Archive for November 2011

Practice man practice!

How much practice does it take to become competent in your area of speciality? Beyond that, how much of a focus does it take to become an expert in your area specialization?

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell makes a compelling case that history repeatedly shows that it takes 10,000 hours of practice for someone in any discipline to become an expert in their field of study. You can apply that truth to any discipline in life and you will come out an expert. Any area of study.

That’s an insight that I find encouraging and hopeful. It’s possible for us to move from average in an area of life where we feel called to excel – and to knuckle down, practice, focus, discipline ourselves – and to come out as dazzling experts in that field. Sure it’s difficult and costly. Not many are willing or perhaps even able to dedicate that many hours of disciplined practice to something, but if you do you will emerge as an amazing person others will seek out as an expert in your field.

What would your life look like if you spent 10,000 hours serving others? Split that up between cleaning toilets, cleaning windshields, giving away bottles of water, giving away bags of microwave popcorn, doing car washes, et al. (you get the idea)… If you did this for 40 hours a week in a systematic way that would be a several year trek – difficult to get there, but not impossible. You’d be the next Mother Teresa. Your inner compass would be permanently reset. I know I’d show up to hear you speak. I’d buy your book and so would plenty of others!

The way of influence

Want to be an influencer? Lots of people ask that question and they come up with almost as many answers. There is no end to the books that are written about how to direct people.

Do you ever grow weary of seeing leadership books galore? I do. For one, I think it’s because the very word isn’t entirely biblical. “Leader” is mentioned only 6 times in KJV of the Bible. “Servant” is mentioned over 900 times!

Do you want to make a long-term difference in the lives of many? Take Jesus as your model. Read the red letters of the Gospels. Do the red letters. Live as Jesus lived. Serve as Jesus served.

God-empowered leadership is one of the most powerful dynamics on earth. On the other hand, human-empowered leadership is stressful and manipulative.

“God strengthen us to serve in your power.”

Something worth losing

It stands to reason that the younger we are – with the greatest number of years ahead of us and thus the most to lose – we would be wise to play it safe, to take fewer risks. But you didn’t do it that way and neither did I. It’s odd that the older we become the more conservative we grow. Sadly, human nature is to grow more controlling.

Usually the fewer years of life left in us the more we grip what remains. We cling to the little (as we perceive it) that remains, but there’s always more than we think! It’s better to go down fighting human nature by giving away – by radically investing in others while we have opportunity. Don’t forget what Jesus said – “Night is coming when no man can work.”

Rabbits and turtles

Rabbits go fast, turtles move slowly. They’re both good. I’m convinced we are naturally inclined toward one direction or the other. All of us need to find our soul speed then walk with ease there. The Bible positively presents both rabbit and turtle characters in its pages. Martha scurried about serving and was an obvious rabbit. Her sister Mary was a turtle – all she wanted to do was sit at Jesus’ feet. I believe a lot of fast paced, driven Believers will give Martha a hug in heaven for providing them with a biblical model.

I was a natural born rabbit but through life circumstances have been converted to a turtle. I now move slower and more pronounced than earlier in life.

Walk at your own pace no matter how you are wired – at your unique speed of soul. You can walk there for the long haul through life.

Resistance to change

As a leader in any venture it is necessary to bring change to your organization. There is predictable, constant push back from most of your relationships as you encourage the “C” word. If you are called to be an actual change agent you have a tough way to go in life. Your life is exciting in one sense – you are destined to usher great things into existence but sometimes at great cost. No matter what people say up front, they absolutely hate change. It disrupts predictability – what we all gravitate to. If your role in life is to birth things you are going to be a controversial character come what may. Smile. Do your best imitation of Forrest Gump. Muscle through it. Heaven is coming, but in this life you will have resistance.

It’s not too late to turn outward…

What can you bring change to a church that didn’t begin in an outward direction? Here are a couple of practical first steps to take.

…senior leadership (esp the senior leader) can begin to regularly participate in outreach – IE once a week. This one step will transform a congregation more powerfully than any other. As this person (people) go, so goes the church. Sure they are busy, but who isn’t! Pastor Timothy was plenty busy when Paul exhorted him to “do the work of an evangelist.” Most pastors are naturally inclined to do the work of a teacher rather than outreach. That’s okay. You can determine to do outreach and God will grant you favor and fruit. I am a living testimony of that. Of course these leaders need to be persuaded to do this. For most pastors it takes no significant empowering to stand up and teach each week – that comes naturally to them. Outreach is another story. Lean into the empowering of the Holy Spirit and stand back to see what God does as he shows up in surprising ways. He will change your life and change your church.

…begin to reach out regularly – on a weekly basis. Begin to show others that this is fun and doable. Bring back encouraging stories. Take pictures and videos with your phone to show others the power of simple but profound acts of God’s generosity. It will take about six months of weekly outreach to properly launch a momentous outward ministry at your church. Don’t give up before you are off the ground!

…set aside a percentage of the local church’s budget to local ministry to the Poor that will be distributed by local church people. There is nothing more transformational to a church than engaging in care for the needy.

…practice one-on-one prayers with outsiders. Begin with ten second prayers for those you reach out to. As you pray you will find open doors to bring the Gospel to hearts that are wide open and hungry for God.

Mega-churches or medium-sized churches…?

Someone sent me a tweet recently I’ve been thinking about. He asked about mega-churches and if many of the people they attract simply come from other churches. I had to agree. Having been a part of a couple of them and observed many more up close, I believe the following to be generally true:

A. Mega-churches are cooler, hipper than other area churches, therefore are natural gathering points for already-converted people who are looking for “something more” – namely cooler program options, better worship, more services with fewer demands. In a way, they are to local churches what Wal-Mart is to mom and pop stores. Difficult to compete. I’m not convinced they do a better job all around at bringing the Kingdom of God to a community.

B. Mega-churches nearly always think they are doing a significant work of evangelism but typically they are weak in outreach or are simply approaching outreach as one of many programs versus making it a primary focus of the church. Look at the per capita baptism rates to get the real story. Statistics show that the ideal sized congregation for maximum evangelism to take place is a medium-sized congregation – between 250 and about 500. There is great motivation among members of that sized congregation to include newcomers than at an exceedingly large church. To boot, a church tends to be as evangelistic as her senior pastor. You can apply that truth to any sized congregation. Great up front teachers aren’t necessarily passionate about bringing people into relationship with Jesus.

C. My bottom line after leading at a couple of mega-churches is this: I’d rather have 15 churches of 500 that are maximizing their potential for outreach than to have one church of 7,500 that is fun to lead, fun to be a part of, that strokes my ego, but that in the quiet moments scares me that one day God is going to ask me how I stewarded all of that potential. God give us wisdom to walk rightly with you.

Sorry to come across heavy with this, but every once in a while it needs to be preached.

Do you have a plan or a mission?

Seth Godin is a thinker I look up to. He says, “Plans are good but missions are better.”

Plans will let you down but missions endure for the long haul.

Plans have a limited shelf life. They come and go. They are packaged and eventually they wear out. Missions cause us to move forward for the rest of our lives.

A mission is something God himself touches the deepest part of our lives with – and in turn changes the world through us.

The accurate side of creativity

A few years ago I did an interview with the Wall Street Journal concerning originality in weekend messages. Several pastors were asked about their views pertaining to one-of-a-kind messages. Most of them said they thought it was okay to borrow insights from other’s messages. Rick Warren, who says, “If my bullet fits your gun, then shoot it,” also says modern day messages of pastors are the equivalent of yesteryear’s commentaries. I agree with Rick.

Over the years I have borrowed from others – and some have borrowed greatly from me – some have even published my stuff in their books (sometimes with permission, sometimes not). Consider a couple of thoughts.

No matter where you stand, don’t get too arrogant about your claim to originality. I’ve had people tell me they never lift other’s material – that they only share original information. I don’t believe them. The Bible says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” No matter what you say, you are pulling information from somewhere that has been stored in your memory banks from input you’ve received along your journey. Some are better at recalling pieces of input than others. That doesn’t mean they are more creative.

When you use other’s stuff, do so humbly and thankfully, not exhaustively. Your audience is usually bored with that. On Sunday mornings you are giving a helpful message, not a defense of a doctoral dissertation. If you share a lot of ideas, I don’t think it’s necessary to offer all of the sources of information you share in a message.

Robert Schuller once shared with me his policy for giving credit in messages. “The first time I use someone’s stuff I say, ‘Like so-and-so says and I name the person.’ The second time I say, ‘Like someone has said…’ The third time I say, ‘Like I’ve always said…’”

Creativity is a gift from God. As we call upon him his ideas will flow. Let’s move in it by the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

When is it time to fight?

Yes, there is a time to fight, even when you are in the kingdom of God. There is a time to stand up for what is right. That’s not the same as standing up for your rights.

We can get the false idea that it’s never okay to fight – that no good ever comes of exerting one’s will when conflict flares up. I don’t agree. Even when we are walking in the Spirit conflict sometimes comes about. There are plenty of examples of this in the Scriptures.

Sometimes when others are intractable, and you are convinced of the rightness of your cause, the only option may be conflict. But how do we proceed when this is the case?

Smile. Determine to have a good attitude regardless of the reactions of others. When conflict arises sometimes we are merely stopping the bullying of others, even in church settings. Count on it, when you put your foot down you will get negative reactions. Smile just the same.

Relax. If you didn’t cause the conflict be philosophical about it. Realize you are not causing this. You are in the midst of a complex situation – not by your choosing.

Flow. Don’t let others get your goat, but at the same time it’s wise to not resist their blows. Ironically, sometimes it’s best to not resist the direction of life. Jump into the river. God will show up.