Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Decision Tree

One of the great take-aways I received from the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott was the idea of the Decision Tree.  This is a great visual tool to help your organization be more productive (bear fruit) by identifying clearly, which categories decisions and actions fall into, so that an employee or volunteer knows exactly where he or she has the authority to make decisions and take action.  

This word picture communicates to those you lead where they are free to make decisions and how to grow and empower others to get along without you. 

Decisions are arranged in categories based on their importance and impact on the organization. The analogy of root, trunk, branch, and leaf decisions indicates the degree of potential harm or good to the organization as action is taken at each level.  

Poor decisions at any level can hurt an organization, but if you unwittingly yank a leaf off a tree, the tree won’t die.   A Root Decision if poorly made and implemented could cause major harm to the organization.  

Leaf Decisions
Make the decision. Act on it.  Do not report the action you took.

Branch Decisions
Make the decision.  Act on it.  Report the action you took daily, weekly, or monthly.

Trunk Decisions
Make the decision.  Report your decision before you take action

Root Decisions
Make the decision jointly, with input from many people.

The goal is to provide employees or volunteers a clear upward path of professional development.  Progress is made when decisions are moved from root to trunk to branch to leaf.  As an employee demonstrates a track record of making good decisions in the trunk category, for example, it will be satisfying to both the employee and the person to whom she reports when those decisions can be moved to the branch category. 
The Decision Tree also raises the level of personal accountability.  Whenever we work diligently and brilliantly, without having to be told exactly what to do, it gives more ownership to the employee and unburdens the manager or executive of work. 

It would be ideal if all leaders would be able to set the goal, “You have six months to teach everyone who reports to you to get along without you.”  

Where might the Decision Tree work in your life?
Work place.
Home, with your children.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Importance of Values and The Penn State Tragedy

I must admit that I was once a skeptic of the whole idea of knowing and living out your values but I am now a full fledged believer. I confess that during the process of trying to define my own values and values for my church, I don't think I fully comprehended what values were and their importance.  What difference does it really make that I know these values?  But two recent developments helped convince me how important it is to know and live out your values.

Maybe you've asked the same thing when you were pressed to memorize your company's values.  What's the big deal with these values? And I've heard several people share that their church leaders go through the process of naming and proclaiming their values by rote because it's the current thing to do, not fully understanding the real value of values.

The first thing that helped open my eyes was reading the book Fierce Conversations. Author, Susan Scott explained that when your values and the way you live are not in alignment, you experience an integrity gap.  If your behavior contradicts your values, your body knows and will actually be affected on a cellular level.  You can become depressed, angry and prone to disease.  You will feel out of kilter, experiencing  emotional, spiritual and even physical discomfort. Your immune system can actually be weakened when your are not living out your values and you can be more prone to illness.
Much like the body, when the employees or members of organizations and companies are not living out the values of the place where they spend 1/3 of their time, their lives and the organization suffer.

The second thing that convinced me of how important it is to live out our values is what happened at Penn State.  I've heard over and over how much Penn Stare values moral character.  But the leadership's walk didn't match their values when they chose guarding their reputation over doing the right thing.  They chose to look the other way and sweep the ugliness under the rug instead of making the hard decision to turn in a fellow coach and face the scrutiny of NCAA investigators and image police.  The leadership was "out of integrity" and it certainly hurt them and lots of others because the leaders didn't live out their stated values of integrity and character.
Understanding the importance of living in alignment with your values puts a whole new light on the value thing for me. And if values are this critical then as a leader of my family, a company, organization or church, I must:
  • Identify just what is important.
  • Communicate the values effectively, 
  • Hire people that align with your values. (companies)
  • Encourage my employees, members, family to live them out. (celebrate and reward)
  • Model them myself.   
Take an integrity gap checkup.  What are your values? Ask yourself how well does my life life actually match my values?  If there is a gap between your values and your lifestyle, you are out of integrity.

I am successful to the degree that who I am,
who God wants me to be,
and what I live
are in alignment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The most important thing

I like to listen to talks and sermons while I mow my yard so the other day I went on YouTube and pulled up Francis Chan's sermon, The Holy Spirit's Power and Our Efforts.
Right there on my riding mower, I had a come to Jesus meeting.  His sermon had a profound and immediate impact on me.  Not that the message was something that I hadn't heard before, it just came at the right time and was delivered in a way that struck a deep chord in my spirit.
Chan asked the question, "What do you work hardest toward?"  Then he gently reminded me that the most important thing for me personally to work toward was not the tasks on my to do list, or accomplishing great things.  The most important thing is developing my character and who I am in Christ.  I realized right then that I had ventured off course, gotten a little too preoccupied with changing the world and forgotten about changing me.  As I thought about my situation, I realized that most all of the pastors and church planters I coach have so much on their plates that their tasks never seem to end.  They become overwhelmed by requests of their time and unrealistic expectations and are even more prone to falling into the trap of chasing the urgent. Pastors, leaders, all of us can easily neglect the most important thing, to foster the growth of self. The irony is, Chan declared, that when we sacrifice the important for the urgent, we end up with neither.  We will not be the person that God wants us to be and we won't accomplish His goals. 
However, when we are the right person, things will happen. We will produce the fruit and we will fulfill our purpose in Christ.  As Jesus said, "I am the vine and you are the branches.  He who abides in me shall bear much fruit, but apart from me you are nothing."
The apostle Peter also addresses this in 1 Peter 2:5, In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God's promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. NLT
God is more interested in changing us than for us to accomplish great things for Him. He loves you and me so much that He doesn't want us to stay where we are.  
The question I have to ask myself, do I want to change?  Or do I just want more stuff, more accomplishments?  Will I settle for surface and cosmetic modifications or will I strive for real change, deep in my character and my soul?  If so, I'll need to sacrifice the urgent for the important.  I'll need to devote time and effort into being who God wants me to be, the most important thing and all other things will be added.
Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lessons learned from Steve Jobs

With word of Steve Jobs' death, everyone seems to be writing and blogging about his impact on the world.  So I thought I'd throw my two cents in also. Here are some leadership principles I have learned from Steve Jobs' life and leadership that can be applied in leading a congregation.  
The word that you hear most that describes this great tech giant is visionary.  If someone is fortunate enough to impact society in a way that changes the way all of us live or experience life, then that person is usually lifted up as a leader, an iconic figure.  Jobs has had not one, not two, but six of these breakthroughs, any one of which would have made for a magnificent career.  In order: the Apple II, the Macintosh, the movie studio Pixar, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.  He certainly had a vision but even more important was that he was able to bring that vision to fruition.  The key to doing that was his ability to inspire others to join him in the quest to accomplish his goal.  The story is told that to recruit John Sculley, the former CEO of Pepsi to run Apple in 1983, Jobs famously challenged Sculley by asking, “Do you really want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?” It was his ability to inspire the right people he needed to join him in accomplishing his vision that made him a success.
As Christian leaders, we have a powerful kingdom purpose, the greatest and most inspirational call to action the world has ever known. Something Steve Jobs did not have.  And I would say the ability to inspire others to this vision is the most important skill a pastor could possess in growing a church numerically and spiritually.  It's hard to understand why a pastor would have trouble communicating this kingdom vision and inspiring others to join what God is doing especially when a pastor has the pulpit at least 50 weeks a year, not to mention the opportunities for one on one conversations.  Don’t you agree that one of the top goals of a pastor would be to inspire others to join in accomplishing God’s vision for the church?  Isn’t that the most important thing you can help your believers do?  Instead, you find pastors preaching about deep doctrinal issues or 10 steps to prosperity.  If you can't inspire your folks to join you in your vision, you may need to find another church or better yet, another calling.  
Steve Jobs once remarked, "focus does not mean saying yes, it means saying no!"  When he was rehired by Apple he began to develop the iMac computer.  He kept the individual computer and computer line simple. And all of the products that Jobs was responsible for creating have the same concept of powerful but simple.   When I was given an ipad for my service at Grace Point, I opened the box and discovered the simple one page instruction sheet which said, push this button to turn on.  Not much instruction was needed.  
In church work, we can often be called to do many things.  But it is imperative that we discover the talent and resources that are unique to our church and focus with laser like clarity on how we can best accomplish our purpose and vision using the people and resources we have.  Keeping it focused means saying no to a lot of ministries that don't advance our purpose, whether they be great or not.  
Jobs was not one who wanted to follow the well traveled path.  He was an out-of-the-box thinker.  But his path to the creation of Apple was built upon the ideas of other creative and innovative people.  Jobs used the concept of personal computing which was being developed by a young computer geek named Steve Wozniak who had no intentions of marketing his idea.  Jobs brought the concept to the masses and the rest is history.  He may not have had the original idea, but he took the quantum idea and built upon it. Innovators are readers, learners, developers, creative sorts who are not afraid to take risks and are willing to expand on ideas of others.  
For many in church, tradition is more valued than change and creativity.  So innovation can be very difficult. But successful churches are usually those who are willing to make changes, take risks and be creative.  It is very easy to just reproduce what others have done in the past or what the denominational leaders ask you to do.  Religion often demands conformity and control and in the process churches can easily lose their unique identity and gifting and fall into a spiritual rut. Create a culture of innovation and ingenuity in your church. It goes back to vision and inspiration.  Others will be willing to change when you give them a reason that is connected to the vision.  Inspire others to imagine what is possible and then be creative about how you are going to accomplish the vision God has given you.  
To read more on the life of Steve Jobs go to   

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grace at the Apple Store

I dropped my ipad a few days ago walking in a parking lot of a conference center.  It flipped out of my hand, which happens sometimes if you don't strap up the leather case.  I didn't think much of it, because my case protects the ipad but when I picked it up, low and behold, the glass was fractured.  It looked as if it had been shot with a bb, cracks extending all around it, all the way to the edge.  Apparently, it landed face down on the parking lot where there happened to be a pebble which impacted the glass.
Bummer.  I love my ipad.  It is my office and constant companion and now I had to either get a new one or get this one fixed.  How long would that take?
I am fortunate to have a friend who manages an Apple store in San Antonio and I emailed and told him about my mishap.  He said come on in and they'd take a look at it.
Well, much to my surprise, Apple just replaced my ipad with a new one.  Never would I expect this.  I read that some people who had their ipad 2 glass cracked had received new ones. But mine was an ipad 1 which I had owned for 9 months and I did not have the extended warranty.  Surprisingly, very few questions were asked.
As I drove away from the store, I felt this incredible sense of gratitude and blessing.  And it dawned on me that this certainly was grace and what I should be feeling every day I wake up because I have experienced so much greater grace from God.
Did I deserve a new ipad?  Certainly not.  It was my fault, brought on by my negligence.  I didn't even receive a sharp rebuke from the Apple rep.  He had me sign a couple of papers turn my old ipad over to him and brought out a new one. All I needed to do was accept it.  I guess I could have refused it and kept the old one but who wouldn't want a brand new one?
When God offers us a new life, we too have the option of keeping the old life, the one that is fractured, broken down by sin or trade it in for new life.  But God says I want the old life and I'll replace it with a new one, no questions asked.  No stern rebuke, no tricky deals or demand for promises to take much better care of the new one.
The question you may be asking, "would you have gotten a free ipad if you hadn't have known the manager? Did he pull some strings for you?" I don't know the answer to that.  It certainly didn't hurt.  My manager friend never indicated that this was a "special favor" from him.  When I thanked him he just responded, "my pleasure".
But when I think of it, our favor, the grace we receive from God comes only because we have someone pulling the strings for us.  Jesus Christ is our intercessor and it is because we know him, personally, that we are extended God's grace.  Thankfully Jesus paid the price so we could receive forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Without knowing Him, there is no grace. 
Maybe there is more to the meaning of the Apple logo and branding than I thought.  Then again, probably not.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Church Renewal Lessons From Restaurant Impossible

I watched an interesting new show last night on the Food Network called Restaurant Impossible.  In this reality show, experienced chef Robert Irvine takes failing restaurants that are on the verge of closing and does a one day makeover, discerning what is wrong and making the necessary changes to turn the restaurant around.  It hit me midway through the show that the problems this restaurateur was facing with his declining business were the same issues many of the declining churches face today.  I thought, wouldn’t it be great if churches could receive the same kind of evaluation and makeover.

In this episode, Chef Irvine's challenge was to revive The Dodge City Restaurant, a 30 year old "western" style steak house in Pennsylvania. The restaurant had not changed much in 30 years except to add more and more western memorabilia to the decor.  So the restaurant was cluttered, dingy, dreary and uninviting, in dire need of a makeover. But the owner/manager had such an emotional attachment to the decor and western memorabilia that he couldn't bring himself to remove anything, much to the chagrin of his wife.  You think many churches have the same issues?  I’ve walked into some that remind me of my grandmother’s house.  As I watched chef Irvine throw out loads of old, dust covered keepsakes and western relics, I was reminded of our mission trip to Denver last summer.

We had an opportunity to help a church outside the Denver area that had the same problem as the restaurant.  The church was not that old, perhaps about 30 years, and it had a nice, fairly modern facility, but the amount of stuff the church had accumulated inside was overwhelming.  I imagined that the staff felt obligated to use anything and everything that was donated to them so that the halls and rooms were packed with mismatched furniture and silk plants and flowers.  One small room that was used as a parlor had three sofas, a table and several chairs - so many pieces that you could hardly make it into the room.  Fortunately it so happened that we had two interior decorators on our mission team, one with a home restaging business.  We got permission to remove a lot of stuff and restage the halls and foyer.  We also painted some of the classrooms and gave the church a new, fresh look.  Thankfully the pastor gave us license to do the makeover and hopefully the church members appreciated the changes.  How many churches across America would benefit from such a simple makeover?

The second issue that was hurting the restaurant was the owner/manager's control and inability to delegate the work.  Doug had two cooks who had worked for him for most of the 30 years but he still controlled the kitchen and the creation of all the dishes.  He wanted it done a certain way and didn't trust his employees to do it right.  For example, Doug spent 20 hours a week cutting meat when any of his chefs could have done the job.  This took away time that he could spend managing the restaurant, empowering his team and training his cooks.  When the chefs were given the opportunity to create their own dishes, they proved that they could.  One commented, "if only I had more freedom in the kitchen, I could prove to Doug that I can cook".

It's no different in a lot of declining churches.  The pastor does not delegate duties that others can do, and in doing so fail to grow teams and provide the leadership the church needs.  They would rather do tasks that a volunteer could do because it is easier and gives a false sense of accomplishing something.  But by not equipping the saints for ministry, pastors rob others of the joy of ministering and miss opportunities to help others grow their faith and abilities.  The pastor's control of ministries actually does the opposite of what they intend to happen. It puts a governor on the church growth, numerically and spiritually.

The third major problem with the restaurant was the menu.  Doug's menu had way too many items.  Customers were handed 5 different menus with almost every kind of food you could think of.  This was a steak house but you could get anything from spaghetti to Mexican food.  Doug thought that the more dishes he offered, the more he could please his patrons.  But he had so many, none of the dishes were done well and the customers were so confused that it took them forever to read the menu.  Chef Irvine immediately pared down the menu to a few items that he empowered the longtime chefs to create. And wouldn't you know, they were very good and the customers loved them.

I've seen the same problem in many churches today.  You’ll even see small to moderate size churches with programs that many mega churches don’t offer.  The belief is that more programs attract more people.  But just like the extra large menu in the restaurant, a church that offers too long of a list of ministries and programs can overwhelm members.  You end up not doing anything very well.  The problem is that many programs you start become fixtures in the church which you have a difficult time ending whether they are done well or not.  Thom Rainer's book, Simple Church, gives great insight into how to overcome the over-programmed problem by simplifying your church, showing how less is better.  The principle is to focus on what you do well, what you feel called to do by God and less on trying to be and do all things for all people.

It was fascinating watching the transformation of a restaurant in one day. I know it's not feasible to revitalize a church in one day, but a dying church can have new life if the pastor and church leaders are willing to listen to outside consultants or coaches and be willing to change.  For the owner of The Dodge City Restaurant, his pride almost kept him from allowing the changes. But in the end, fortunately for Doug, his desperation overruled his pride.  How many pastors allow their pride to get in the way as they sit and watch their beloved church die?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Taking a Strong Stand

I really enjoyed the Global Leadership Summit this year.  Those who have attended the Willow Creek conference over the years can attest that Bill Hybels and the Summit staff try very hard to steer away from politics and keep the focus on developing leaders through a Biblical model. It is a difficult proposition given the fact that sometimes they bring in political figures.  And when they have brought political personalities in, from both the democratic and republican perspective, these political figures stay close to the topic of leadership or faith.  Yet, of course when you are reaching literally thousands of people with your message, no matter what you say, you are bound to offend someone.
So it was this year, before the Leadership Summit even got underway, Starbuck’s founder and CEO, Howard Schultz, under pressure from a gay advocacy group, backed out of his speaking contract just days before the conference began.
Bill Hybels had to announce to crowd, many of whom were there specifically to hear Schultz, that he would not be speaking and why.
I thought Bill handled the announcement with grace and class.  And yet he still received criticism from religious groups for not taking a strong enough stand against homosexuality.

Growing up in a conservative home and then developing my faith foundation in the Baptist church, one of the values that was instilled in me was to never be neutral. I was taught to take a stand and stay out of the middle, the moderate zone, that those who affect change in the world never reside in the middle.  Change agents are always on the fringe.  With that in mind, I think there are those Christians who would criticize Hybels for being in the middle, for not taking a strong enough stand against homosexuality.
I would say that if Hybels is in the middle on this, it is in the center of the will of God.  Where you stand on any issue all depends on your ultimate goal, your desired outcome.  If Hybels' objective was to teach that homosexuality is a sin, or to make a political statement, then he did not accomplish his goal, that he was not polemic (actual dictionary word for today).  But if his objective is to reach the lost with the message of Christ, which I believe was his intent, then he was a long way from the middle, he was on the edge.  If he cares more about evangelism than behavior management, about building relationships and bridges to allow one to share the Gospel than teaching right or wrong, then he met his objective.  Those who are critical of this do so because they have a different focal point and they want their cause to trump others.
Whose cause is more important?  Go to scripture.  You tell me, what would Jesus do?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is good enough really good enough?

Recently I read the book Deliberate Simplicity by Dave Browning of Christ the King Church which argues the point that good enough is good enough in ministry, that the pursuit of excellence that many pastors and leaders pursue in churches may actually be a stumbling block to ministry.  Now that's a new one.  And it really got me thinking.   

I've grown up with the mindset that we should always strive for excellence in our work for the kingdom, citing Colossians 3:23 "whatever you do unto the Lord, do it with all of your heart", as my reference verse.  I recall being asked the question several years ago, why would anyone come to our church over the one down the street.  My answer was that we do things better, with excellence.  As I look back now I realize that is certainly one way to attract people to your church but probably not the correct way.  Now I agree with Browning that excellence should not be our goal after all. 

It is a very real struggle to keep up with not only the world, but also churches in our neighborhoods, to always come up with the bigger and better.  And there should always be a tension and desire to do things better with "all of our heart".  We shouldn't ever do anything half-hearted for Jesus.  The church has been notorious for lacking quality in ministry, doing it without creativity, imagination and inspiration.  But should excellence be the goal of the church?

As I look back on my thirty years in ministry, even though I thought I believed in the concept of doing everything with excellence, I didn't do ministry by that standard.  Not until I read the book, Deliberate Simplicity, did I understand that excellence was never my goal.  What I desired all along was transformation and it does not take excellence to transform someone.  Actually the pursuit of excellence in ministry often times becomes a stumbling block to transformation.  Rick Warren wrote, "You have heard it said, 'if it can't be done without excellence, don't do it'.  Well Jesus never said that.   The truth is almost everything we do is done poorly when we first start doing it - that's how we learn.  At Saddleback Church we practice the 'good enough' principle.  It doesn't have to be perfect for God to use it and bless it.  We would rather involve thousands of people in ministry than have a perfect church run by a few elites."  

Doing things with "all of your heart" in Col. 3:23 does not mean with excellence.  It is a motivation to do things with a heart for Christ, not to please people or reach some man imposed standard of how things should be done. When my motivation is transformation to Christ-likeness, then when I am putting together a mission trip, I am more concerned with having a team of individuals that need transforming, that are willing to be transformed and those that can help transform those in which we are ministering to.  I'm not trying to put together the perfect team that will get the task done with excellence.
A worship leader struggles with the tension between excellence and good enough every week.  Do I limit the team to just the three or four best singers, or do I include others who don't quite meet the excellence standard?  If you are more concerned with the sound than with transformation of your team members, allowing them to grow and use their giftedness for Christ, then you will exclude those who don't measure up.  It is ironic that it is easier using only the top singers each week, not having to develop less than great talent.  

An unhealthy focus on doing everything with "excellence" can take your focus off of relationships and put it on the task.  It can cause volunteers and staff to avoid risk, to avoid taking chances and innovative things.  We seldom do things quite as well the first time.  It will limit the number of people who are involved in ministry because we are prone to do it ourselves or use the experts and paid staff.   This is a real issue in churches.  Pastors and staff must deal with the tension between effective ministry and "excellent" ministry on a regular basis

In a new church plant, with limited resources, you try to stretch every cent as far as it can go to reach people for Christ.  Most new plants worship in less than excellent spaces, use less than excellent sound systems, have less than excellent children's and youth ministries.  And yet  church plants have a much better evangelical effectiveness than large, churches.  Excellence has no bearing on the evangelical effectiveness and that is the point.

Should you always "do your best"?  Of course, but with the proper goal in mind.  We can't keep up with the world's insatiable demand for bigger and better and we don't have to, if we keep our focus on the true prize; transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Then we can let go of the burden of "excellence" and be satisfied with good enough.                    

Monday, July 25, 2011

Taking your team to new heights

I must admit I'm a sucker for shows like the Apprentice and Top Chef.  I love to see how people interact, watch the creative group process and how leaders deal with their team members.  You can learn a lot about leadership from the shows, especially what not to do.  One of the most difficult leadership issues on these shows is the process of working with a team to choose and settle on one idea for a marketing campaign, room design or menu. It's great fun and drama watching creative individuals try to work as a team. 
I often wondered why the leaders on the Apprentice didn't use brainstorming techniques more often to develop ideas. You'd think that these so-called entrepreneurial leaders would know how to use brainstorming to elicit better ideas.

As much drama and dysfunction there is on these reality shows, I've seen some of the same problems and leadership struggles on church staffs also (why I love the shows).  I think many church leaders just avoid using teams all together because egos get involved, those who are more dominant get their way, people's feelings are hurt when their idea isn't chosen or there is a lack of control by the leader.  So the process often times just does not produce the creative ideas one expects.  Therefore, pastors and leaders just settle with relying upon the creativity of the individual instead of the group. Each staff member does his or her own thing and there is little input from the team and most of the time, they end up doing the same old thing over and over.

If more church staffs used brainstorming techniques (correctly), I believe we would have more creative sermons, ministries and ways to reach the lost.   On one staff we tried brainstorming a few times but the leaders and team members just could not resist commenting and critiquing during the brainstorming session and it always stifled the creative process to the point that it was frustrating and not as productive as it could have been.  If you do it, do it right and you'll be successful.

I'd love to hear if you have tried brainstorming with your team and whether it has been a success or not.

Here is one technique you can try with your staff or team that should help you in the creative process.

1.  Clearly define your objective, with budget, and parameters etc.
2.  Instruct the team leaders to leave the room, brainstorm by themselves for 15 minutes to come up with as many ideas as possible.  Instruct them to be outlandish and as creative as possible within the parameters.  Write each idea on a separate post-a-note.  
3.  Have the team members return to the room separately and post their ideas, spread out on a wall or white board.  
4.  When all team members have posted, bring them back together and read the ideas together without comment or critique.  Because the brainstorming process is used to spark ideas, allow your team members 10 more minutes to come up with new ideas.  You can send them out again to come up with them by themselves or do it as a group.
5.  Add the new ideas to the others, and then group the ideas into related groups.  Once they are in groups, now you can discuss the merits of the ideas.
6.  Choose the specific group of ideas you like best and then you can narrow down from the group, to the individual idea you like best.  In many cases you'll find that there are many variations of the same idea. You'll see where the team is leaning.  But often there are one or two great ideas that come out of left field that may not have surfaced without the brainstorming session.  
For more brainstorming techniques, go to

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Motivation to change

A strange thing happened a few weeks ago.  I suddenly became very motivated to conquer my diabetes.  After struggling for 10 years, suddenly I had a renewed incentive to change my eating habits and workout routine. Why now?  What exactly happened in that clinic that suddenly inspired me to change and could I use the same methods to help change other things in my life also?

I struggled for 10 years to manage my diabetes.  There were times that I was a somewhat motivated to do something but I never really knew exactly what to do.  I was given plenty of information but was not confident in how to proceed.  The truth is that the world, culture that I live in, constantly puts pressure on me to do just the opposite of what I need to do.  The speed of life, diet, commercials, everything temps us away from what we need to be healthy.  Some of it is obvious, while most is so subtle we have a hard time even knowing when to say no.  

I floated along until I reached a point where I knew I needed to change or I faced severe health consequences.  People are usually not motivated to change unless they reach a point of desperation.  For me I had recently had unusually high and low blood sugar readings and was feeling lethargic and ill at times.  I knew I needed to change my eating habits and exercise more, but I did not have the energy to workout like I needed to.  A relative suggested I try the Diabetes of America clinic to get specialized treatment.  
At the clinic I was able to get immediate results and feedback of my blood tests.  The doctor sat with me and asked questions about what I ate, my workout habits and gave me great feedback to what was causing my problems.  I understood exactly what the problem was now and how to beat it.
The Doctor convinced me that it was possible to change, adjusted my medication to solve the immediate problem and gave me a vision of what was possible with a reasonable amount of change.  I was given a new meter to test my blood sugar and introduced to a new way to keep track.  
The nutritionist gave me a goal and a plan to reach that goal.  I now know what I can do and have the plan to do it.  I have a goal and will be held accountable to change.  Since then I have been consistent in taking and recording my blood sugar levels.  I am eating better and working out more.  The positive results were immediate.  Better blood sugar results and I am feeling much better without the highs and lows.  And I've stayed on track for the first three weeks.

From this experience I can discern the ingredients that helped motivate me to change.
1.  Must be motivated to change.  Without a strong need or desire to change, ie. health, relationships, faith etc. a person will not change.
2.  Must have correct knowledge of the problem.  Truth is powerful.  If you have any doubt, you will more than likely not follow through.
3.  A reasonable vision of what can be done.  What does victory look like.  Without a clear and reasonable goal, one will not pursue change.  
4.  A plan to accomplish that goal.  Sometimes small steps are the best.  If we can get some immediate accomplishment, it helps to motivate us to go on.  
5.  An accountability to see that it gets accomplished.  We need a person to hold us accountable.

Discussion question
What motivates you?  Who are the key players in your life that motivate you to change and hold you accountable?  Is it possible to change without any of these key components?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From the probable to the possible

God tells us all things are possible. The world tells us what is probable.  Our goal is to realize what is possible instead of what is probable.  Left up to my desires and abilities I will accomplish only what the world requires, the "probable".  What is it that motivates people to move beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the probable to the possible?

I know that's a loaded question, maybe one of the top 5 mysteries of all time.  Men and women have given their lives to trying to discover what motivates others.  Theologians, politicians and business leaders all seek after the solution.  Some have stumbled upon the secret, like Adolph Hitler and used it for tremendous harm.  It is a fascinating topic but one that is extraordinarily valuable for those who understand it and can use it to motivate themselves and others.

And there are so many aspects of motivation from motivating self, to understanding how God motivates us to do His will.  So over the next few blogs, I'd like to focus on motivation and try to answer some of the questions.  I'd also like to look at some of the key people in the Bible and see what motivated them to accomplish what they did.  What was their "probable" and what was the "possible" that God brought forth in them.

What motivates you?  How have you seen God motivate you in your life, to move you from probable to the possible?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Is your church a stumbling block to full devotion or pathway to discipleship?

Reggie McNeil made a bold statement at the Exponential conference that I have been pondering the past few days.  He said that if the church is not producing disciples then all it is doing is producing consumers.  In the book And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, Hugh Halter writes, Consumerism reflects what Jesus came to call people out of. It's exactly the opposite of what Jesus is telling us to go and make!
It is the consensus of many pastors and church leaders that the church in general does not do a very good job of producing disciples.  Therefore, if the two statements above are true, then we must conclude that the church is actually leading people away from discipleship.  The church can be and is often a stumbling block to many believer's pursuit of Christ.  Now that is something to chew on.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jesus on works vs grace

People today are still very much like those in the New Testament times.  They want the blessings of God more than they want God.  We see in John 6:26-40, after Jesus feeds the 5,000, they begin to follow him wanting more food.  Feed us every day just like when Moses fed us as our ancestors wandered in the wilderness.
We see the same kind of faith or lack of, today in the prosperity gospel churches where people come to receive "blessings".  "Give and you shall receive", the preachers proclaim.  "See how God has blessed me!  You too can have a nice car, a beautiful house and riches untold if only you give to God (me) your money".
The prosperity gospel churches are not the only ones though that rely upon such tactics.  You see it also used in mainline churches, just not as much.  It's not the major doctrinal belief system that the church is built upon like the prosperity gospel churches. But in many mainline churches members are asked to give testimony to the fact that God has blessed them when they give to the church, building campaign, pastors discretionary fund, etc.  It is a manipulatory tactic to get people to give more.  Ironic that we use manipulation on our people by manipulating them to believe we can manipulate God into giving us material wealth, if we give to the church.
It was so in the new testament also.  People wanted to know just what they needed to do to gain the blessings of God, to get a free meal every day.  Jesus didn't say you need to give money to me.  He didn't say you need to pray five times a day.  He didn't say you need to sacrifice a lamb or go to the Temple on the Sabbath.  He said in verse 29, "believe in Me".  "God provided the bread from heaven, not Moses.  I am the bread.  I am the manna.  Put your faith and trust in me.  It is a relationship with you that I want.  Not works, or your money.  Just your time, your worship, your heart."
What would it look like if we understood that Jesus wants our devotion not works?.  How would I live my life differently if I could fully comprehend the depth of that relationship and the grace that Jesus offers?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Like a Good Neighbor, Where Is The Church?

I watched the Secret Millionaire this week for the first time. Or is it Secret Billionare? In this episode, the wealthy owners of the Curves workout facilities go on what is basically a "mission trip" to inner city Houston for one week where they live on $6 dollars a day in an old roach infested house and visit several social ministries and agencies. In the end they put a face to the needs of the community and are moved to help out the social agencies with generous contributions. It is one of the positive television reality shows that have become popular as of late.
I find it interesting that the secular world has co-opted the business of the church and is teaching and promoting principles that the church seems to have abandoned.
Think about how often you see commercials and popular programs promoting community involvement and charity. From the NBA Cares program to American Idol give back show, the world recognizes the benefit and need for one to take care of their less fortunate neighbors in the world.
My brother-in-law while working as a manager for UPS was required to take two weeks off and go on a "mission trip", (his words but not what the company called it). He chose to go work with a church in inner city of Chicago. He described it as one of the most inspirational and educational two weeks of his life, even though he got sick and had to go to the hospital at the end of the two weeks. The only requirement that UPS pbutton their managers was that they had to bring back what they learned from the experience and implement the concepts into their management at UPS. Here is a secular company that values the experience of going on "missions" and yet it is often difficult to get a pastor to promote a mission trip in their own church. Seldom do you see churches who actually instruct, encourage and expect their members to be going local or globally.
I think it is great that society feels the need to promote the idea of charity and responsibility for one's neighbor but isn't it sad that secular society values community involvement more than the church? Wasn't this Jesus' idea? Didn't he instruct his followers to do this? What happened to the church taking responsibility for the welfare of their community?
A good question to ponder; if your church picked up and moved tomorrow would your community or neighborhood in which your church is located miss you?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lessons in losing control

I had two experiences this week that reminded me how much I desire to be in control and how I need the help of others. If you want to get a lesson in letting go of control, try teaching someone how to drive. I offered to help one of the refugees this week to learn to drive. We took my SUV to the Grace Point parking lot and switched places. I thought he'd had some driving experience in Nepal so I was not too concerned. He just needed to get used to driving an automatic and driving on the right side of the road. To my suprize he was like a young kid behind the wheel for the very first time. With some instruction about the brake and the gas peddle and some practice stopping and starting, I gave the go ahead to drive through the parking lot. Easier said than done. Everything was fine until we made the first turn. On one side of the lane we were turning toward was the end of the parking lot and a grassy ditch and the other a row of cars. Stupid me for having him turn into this lane because as he turned left, he began to press more on the gas which sped the car up. As he over-corrected the steering we turned toward the cars parked on the left. I'm glad we had practiced braking because I was screaming step on the brake! He stopped just in time, only a foot or so shy of one of the parked cars.
Over the next twenty minutes, it was all I could do to not jump out of the car and end the lesson. But I had to make myself trust that he could drive without hitting a car, a light pole or building. I had little to no control except through my vocal instructions. But until I let him drive, he wasn't ever going to learn. No damage done except to my nerves. It was truly a white-knuckle experienc.

Two nights ago, God seemed to further instruct me on the art of humility and dependence on others with another experience in which I ended up having no control. Barbara and I went for a walk in the early evening. We always take the garage door opener and lock the house. When we returned back from the walk, low and behold the remote didn't work. The garage door would not open. We had no keys and no way to get back into the house without breaking the door or window. Of course, I blamed it on Barbara. I let her know that she knew the batteries were low on the remote and she should have taken keys just in case. After checking the doors and windows to see if we had left something unlocked, which we hadn't, we realized we needed help. I wasn't the one to go ask, that was for sure. After all, I again reminded her that it was her fault. So Barbara went next door to humbly ask for help. Perhaps their garage door opener was the same as ours and had a battery. Well that wasn't a solution, but the college age son of the Iranian parents next door offered to take us to Wal Mart to get some batteries. They also had to loan us money to buy a battery because we didn't have any on us.
Our trip was actually very pleasant and we got to know the young man better. He was attending UTSA and studying premed. I got to tell a little about my ministry. After searching all over for the battery in Wal Mart we found the right one and it actually worked. All was back to normal in the Walters' house. Why do we have such a strong desire to always be in control of circumstances? Why is it so hard to ask for help? Why can't I anticipate that the little trials are ways for God to work through me? Life is so much more interesting and richer when we have these kinds of experiences. (Looking back). Help me God to learn to trust you, to know that I really have no control of my life and to not hesitate to rely on you and others. Help me to not always blame others, especially my wife and to take responsibility.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Haiti mission trip

Observations on Haiti mission trip
This being our first trip to Haiti, our first impression as we drive around Port au Prince is that this is a country devoid of your basic needs of decent food and shelter, the worst I've ever seen. There seems to be a total lack of a government structure to help deliver basic services. And there is little evidence that there has been much done since the earthquake to clean up and repair damaged buildings. A country that was in desperate need before the earthquake, is now even further behind. Although we see some teams from mission organizations trying to do some cleanup, for the most part there seems to have been very little cleanup and removal of the rubble left by the earthquake. But life goes on for the millions who call Haiti their home. They seem to be an incredibly resourceful people, making due with what little they have.

Port au Prince is extremely crowded with very poor roads to travel on and incredibly dirty. There are people in need wherever you turn. Any public land within the city of Port au Prince that once was a park or open area is now filled with tents. This nicest areas of Port au Prince would be considered extreme poverty in the United States.

There seemed to be opportunities for ministry all around us. The most impressive mission opportunity we visited was the Nehemiah Project outside of Port au Prince developed by Campus Crusade For Christ with other partnering mission organizations. Near a small community about 15 miles outside of Port au Prince, the mission has a School, Children's Home, clinic and housing for mission teams. They also provide a feeding ministry for the community at large.

We also visited an orphanage near where we stayed. Michael and Heather Popp had made contact about adoption through this orphanage and so we spent one afternoon interacting the with children and talking with the manager of the home. This would be a mission opportunity.

The Beree Baptist Church which hosted us, is a very traditional Baptist church which ministers to the educated and business class in Haiti. Pastor Jeanty preaches in French although he sometimes uses Creole when he feels it is appropriate. Pastor Jeanty sacrificed several days of his schedule to be with us and show us the city. We met with the mayor of Port au Prince and got to pray for him and visited the Baptist Seminary.

We also visited a hospital which was started by Pastor Jeanty's aunt. It was a nice, clean facility in port au Prince. We were surpassed to see so few beds occupied. There were only a handful of patients. We were told that most Haitians do not go to the hospital because they can not afford it.

One day was spent working with children at the Christian Academy. About 90 children came, either members of Beree Baptist or those who attend the Academy. We played games, did crafts and shared the Gospel with them.
While we were working with the children three of our team members lead a one day conference on Emergency medical training and medical care for amputees and the physically handicapped.

Any future partnership with Beree would be in either Prison ministry or conferences (medical or ministry related). The pastor and volunteers from the church visit the women's prison on Monday and Wednesday of each week .

The Walls International Guest House was a convenient place to stay. It was located near the church and orphanage. It hosted a lot of mission teams and was clean with a good breakfast and decent dinner included in the price. The downside is the lack of bathroom facilities. Our team of 12 shared two bathrooms and others in the house were using our bathroom also.

The one downside of doing missions in Haiti is the cost. Considering this is a third world country, the cost of food and services seem to be extremely high. Food costs are double what they are in the United States. We had to pay for our lunches each day and they were about $10 a person for meals that the church provided. We did have sandwiches one day at the seminary which were about $5 a person. Gasoline prices are incredibly high so the cost of transportation during your visit will be about double what it is in other third world countries.

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