project mid-stream or after it dies because they don't want to throw stones at other people on the team or be perceived as someone who is not a team player.

We've done a premortem review on some of the ideas our staff has discussed in the past and found it to be fairly helpful. It's not a perfect method - foresight is never as clear as hindsight, even when it's disciplined foresight. Even still, a premortem review can be a really important discipline for a team to engage.


Young Life used to have a mantra: "It's a sin to bore kids with the Gospel."

I feel the same way about the Scriptures as a whole. Whether you're teaching the Bible or simply reading the Bible out loud, boring, lifeless, uninspired presentation of inspired Scripture ought to be outlawed by Christians.

I don't know when or why Christians started reading the Bible like a technical manual, but it's a syndrome that seems to pervade Christianity, at least in the West. I wish we would figure out a way to put a stop to it.

We read the Bible like it's an Electrical Engineering textbook and then wonder why people in our churches aren't more inspired to give their lives for the God it reveals.

The Scriptures contain the words of life (John 6:56); the inspired words of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Shouldn't we read them and talk about them with life, like they are inspired?


Replace or Re-Vision?

I certainly haven't hired perfectly, but I've got a fairly good track-record so far. One of the things I've learned is that it rarely works to straight-up replace people who transition off your team. Whether the person was a world-beater or someone you couldn't get rid of quickly enough, if you go right back out with the exact same job description, you're probably going to make a mistake. 

Organizations change quickly. Circumstances change quickly. If you go out and try to hire someone for the exact same job you hired a person for years ago, you're assuming that your needs are the same as they were years ago. That's rarely a good assumption. 

The other challenge with strictly replacing people is that you tend to hire based on the last person in the role when you're strictly replacing. If you're replacing an all-star, you tend to look for people who look exactly like their predecessor. That sets them up to fail when it turns out their predecessor was a unique individual. 

The other side of the coin is trying to replace a bad fit. You tend to replace poor fits reactively - "John was an introvert; we need someone more extroverted in this role." Often, reactive hiring causes you to emphasize characteristics and skills that don't necessarily need to be emphasized. The fact that John was a "zero" when it comes to people-skills doesn't mean the answer is to hire Mr. Personality.  

I prefer (when possible) to re-vision a role when we get ready to hire, even if we are filling an existing position. We re-examine our needs, write a job description from scratch, and even try to change the job title if something else would be more descriptive. That also helps prevent confusion within the organization from people who have a memory of someone who previously filled a similar role. 

Sometimes existing roles have to be filled. People transition on and off the team. But resist the urge to try filling a vacuum created in the form of one person with someone who will ultimately be a different shape. If you're looking for a fit, the only way to find it is to re-vision the role every time. 

Journeys and Maps

Yesterday we talked about Joshua 1 together as our church begins to step "Beyond the Known." One of the things that is clear about the first few chapters of Joshua is how many times God charges the people of Israel to "remember" and "obey" His commands.

Any time we travel into unknown territory, we are wise to commit to the perspective of someone for whom that territory is not unknown.

We do it on vacation - we search out maps and travel guides and websites to help make sure we make the most of our trip.

And that's just it - guides, maps and commands aren't just to keep us from getting off the path or getting in trouble. They often help us maximize the journey.

As we're walking through life, the question isn't just "What are the bare minimum things I need to do (or not do) to keep from getting in trouble." The question is is "What are the things I will miss if I don't follow Jesus?"

Title or Responsibility?

Joshua 1 records the transition from Moses' leadership to Joshua's leadership of the people of Israel. The whole passage is fascinating, but I find verse 1 particularly fascinating.

"After the death of Moses, the Servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide:"

Throughout his tenure, Moses gets called "The Servant of the Lord." It's a special title Moses got that nobody else carried during Moses' day. 

By Joshua 1, Moses has already commissioned Joshua and announced that Joshua would be the new leader (Deuteronomy 31). Now, Moses is dead and Joshua is Israel's second leader post-captivity. You might expect Joshua to co-opt Moses' title when he assumes Moses' post, but he doesn't. Moses is still "The Servant of the Lord," and Joshua is still "Moses' aide." 

Even still, by the end of Chapter 1, the people are one-hundred percent behind Joshua as their leader. He will go on to lead them across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He will "fit the battle of Jericho," and conquer a host of enemies. He will arguably take Israel further faster than Moses was ever able to take them. 

But it isn't until the end of Joshua's career (Joshua 24:29) when Joshua gets to assume the title "Servant of the Lord." 

Titles and positions have absolutely zero ability to lead. Leaders lead. 

Joshua effectively led the nation of Israel long after they moved beyond Moses' shadow. He didn't wait for a title or position to be bestowed on him - he just led. 

If you're waiting on a title, position at the table, or promotion before you start leading, you'll never lead effectively. Just lead; the titles, positions and promotions will come. 

Most Important Thing a Leader Does

Not long ago I read a blog that posed the question: "What is the most important thing a leader does?"

I don't remember the blog, but remember the question and several of the comments. Many people said things like "casting vision," "tell the truth," "model behavior," and "making decisions."

Obviously, all of those things are important but I think something else is even more important.

I think the most important thing a leader does is to say "thank you."

Max DePree says "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say 'thank you.'"

In my mind, if you don't start by saying "thank you," you'll never earn the right to define reality.

No leader gets to where he is without the help of others. Leaders who think they are "self-made" are normally self-destroyed in short time. Great leaders, I think, recognize the people they lead and remember to say "thanks."

"Thank you" is extraordinarily powerful.

"Thank you" earns credibility you can't earn any other way because it says, "I noticed; it mattered; and I'm grateful." "Thank you" also reinforces vision by celebrating it when you see it. It demonstrates humility by recognizing someone did something you didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't, but which directly impacted you. And, regularly saying "thank you" gives the leader a constant reminder of the vast number of people without whom the leader probably would not be a leader at all.

I spend the first part of every Monday morning hand-writing thank you notes to a few of the people I'm grateful for. I can't write them to everyone who deserves them but I can make a sizable dent over a long period of time. It's one of the only things I use paper for anymore, but is easily one of the most important things I think I do every week.

What about you? Is there another leadership task you think is more important? How do you show gratitude for the people who serve alongside you?