Questions to Ask During Change

Leading change is extraordinarily difficult. Go to Amazon and search "Leadership." Then count how many of the leadership books either have "change" in their title or a chapter devoted to leading change. If it's anything less than a vast majority, I'll buy you a cookie. 

There's a reason that books on leading through change sell well. It's tough. Yet the best organizations are constantly changing. You won't do ministry (or business) in 50 years exactly the same way you do ministry or business today (unless you're Amish, in which case you probably aren't reading this blog post). As a result, leaders need to figure out how to lead change - either gradually or dramatically - because change is coming.

Our staff wants to position our church so that change is a part of the culture. We know that good strategies are often the enemy of the best strategies, and are trying to get really good at evaluating everything we do in light of moving toward who we want to be next decade, not just next year.  As a result, we're constantly talking about change. 

But it's really tough, and we're learning a lot about what it looks like to lead change well. 

For us, it means constantly examining our answers to three big questions: (1) Do we believe where we're going is better? (2) What is it going to cost us? (3) Can we afford it?

If you don't believe the destination is worth traveling to, you might as well take your bags out of the car. Don't pass "go," don't collect 200 dollars. It's not worth the anxiety of saving-up for a trip you don't want to take. So forget it and plan to go somewhere else. 

Every destination has a cost. There may be multiple ways of paying the cost (cash, credit, frequent flyer miles, for example) but you need to figure out what the trip is going to cost. If you are a wise traveler, you'll assess the cost before you hop on the plane so you can afford the hotel once you land. In an organization, will a trip cost you money? Will it cost you investors? Will it cost you staff members? Will it cost you good-will or credibility? Will it cost you time and energy? You need to count the potential cost before you hop on the airplane. There may be a few unanticipated costs on your trip - you can expect that. But know the big ones, so you can prepare.

Then you have to figure out if you can afford the trip today. Kari and I would love to travel to New Zealand. It's her #1 dream destination, and we're dying to go there. But we know what a trip to New Zealand would cost us in terms of finances and away-from-home time and we can't afford it right now. But, we've got a vacation line-item in our budget that is slowly saving up for New Zealand. It may take us several more years, but unless something unforeseen happens, we'll make it to New Zealand. Same deal with leading an organization. Once you know where you want to go you are able to figure out whether or not you can afford the trip right now. If you can't, since you know what it is going to cost you know how to save and you can budget wisely so you get there as soon as you can afford it. . 

One last thing: you've got to ask these questions in this order. If you start counting the cost before you decide where you want to go, you'll never go anywhere; you'll lead out of fear. If you wait to save until you've got enough money, you'll hide your talent in the dirt and never invest (Matthew 25). Figure out where you want to go, figure out what it will cost, and then decide if you can afford it now, or if you need to wait. 

Book Briefs

I've been lax on book reviews recently. A good majority of the reason is that I'm still reading primarily toward completing my dissertation and those books aren't very interesting to review. But, I've read some others that I want to mention. So here are some brief reviews of the best books I've read recently (in no particular order).

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands - Paul Tripp
I'm reading a lot by Tripp these days. This one was recommended by a friend. Tripp is a counselor and former pastor and has written what turns out to be a guidebook for anyone who wants to walk with broken people and point those people toward the Cross. If you're familiar with "nouthetic counseling," Tripp is a nouthetic counselor without the arrogant attitude. He points people to eternal realities and helps people understand the implications of the heart on behavior and identity, but doesn't do it with a closed fist. This is a good, helpful book worth reading for anyone who finds themselves leaning-into the lives of broken people, whether professionally or just as a friend.

Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories - Daniel Taylor
Taylor is a professor of English at Bethel College in Minnesota. As famous as English professors are for writing literature nobody wants to read, Taylor has written a gem. Written from a Christian perspective, Taylor shows how the stories of history, the stories of our lives, and the stories of our theology shape the lives that we live. We live within and interact within the plot of our own life and within the plot of the lives of others. Additionally, the stories we read, hear, understand, and believe shape our morals, values, ethics, character, and comprehension of the way the world works. This book will make you want to tell a lot more stories, hear a lot more stories, and pay awfully close attention to the stories (good and bad) you are a part of.

Replenish - Lance Witt
Every pastor needs to read this book. I read it at the recommendation of a friend and mentor and it hit me between the eyes. Witt does a masterful job at helping pastors release themselves from the unhealthy expectations of themselves, the church culture, and their congregations to focus solely on numerical growth (which causes every pastor alive to feel like a loser), and to focus instead on yielding himself to the work of God through His ministry and within His church. It's written in 41 short chapters that help the pastor (1) detoxify their soul, (2) set realistic goals for ministry, (3) establish patterns that are sustainable, and (4) build healthy teams. I'm going to buy a copy for our each of our team members for Christmas (don't tell them) so our team can keep some of these ideas at the forefront of our minds.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting - Al Pittampalli
Most leaders will be able to read this book in about 30 minutes. It's an easy, easy, read. Implementation on the other hand... "Read This Before Our Next Meeting" takes on the fact that the majority of a company's meetings are a redundant drain on productivity that as a result waste a fortune of company time and money. He offers some solutions to make meetings more productive. In short, he believes meetings should be solely for the purpose of conflict and coordination by a small group of only the people who have a (strong opinion about a matter and a dog in the hunt) about a soft-decision that has already been made by the leader. Meetings for formality; social benefit, and information are a waste of time. According to Pittampalli, if it can be accomplished in a well-written memo, don't waste the time with a meeting. People can read faster than they can meet. You won't agree with all his conclusions - he uses a fairly rigid top-down leadership style. However, most of his observations and solutions are spot-on.

Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It - Paul Tripp
Tripp is Gospel-centered, Jesus-centered, eternity-centered. That's why I like a lot of what he's putting out these days. This book is a shining example of that. Tripp points out that every human is hard-wired for eternity. Our longings, disappointments, shortcomings, angers, suffering, and struggles all reveal a yearning for something different; something better. Tripp does a great job walking through our daily lives, from relationships to jobs to religion to parenting to marriage, and the various circumstances and situations we find ourselves in every day, and showing how they can drive us toward worship of the God who makes "forever" available. This book is exceptional for two purposes: (1) It helps the reader better understand what is happening in his or her heart when they process their own real life. (2) It helps the reader connect the Gospel with the struggles, habits, hurts and hangups we see in the lives of others. Understanding what Tripp says in this book can help you be an incredible evangelist wherever you are because it gives Gospel-handles to real-life situations we all face every day.

Necessary Endings - Henry Cloud
In order to see growth, something often has to die. Yet all of us resist endings. As far back as high school we resisted breaking up with the girl we knew was bad for us, even though we knew that's where the relationship was headed. We hang onto the wrong job; the wrong role; the wrong employee. We resist ending programs, initiatives, traditions, and all kinds of things in our lives for all kinds of reasons. Cloud has written a brilliant book to help show why endings are important, why we avoid endings, and how to accomplish necessary endings as a friend, boss, employee, or parent. This is an extremely important book for leaders, and was a tremendous encouragement to me as a young leader.

Advance or Protect?

Last week I tweeted something I've been thinking a lot about recently - not necessarily specifically related to anything on my radar, but also not removed from some of the questions and thoughts I am asking and thinking as a leader in my particular context.

"At some point as a leader you have to decide if your objective is to advance or hold ground. You can't normally do both."

Think back to your days playing Capture the Flag. You can't take ground and protect the fort at the same time. You have to decide your strategy, and it means one or the other.

Now certainly in the overall war we might be protecting and advancing at the same time; that's not my point. My point is that as a leader in a specific objective, you're going to have to choose.

A product cannot be "new and improved" and celebrate that it is "the same as it's always been."

A company can't explore something never before seen if they are committed to only going places they've always been.

It is impossible for something to be cutting-edge and tried-and-true at the same time.

The difference isn't between right and wrong. Advancing isn't always better than protecting, or vice versa. Clear Coke advanced when Coca-Cola should have been protecting Coke Classic. IBM protected its turf while Apple and Microsoft advanced an open architecture model. You can choose to advance or protect and either one can be the right (or wrong) decision. But you can't do both.

Whatever it is you're responsible for leading, a primary question to ask is whether or not you're advancing something or protecting something. Either one could get you killed,  but fail to choose and you're a sitting duck.

Processing Sundays on Mondays

Every pastor I know struggles with Sundays on Monday. I have a good friend whose habit I have adopted. He refuses to take Monday off. The letdown after Sunday is often so profound that he says, "if I'm going to feel this crummy, someone ought to be paying me to do it." 

Sundays are a little bit like Christmas, and a little bit like Halloween. They're like Christmas in that the anticipation and planning of several weeks comes together in a huge celebration. 

Sundays are like Halloween in that most people approach you wearing a mask, and it isn't until they begin talking that you know what's underneath. Since pastors are only able to engage with many members of their congregation one day a week, it's necessity that most of the kind words of people get saved for Sunday. The gripes do too. 

I'm certainly not complaining - it's what I signed up for. But the result of Sunday for any pastor can be a disorienting mixture of adrenaline, emotion, praise, and criticism. Most pastors I know spend a large part of Monday trying to catch their bearings and get back on the horse. 

I read the story below on a Monday morning, and it immediately connected with me when it comes to the roller coaster of Halloween that I find myself processing on Mondays. Really old guys have a tendency to say really smart things. 

(HT: Michael Hyatt)

"A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be [sanctified].’ So the old man said, ‘Go to the cemetery and insult the dead.’ The brother went there, hurled insults and stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, ‘Didn’t they say anything to you?’ He replied, ‘No.’

“The old man said, ‘Go back tomorrow and praise them.’ So the brother went away and praised them, calling them Apostles, saints and blessed people. He returned to the old man and said to him, ‘I have complimented them.’ And the old man said to him, ‘Did they not answer you?’ the brother said, ‘No.’

“The old man said to him, ‘You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you, too, if you wish to be [sanctified] must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of others or their praises, and you can be [sanctified].’”

Pastors and Political Endorsements

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas is in the news. Again. (Texas Pastor Stands Ground On "Cult" Comment Against Mormons)

I've met Dr. Jeffress on a couple of occasions. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy. I have some good friends who either are or have been members at churches he has pastored in the past and they love him. I have no reason to suspect that Dr. Jeffress is anything other than a wonderful man, but I'm disappointed to see him making headlines this way again.

First of all, pastors need to get out of the business of "personally endorsing" political candidates. The whole idea that this is a personal endorsement is hogwash in the first place. Unless your name is Joe the Plumber, the only reason anyone cares about your "personal endorsement" is that you have a position to be leveraged.

Second of all, to drop a bomb like saying "Mormonism is a cult" while introducing a candidate reeks of a disingenuous, selfish publicity stunt. Even if you agree with what Jeffress said (which I absolutely do, though the word "cult" carries some baggage and innuendo that doesn't paint the LDS church clearly or in a way that is helpful), to surprise a political candidate by handing his campaign this little "October Surprise" was either a foolish mistake or an intentional play to stir-up some controversy with Dr. Jeffress in the middle of it. I choose to believe the former, though it isn't much better than the latter.

Thirdly, if you're going to do something like this as a pastor, you might as well take the opportunity to tell people about Jesus. Jeffress mentioned that Mormonism started 1800 years after Christianity. Fine, but that doesn't make it a cult. People in Paul's day made the same claim about Christianity starting thousands of years after Judaism. How about some talk about the fact that Mormons believe in is a different Jesus; different salvation; different Gospel? Take the time to explain salvation by grace through faith through what Christ did on the cross. If you're going to use up the spotlight, at least go the distance. Let people know what you're for; not just what you're against.

When it comes down to it, I'm less worried about Dr. Jeffress being the "Jeremiah Wright of the right," and more worried about him being the "Pat Robertson of the right." When a pastor's message is that our hope for "push[ing] back against the evil that is engulfing our country" is found in a political candidate, we're in big trouble.

What I've Learned as a Leader From Steve Jobs

Not many people get to say they've changed the world. Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, could. If you've ever posted a picture to the internet, downloaded a song online, or done both of those things on the same device as you talk to your office on, you've benefited from Steve Jobs' leadership. Even if you've never used an Apple product, their presence and innovation pushed the market in a direction it might not have gone otherwise.

I'm not a CEO of a for-profit company. I'm not an Apple afficianado - I have an iPhone and an iPad because nobody else is doing what they're doing, but I don't have any brand loyalty. If someone else made something truly better, I'd buy it instead. And, I don't necessarily want to lead like Steve Jobs. His leadership style was legendary for being crass, condescending, and focused solely on the bottom line. We're trying to do vastly different things.  However, here are a few things I've learned from Steve Jobs.

1. Simplicity and focus can change the world. There were mp3 players on the market before the iPod, but they were nearly impossible to use. In a market where billions of things were technologically possible, he introduced a device with one button; a device that fulfilled one function. And sold gagillions. Jobs said, "That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

2. Presentation Matters. If you cut corners you can't be trusted, and you have to go all the way. I love this quote (that I read in the Wall Street Journal, not the magazine where it originally appeared). "When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” Function isn't the only thing that matters; form matters too.

3. Intuitive systems allow for passionate followers. My two-year old can use my iPhone, and I didn't have to teach him. That's why people are so passionate about Apple products... you don't need to be a rocket scientist to be a power-user and do incredible things. People don't want to spend all their time figuring out your systems; they want to do something, create something, change the world. If your products, services, messages, or organizations are so complex they take forever to figure out, they'll go the way of the IBM computer. If your systems accommodate functionality without getting in the way of it, people will fall all over themselves to be involved with whatever you're doing.

Jesus and Money

Did you ever notice how Jesus got the order backwards when He was talking about money?

Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Don't we always say it the other way?

"Find something you have a heart for and give your money there."

But Jesus gets it backwards. He says, "Your heart will follow your money," not "Your money should follow your heart."

He says, "Figure out where you want your heart to be, and start investing there."

Funny how Jesus messes that up...