Monday, December 19, 2011

Prudent Risk Takers

I love calculated risks. For me calculated risks are well thought out decisions that look risky to outsiders. They look dangerous because they are different, but make logical sense. They are prudent decisions made through a process. They also bring real low cost with the possibility of high reward. One apparently risky decision our Church made a few years ago was to move to the Timonium Fairgrounds for our Christmas Eve Masses. When our pastor Michael White suggested the idea, I thought it was crazy, but as you looked at the data and the context it simply made sense. We had learned through the past few years that people wanted to come in the 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock hour and so we needed seats for those optimal times. The year before we had knocked ourselves out trying to accommodate the glut of crowds at those optimal times but many people left unhappy because the facility simply couldn’t contain them. If we failed in the new setting, so we failed and the earth would still be on its access. We would have lost some money and some reputation, but it would not have ended our work. We would live to fight again.

Unsuccessful people never risk at all or they take wild risks. Wild risk taking means taking risks that can do severe damage to our organizations or families. Wild risk taking has the capacity to destroy our endeavors completely.

Successful people take calculated risks. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins calls it “empirical risk taking.” Get data, analyze and then move out. On these risks, he advises to fire bullets than cannon balls. In other words, take many small risks to see what works in your industry and then when you discover what works, put more and more of your resources into what you have found to work.

At the end of the day, calculated risk taking simply means risking being wrong. Often the risk is that others will laugh at you and make fun of you. They are choices that feel much more like risk than they are in reality.

What are some small risks you can take?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To Have Authority You Must Be Under Authority

I heard this paradox articulated in this way by Andy Stanley in an excellent message called "Challenging the Process." In the message, Andy shares that leaders by nature want to challenge the status quo. Leaders are not content just to accept things as they are. One point he made that deeply resonated with me was that if you are a leader and God has give you the desire to challenge the process if you don’t use the gift you will become cynical. At times I struggle with when to push and when not to push against the status quo. His message reminded me this is a tension that must be lived if I am to lead, yet if I abandon challenging the process then I am betraying myself.

While playing up the importance of challenging the process, Andy also drove home the need to be respectful and live under authority. He offers some strategies on how to be respectful of authority. One important one is to challenge bosses and authority figures privately but to support them publicly.

The paradox to drive home is that good leaders are also good followers. Good leaders allow themselves to be led. (The inverse is not true. Good followers do not necessarily make good leaders.) Why are good leaders good followers and people who live under authority?

First, it is the nature of reality. God is in charge. He has authority over the whole world. In the end, there will be two groups of people – the people who live under his authority as sovereign God and those who fail to live under his authority. The people in the first group will be given more authority. Jesus teaches this in his parables, especially in Luke’s account of the parable of the talents. People who don’t recognize God’s authority will lose any power or authority they thought they had.

Second, when living under authority we grow our character. We learn the value of humility. We learn that there is limit to our wisdom and power. When we place ourselves under authority we are teachable and can learn. Living under authority also teaches us patience as authority above us will make mistakes and we must learn to accept those mistakes.

Third, it establishes moral authority. If you don’t respect decisions of the people above you and live under their authority, then why will someone listen to when you have a position of authority? Humbly following leaders builds our characters and our spirits to be somebody worth following. Living under authority establishes us as someone worth following.

Paul said it this way, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Paul had the humility to realize that he couldn’t lead anyone on his own. He needed Jesus to lead him along the right path. However, he recognized that because he was following Christ, he was a leader worth following. He is able to speak without arrogance, but with confidence because he lived under the authority of Christ.

What does it look like to you to challenge authority, while still respecting it?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy People Live In The Moment, But...

In January, Nativity will be doing a series called “The Rules of Happiness.” We have based it on a book by Henry Cloud. I just discovered when trying to buy it for a Christmas gift that the printed version won’t come out until after Christmas, but it is available on Kindle.

Henry Cloud is a psychologist and the book is based on what he sees as the intersection between psychological research on happiness and the teachings of Scripture. He lists fourteen rules for happiness. These are disciplines, attitudes and actions we can pursue in order to be happy.

As I was reading the book, I continued to discover paradoxes. Earlier in the week I noted that happy people are givers, but have clear boundaries. Here’s another paradoxical truth about happiness according to Cloud – happy people live in the moment and yet they pursue goals.

Happy people live in the moment, which is the only time we have, the only place we can really embrace life. They don’t wait for some day to be happy, but find joy in the present moment. One of the practices I have tried to implement since reading his book is to simply savor the food I am eating. I tend to rush through eating or consuming food. It might be more accurate to say I attack it. With pizza I’ll wolf down the first couple of slices so that I begin to feel full and then try and enjoy the third or fourth. Lately, I have been trying (not necessarily succeeding) to simply savor what I am eating and thank God for it, especially my morning coffee.

The point of savoring food or savoring any part of life is to help us be present. Missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Research has shown that happy people are present to the now and not living in the past or the future. This is why Jesus told us to simply focus on the cares of the day and not worry about tomorrow.

We are not to worry about tomorrow and yet research shows happy people set goals for themselves. We need a vision for the future. We need to set goals and challenge ourselves to overcome obstacles. Setting goals and struggling to reach them forces us to grow our character. Seeing progress towards a goal or seeing a vision come to fruition is immensely satisfying. Researcher Sonja Lyumbomirsky says, “Find a happy person and you will find a project.”

I struggle to articulate how both living in the moment and setting goals can both make us happy. Here’s my attempt. Happy people enjoy the process of setting goals and the time in the present of envisioning a better future. They then enjoy the process and the struggle of meeting their goals. The process is not viewed as something to simply endure or get through, but appreciated. Then when they reach their goals they celebrate them before moving on to the next goal. Whether planning for the future goal, working on the goal or celebrating the achievement of the goal, they savor where they are in the process. Process isn't a dirty word to them, but part of life to be savored.

What goals or projects are you working on that contribute to your happiness? What does savoring the present moment look like in your life?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Boundaries and Giving

Last week I taped small group messages for the series “The Rules of Happiness” which we will be doing at the beginning of 2012. The series is based on a book by Henry Cloud (called The Law of Happiness). The book is about the intersection between the psychological research on what makes people happy and the commands of Scripture. Cloud’s book lists fourteen practices, attitudes and behaviors. In reading the book, I found many of the laws to be paradoxical. In the weeks ahead I will point them out.

Research has shown that happy people both have boundaries and yet are givers.
Happy people have boundaries. They don’t constantly just give to people but learn to say, “NO.” That might be surprising to us, especially in Church culture. Churches can often make us feel guilty for saying, “No.” HOwever, the we find the discipline in Scripture on many occasions. In the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah is asked to come off the wall and talk to his enemies but he says, “No. I am doing a great work and cannot come down.”

Jesus told people “No” as well. Once, he exorcized demons from a demoniac. The man wanted to leave his town and go with Jesus. That seemed like a fine request but Jesus told him no.

Another time, the religious leaders asked Jesus a question about his authority. He told them he would answer their question when they answered his question. They refused and so he refused to answer their question.

Happy people can say no to others. They have boundaries and require others to respect those boundaries. But happy people are also givers and the clear boundaries allow them to say, “Yes” to giving. In fact, it is the clear boundaries which help establish a clear sense of self that allows them to give freely and cheerfully to others. Without boundaries, giving becomes a form of co-dependence. In Church work, I have seen far too many people give out of neediness because they don’t really have boundaries.

Boundaries help us acquire of sense of self that can be extended and given to others. Without boundaries our giving will stem not from a cheerful, free heart, but from guilt and manipulation. With boundaries we can set an amount of time to give, set an amount of money in our budget to give, and establish the emotional energy we are going to give away. At times we may extend beyond our budgeted time or money, but the boundaries allow us to know we are stretching or extending ourselves. Knowing we have extended ourselves we can account for the extra expenditure of time, money or energy. Boundaries are key to healthy giving.

What boundaries have you set for yourself? How have they helped you to give.