Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turning the Fly Wheel

I have been re-reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. It is certainly on the list of books worth re-reading and that should be read from time to time. This time around I am struck by the excellence of the analogy of the fly wheel. He describes the word whole work of any great organization as the consistent turning of a fly wheel in the same direction. As great organizations turn the fly wheel over and over again consistently, momentum is created and great things happen.

The analogy of the fly wheel can be applied to just about if not all worthy endeavors in life. Recently, I have been thinking it is the perfect analogy for spiritual growth. We human beings are so scarred from original sin. We are so far from who we should be. I think God in his mercy hides this fact from us because if we saw how corrupt and immature we are, we would be overwhelmed by our corruption. (I guess I sound like an Augustinian). We are far from where we need to be, but our transformation comes from continually turning the fly wheel.

It is my tendency to look for huge changes in my life. I swing for the fences, try to throw a Hail Mary pass, look for the silver bullet (just to mix metaphors even more). I don’t think I’m alone. When it comes to spiritual growth and transformation, it doesn’t suit us to look for huge changes. God’s way of changing us is more like Collins’ fly wheel. By the power of his grace and his grace working in us, we just keep turning the fly wheel and turning the fly wheel and turning the fly wheel some more and change will happen over time. We tweak little by little and move in the direction God calls us to go.

This approach to spiritual growth is in some ways more difficult. It means that today, there is some way that God wants you and me to change. It might be a little change. It might mean giving away a small amount of money. It may mean apologizing to someone. It may mean swallowing our pride and making amends in a relationship, even though we did nothing wrong. Dallas Willard advises that the best thing we can do for our spiritual growth is to simply take the next step we know God is calling us to take. How simple and yet how challenging. And yet how accessible. Our transformation into a Christ like character is not so high in the sky we can’t reach it, but very accessible to us. And over time if we will keep turning the fly wheel and turning the fly wheel our sin stained, corrupted, selfish, bratty characters will be changed into the image of God’s Son.

I had a mentor say to me once, “You overestimate what you can do in one year and underestimate what you can do in five years.” Imagine a life time of turning the fly wheel of spiritual growth and simply taking the next step God is calling us to take. Howe changed we would be. How changed the world would be.

What’s your next step of spiritual growth? What is God calling you to do today?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paradox of Ministry

When it comes to identifying ministers and volunteer leaders for a Church, there exists a great irony and a great paradox. Often the very people who rush forward to volunteer or want to lead are not the people you want leading a ministry in your Church. On the other hand, the very people who are equipped and qualified to lead will not step forward, you will have to go out and find them. It is maddening, I know, but it is true. And unfortunately it is most especially true when you first start a ministry or new project and try to get the momentum going.

The first people who come to you, come out of neediness. If they were great leaders and great volunteers, they would already be serving somewhere else. I don’t intend to say to reject people just because they come forward, but be on your guard. The first people who rush in usually come out of a need to be needed. Or maybe they come out of guilt or to check something off the list or to get credit with the pastor or God. They usually don’t come to serve out of an overflow of grace in their lives.

On the other hand, the people we want volunteering in our ministry are usually busy people who could do hundreds of other things, but choose to give their time to the local Church. They choose to use their gifts and abilities for God’s glory. This is why we need to inspire people to serve and give them a vision for the importance of volunteer ministry. But often, you need to coax them into serving. You need to seek them out and convince them that it is worth their time especially when a ministry is just getting up and running and lacks momentum.

The people we want leading are reluctant to step forward. They know the burdens of leadership and that it will challenge them in new ways. I read I believe in Way of the Wild Heart that when Saint Augustine was ordained bishop of Hippo, he wept. He wept because he knew the weight of the responsibility. He knew the burden of leadership. These are the very people, we need leading. People who lead not out of neediness, but understand the importance of leadership.

I would add that once you get moving and get momentum, good people will start to seek you out and so will needy people. But the approach of the good people will look and feel different. And even at this time, the needy people will rush forward, while the good people you want on your team will subtly make themselves known.

Have you found this paradox to be true when you are looking to hire or looking for key volunteers?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving Thanks

Today, Kathleen Leslie on our staff forwarded to me a post by Michael Hyatt listing some thoughts on gratitude. In the post he made a list of things for which he is grateful. I made a list of my own as well. You can check it out below.

When it comes to gratitude, I have a long way to go. I take for granted many of the gifts I have been given and am terrible at thank you notes. It is a discipline I lack. One way though I have grown in gratitude I learned from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. In his daily Examen or life review, he began by looking at his previous day's experiences and thanking God for any blessings. As I have begun to do this, I have discovered so many small things in the course of the day to give thanks to God. In order to focus my attention, I need to journal about it. I jot down activities of the previous day and then I write, “Thank you, Lord, for…” when I discover something new.

Also, this list is a great help as well. I’m thinking now, I could make a list of 20 items for each area of my life – family, work, friends, resources, etc. By the way, I added one that just came to mind, making it 21.

What is on your gratitude list? Write out whatever comes to mind.

Gratitude List

1. Brought up with faith in Christ – parents and Catholic school
2. Jesus and that I know him
3. My wife Mia who loves and accepts me more than I deserve
4. Mia’s beauty
5. Max and is simplicity of heart
6. Gus and his lust for life
7. Nate and his generous heart
8. Elsa and her beauty/sweetness
9. Kepha and that he is so fun
10. My job – I get to write and be on the most important mission there is for a
11. Michael who believed in me and put faith in me in a way no one else had
12. Food is easily available, especially chocolate
13. The generosity of people to me especially Jay, Kathleen, Chris and Michael
14. My parents who loved me and cared about me
15. Born in the United States
16. The people at Nativity
17. The Nativity staff who works hard and yet has fun with each other
18. David and his coaching and wisdom from yesterday
19. Friendship of TJ, Chris, Jay, Kathleen, Michael
20. Beer
21. Exercise and working out

Monday, November 14, 2011

You know how bad you are when...

CS Lewis wrote, "A man never knows how bad he is until he tries very hard to be good." I believe the quote is from Mere Christianity. In any case, that quote has always stuck out to me and appears to be yet another paradox. You don't discover your wickedness or propensity towards evil when you do evil, but when you try and do good.

Saint Paul put it this way, "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Romans 7:21

You notice how bad your eating habits are when you try to change them and lose weight. Suddenly you become aware of how often you are eating fatty foods. You realize how much of a problem you have in being straight-forward and transparent when you try to be more straight-forward and transparent. Suddenly, you notice the times you aren’t completely honest with people.

You know how little you encourage your spouse or children, when you make it a goal to encourage your spouse and children. If you work harder on trying to tell the truth, you will notice more often when you lie or bend the truth.

Start to work on something and you will see how you are failing at it. This failure is good. Seeing that evil will fight against us is good because the power of evil and sin was there all along, we just were numb to it and didn't notice. Knowing our "badness" begins to break the delusion we have that we are self-sufficient. When we try to change and evil shows up and even overpowers us, we are awakening to the reality that we need a SAVIOR.

Paul later goes on in Romans to say, “Oh what a wretched man that I am! Who will deliver from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Are there areas of your life that you are struggling to change? If you are failing, don't let that depress you. Let it drive you to your knees that you have a Savior in Jesus Christ who can change and transform you. Thank you, Jesus, for being our Savior.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Less is more

On a daily basis, I feel like I discover a new paradox or rediscover ones I have heard before. Today’s was less is more. That goes against our nature and our intuition. We tend to think more is more and more is better, but in reality less is more.

Less is more when it comes to our impact. Organizations are discovering that their greatest impact doesn’t come from trying to venture into more and more endeavors, but to do less and do it well. In Good to Great, Jim Collins calls this the Hedgehog concept. The Good to Great companies simplified their efforts and did less than their competitors. They stayed focused on a collision of three important factors: what they could be the best in the world doing, their greatest passion, and what could provide them with the most economic gain. This focus led them to do less, not more. Collins notes in his other book “How the Mighty Fall” that the undisciplined pursuit of more often begins the fall of great companies.

In Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley notes that to succeed in ministry we need to narrow the focus of our programs. So often we want our programs to hit so many people that they wind up not impacting anyone. Instead, narrow the focus so that a program can really make an impact on the targeted audience.

I have found that less is more when it comes to communicating. At Church we do something called "Endnotes" which is to sum up the weekend with what we wanted people to know and what we wanted them to do. So often we wind up plugging a couple of different activities and it is clear that by announcing more, our messages cancel one another out. Communication excels when we build around one thing instead of trying to communicate more.

Less is more when it implies to our personal impact. To succeed and impact our world, we need to find the few things we can do better than most people and become excellent at them. John Maxwell says, “You are the most valuable where you provide the most value.” Proverbs says, "See a man skilled in his work, he will stand before kings." To become skilled in a certain area requires we focus our energy on less, not more.

Less is more when it comes to stuff. Our homes are filled with so much stuff that we can’t even access the stuff we do have.

I could say more, but I’m thinking I’d be contradicting myself so I’ll stick with the spirit of this idea that less is more.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Little Things Are Big Things But...

I discovered a new paradox this weekend. Actually it is two paradoxes – a paradox within a larger paradox. Little things are big things, but avoid majoring on the minors. So let’s break that down into three sections: first the paradox of little things are big things, second, why we need to avoid majoring on the minors and third, how to live the tension between these two ideas.

Little things are big things. The small details of life often make a big difference; this in itself is a paradox. When a person you met one time remembers your name that makes a big difference. When businesses or organizations go a little bit out of their way to make you feel comfortable or show you a little extra attention, we are impressed by them. Those little touches bring us back again and again.

On a weekend at Church, we try and do a bunch of little things for people – smile at them when they come in the door, help them park their car easily, direct them to a seat, provide a clean environment, serve coffee and have a place for their kids to go and learn about God. None of those are huge things, but taken together the little things add up and if we do them well, we create a great relationship that earns a right to be heard.

In personal relationships, small deposits of time add up. It is a little thing for me to come home and hug my wife before getting food or getting changed, but it makes a big difference. It is a little thing for me to stop into a co-worker’s office and ask how things are going or make a connection by talking about a game. It is a little thing to compliment someone or say you appreciated someone else’s efforts, but it makes a huge difference in the long run.

Changes and turning around our situations often come from little changes. I dropped a little over twenty pounds just by some small changes I made to my diet: not eating French fries, taking only one plate instead of two at our Monday staff lunches, and just cutting back a little bit on portion size. Little changes over time can eventually bring about big results.

Second part of the paradox: Don’t major on the minors. When we get too focused or make too big a deal out of small things then we rob ourselves of joy, waste time and become ineffective. In relationship, dwelling on another person’s small faults will cause us to become critical and damage the relationship. Organizations that major on the minors waste so much time on things that will make no impact on anyone. Often, this majoring on the minors is over turf wars or building up silos or arguing over things that only matter to insiders, but won’t impact people outside the organization.

Third, how do we manage the tension between these two? How do you know when you are paying attention to the little things that are big things or when you are majoring on the minor? We look at the outcome or fruit of our efforts. If you stop in and say hello to a co-worker or employee, the eventual fruit will be an increase in morale and a better relationship that comes with very little cost of time or energy. Majoring on the minor will feel like a huge investment of energy and at the end of the day doesn’t accomplish very much.

To manage this paradox, we develop a deep sense of purpose and why we exist. When we know the mission of our organization or why God has put us on the earth, we will know see more clearly the little things that really matter and when we are majoring on the minors.

What little things are big things in your life? Where do you have to avoid majoring on the minors?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why Focus On "Tim"

In a breakout session, I received a great question about why we focus our efforts on “Timonium Tim” (the person unconnected to Church) and not on Church people. Why is he our target audience? We focus on the person unconnected to Church because:

1. When we aim at disconnected Catholics we will hit connected Catholics. The inverse does not hold true: if you aim at Church people, you will not hit disconnected Catholics. This has proven in the growth of our Church. As we have focused on people unconnected to Christ and his Church we have seen both a growth in the number of people who attend Nativity and a deepening of discipleship among Church people.

2. If we don’t focus on Timonium Tim we will inadvertently become inaccessible to disconnected Catholics. Churches have something in their DNA that naturally makes them turn inward. From the very beginning of the Church (read Acts 15) the Church had to fight the temptation to erect barriers to people who were not already connected to the Church. We have to constantly focus on Tim or we will turn inward.

3. It is why we exist. The Church exists to evangelize and bring people who are unconnected or disconnected from Christ into a relationship with him. If our core product, the weekend experience is not open to Tim then our Church will not be inspired to reach him. The weekend is the engine that runs the Church and so if the weekend experience does not target Tim nothing else will.

4. Tim will come to Church on the weekends. The time disconnected Catholics are most willing to give Church a try is on the weekend. If we don’t speak to Tim on the weekend or offer a welcoming environment, he will assume he is not welcome.

5. Focusing on disconnected Catholics on the weekend gives us the best opportunity to partner together for the purpose of evangelization. On the weekends, our ministry teams partner together to create an irresistible environment. We partner together as a Church on the weekends so that all of us can invest in disconnected Catholics during the week and confidently invite them to Church on the weekends. We know we have a team of people behind us working together for the same purpose.

For a great message on this strategy listen to week four of a series Go Fish by Andy Stanley, titled “Fishing Partners.

Personally, I need to focus more on “Timonium Tim”. I am feeling a personal drift when it comes to investing and inviting in people disconnected to Church: in my writing, in my greeting at Church and in my personal life, in my prayer life I am not praying for people unconnected to Christ and his Church. I need to rededicate myself to this purpose.

Do you agree that Churches should focus on non-Churched people first?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Fighter Who Surrenders

Paradoxes are seemingly contradicting statements that nonetheless are true. Over the last few months I have been keeping a list of them and sharing them here. I don’t express this one very well, but I have observed that in life we must learn to fight and learn how to surreder. God wants us to be warriors and fighters, who also know how to surrender.

As Christians, we are to grow to become more Christ-like in character. In Jesus, we see someone who was a fighter and not a peace going hippy. When the religious leaders didn’t want him to heal a crippled woman on the Sabbath, he fought for her and ripped into them for their religious hypocrisy in a very pbulic way. When the Temple had become a sham and a den of thieves, Jesus went into fighting mode. He made a whip of chords, he tossed over the tables and he drove the money changers out of the Temple.

Jesus was a fighter and it is his character we are to emulate. In Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge, writes, “If you would know Jesus, you must know this – his fierce intentionality – is essential to his personality.” To be fierce means a desire to fight. I wrote in my book next that line, "Yes, what I aspire to have."

Jesus was fierce, but he willingly surrendered his life for us. In the Garden of Gethsemene, he told his Father he didn't want to go to the cross. Yet, he still surrendered his will to the will of his heavenly Father. On the cross we see how utterly and completely he followed through with this surrender and trust in his heavenly Father.

Like Jesus, we are to build this paradox into our character – on one hand we need to be fierce warriors, willing to fight and to battle for justice and truth. To develop a Christ like character requires we fight for people who cannot fight for themselves; fight for the hearts of our kids and our spouse; guard our own hearts and fight a spiritual battle. And to develop a Christ like character will require we surrender our wills to our heavenly Father.

We need both aspects in our character, although I think we need to develop the warrior and fighter characteristic first. This is not a fully formed thought, but in order to have a self to surrender we must first developed a sense of self that could fight, but chooses to surrender his will to God.

Which characteristic of Christ is easier for you to develop: the willingness to fight or the willingness to surrender your will to God?