Andy Stanley’s Looking for the Uniquely Better

Welcome to another year of Coaching Tips. While this is a transition year for those of us in the US campus ministry, may we see God work in new and unexpected ways.

Last week, one of the teams I’m on attended Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. We found that many of the talks applied directly to our situation. I personally walked away with enough fodder for months of coaching tips.

Andy Stanley, pastor and founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, mentioned that some time ago, their organization had done some analysis of their success in ministry over the last 20 years. He included the five things that they would do all over again in two podcasts entitled “Lessons from the First 20 Years.” They are, in no particular order,

  • Have a uniquely better product.
  • Maintain a culture of continual improvement.
  • Power of a clear vision and mission.
  • The value of a learning organization.
  • The people we chose is more important than the system we use.

It’s that first one on being “uniquely better” that Stanley unpacked for us Thursday. I want to pass on his most salient points and then share some of my own takeaways as we begin a new year in a new leadership environment.

North Point sought to create an engaging church experience for the family and especially for men. Today, lots of churches are doing the very things they did “uniquely better” than others when they grew so quickly. But, while it is virtually impossible today to discover that which is uniquely better, someone, somewhere is messing with the rules of the prevailing models.

Will we recognize the uniquely better ideas when they surface? Our best hope is to create organizational structures that recognize the better when surfaced. Stanley listed four ways to create a culture that recognizes the better.

1. Be a student, not a critic. Don’t criticize that which we don’t understand or can control. The moment we start criticizing, we stop learning and stop seeing the next. The next generation idea almost never comes from the previous generation.

2. Keep eyes and mind wide open. Listen to outsiders. Listen to those who don’t know what we do or how we do it. Outsiders are not bound by our assumptions. We go with “That won’t work.” because of our assumptions. Close-minded leaders close minds. If you shut eyes and minds you will shut those of others. If they have ideas they won’t bring them to us.

Some questions he asked us to consider:

  • How do we respond to staff who make suggestions based on what they observe in other organizations?
  • Can we shut down the thing inside that wants to shut down the ideas?
  • When was the last time we ran with an idea that wasn’t my idea?
  • Am I curious about what I don’t know?

3. Replace “How?” with “Wow!” Ideas die with “How?” How much does it cost to just say “Wow!”? “Wow!” ideas to life, don’t “How?” them to death. Nothing is gained when we don’t know what young leaders are dreaming about.

4. Recognize rather than resist. If we are pursuing the uniquely better, we will be pre-disposed to see it. Ask if it is unique and better.

In reflecting about this afterward, I realized that some of this is counter-intuitive to the way I think. As an ISTJ, with strengths of analytical and deliberative, I focus on the “how” and am reticent to “wow”. I do seek to position the next generation of leader, and I don’t need to be the one who comes up with the new ideas. Our team has a habit of reading a book each semester giving us new insight and different assumptions.

And while I love to read, I am quick to run ideas through my own grid. I think that is typical of many Cru staff. We are good at our ministry. But we forget that past success is no indication of future success.

In this season of our ministry may we have open minds, open hearts, and open hands to receive from the Lord what He would do in and through us.

The Habit of Serving at the Pleasure of Others.

I’m taking a few weeks to focus on the habits of leaders. Naturally, we think about the typical spiritual disciplines. But I think there are other habits like taking time to read, listen, think, and being generous, that are often overlooked.

Today, I want to focus on serving at the pleasure of others.

For most of 17 years, Chris and I led our church’s 13-week Marriage Preparation Class. We had a great team of teachers, mentors, and others helping put on the class. It was a singular privilege for us to be involved in setting the trajectory of some 1700 couples taking that class over those years.

Maybe once a year, we shared about our work with the class in a newsletter. Many of our ministry partners saw it as an interesting sidelight to our ministry. But aside from presenting the gospel to the whole class during each course, there was little to put on a ministry report. We were, in a fact, serving another ministry outside of our own.

This fact came home to me in a very tangible way. We had a long time instructor of a particular topic and we purposed to change the content and teaching approach. To do so meant asking someone else to lead that session. Anticipating that it might be a hard conversation, I was very encouraged when he graciously responded, “I serve at your pleasure.”

I wasn’t always in charge. Like the vast majority of Cru staff, I was new staff once, with two different team leaders in three years. Then I became a team leader in Rhode Island with staff reporting to me over the next eleven years. During that time, Chris and I became active in our church. I taught adult Sunday school classes, led home groups, participated in our worship band, was a governing elder, and even directed the Easter choir musical one year!

At the end of our years in Rhode Island, we moved to our headquarters in Florida and joined the Student LINC team. Chris and I chose to repeat our church experience and got involved in a church in our new community. In this one, over 3000 attended. No teaching adult Sunday school here. The worship band was made up of professionals and had no place for me. But there was a slot teaching a 2 and 3-year-old Sunday school class.

Again, Chris and I chose to serve for two years how and where we were needed…until a former Cru staff asked if we would consider mentoring in their Marriage Preparation Class.

I did not know it at the time, by as I look back, the pattern God used throughout was one in which I learned how to willingly serving others and not just in the areas that benefit the work of our own ministry. God does a valuable work in our hearts when we seek to advance the work of others. The lessons I learned in servant leadership, others-centered service, and collaborative teamwork, were often taught in the classroom of someone else’s authority, serving their purposes, and helping reach their goals. May we develop the habit of serving at the pleasure of others.

The Habit of Generosity.

Spiritual leaders cultivate habits. We generally think about those habits commonly called spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important.

However, there are others often overlooked, such as taking time to read, listen, and think.

Today, let’s look at something a bit more others-focused—generosity. A generous person sows freely. It isn’t only with money, but with all the commodities we possess—praise, interest in others, time, energy, etc.

If a generous person is one who sows broadly, am I stingy, or am I generous? Do I offer praise grudgingly, or do I look for ways to genuinely affirm others? Do I give cheerfully? Am I free with my time and energy?

We all have constraints. None of us have unlimited time, treasure, and talent. But do I find myself hoarding and protecting, or do I distribute?

A few weeks ago, a friend of ours, Bob Emrick, suddenly passed away at 81. Chris and I knew him and his wife, Jodi, as long time mentors and part of our leadership team with our church’s Marriage Preparation Class. Those who stood to eulogize the man at his memorial service, focused on his generosity.

Bob was a star basketball player at the University of Florida and after 60 years is still one of the top 10 all-time leaders in scoring and rebounding. He was a successful businessman. Such accolades don’t usually lead automatically to the kind of reputation that Bob had as a humble, giving servant, willing to help any way he could.

After retirement Bob gave his time and talents to several charitable causes. His standard greeting to me was always, “Are you doing okay?”, automatically taking the focus away from him.

Several years ago, Bob and Jodi moved to an hour away from where we held class. But he continued to arrive by 7:30 each Sunday for set up. He made the coffee; and he didn’t even drink coffee! Bob surely was a generous man.

In today’s culture, leaders consolidate. They store up. They protect assets. But Jesus called attention to the widow with the two coins (Luke 21:2), the sinful woman anointing Him with an alabaster jar of perfume (Luke 7:36-50), and the boy with the lunch (John 6:9). It goes to the heart of who we think God is. Do we focus on how He lavished His grace upon us (Ephesians 1:3,8), or do we believe He is checking on us following the rules (Luke 19:21)?

Here’s one way we can be generous. Most of us will be eating out a lot this summer while on missions and at Cru17. Can we be a blessing to those who serve us by tipping more than what is expected?

I am certain that when generosity becomes a habit in one area of life, such as with our money, it pervades every aspect of life. And we will be more effective leaders when we are generous. Let us commit to a habit of generosity.

Helping Churches Reach Students

For those of us in campus ministry, summer is a great time to have the kind of conversations we typically don’t have space for during the busy campus year. When we are home visiting partners we have an opportunity to cast a broader vision than our own work, and possibly help them take steps toward their own vision.

Here is an example. Many churches share your passion for reaching students. Often they don’t know what to do past vision for reaching lost students.

Jeff Grant, Partnership Specialist on our Student LINC Team, recently gave a metro team some practical ideas on the how and why of partnering.

Let me encourage you to go to his page http://staff.partnerwithcru.org/training/ and take 10 minutes to listen to three of his short clips:

  • 101 – Vision: Selling More Dresses,
  • 201 – How to Partner, and
  • 301 – Examples of Partnership.

Then before you listen to any others, consider which church might you have a conversation with about reaching out to a high school or college nearby when you visit this summer. Most of the eight clips currently available are only a couple minutes long.

Some time ago, I met with Abby and Johnny Schuler on Cru staff in Miami. They had a passion for pioneering new ministries and for engaging churches and volunteers to reach out to college campuses. They were given an open door in their own church to offer training and resources, as there was a significant core with a deep concern for college students.

The posture they took was one of “We want to help you accomplish what God has called you to do.” Such a posture lets churches see us as catalysts in their vision, and as having a kingdom mentality.

We in Cru have not always had such a partnering perspective. If we intend to see more than a million life-long laborers raised up, if we hope to give every student an opportunity to say “Yes!” to Jesus, if we hope to see movements of multiplying disciples established on every campus, and if we hope to see Christian leaders raised up in every nation, we will want to look for ways to partner with others.

Spring Coaching Tips

The Habit of Taking Time to Think.

When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important.

But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development. For the next several weeks, I am focusing on some of those.

I first talked about reading that which broadens and sharpens us. Last week, I focused on listening to those who challenge our thinking.

Today, let’s look at the habit of taking time to think. Richard J. Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline, devotes whole chapters to meditation, study, and solitude. The input folks love his chapter on study; introverts value solitude.

I know some of us are external and verbal processors. Some of us are more comfortable planning, thinking ahead, and dreaming. Some are reflective, we journal, and we put things in context. Some are abstract and others more concrete in how we learn and process information; some are sequential, others random.

But regardless of your particular preference, if you don’t take time to put the events of your life together in such a way as to see what God is doing in and through you, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking we are simply being tossed about by chance or other factors beyond our control. You must have time to process.

You need time unplugged. And in our world we must be intentional about unplugging. It’s not comfortable, we are afraid we will miss something, and it is easy to elevate our own importance and indispensability.

Three years ago, Chris and her brother received some inheritance money. He and his wife planned to spend a week in Sweden and take a Baltic Sea cruise. Chris is half Swedish and half Norwegian. She asked if they wanted company. Sure! So we spent most of three weeks in a part of the world where wifi is everywhere, but you had to buy a meal or a service to get it!

We actually found ourselves unplugged for a good part of our time. That was an unusual experience for me. Unnerving at first, and then eventually, quite refreshing as I focused on the history and culture, time with family, the travel exper-ience, and time to sit and think apart from concerns back home.

Chris took a number of pictures of me sitting on benches, just sitting. This one shows me overlooking an inlet on the North Sea.

They say that men have a compartment in our brains with nothing in it. However true that may be, a leader develops his or her own way of taking the time to think.

 

Charity Toward Those Who Disagree With Us.

When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important. But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development.

I talked about reading last week. Christian biographies, the works of Christian leaders, other aspects of the Christian life, and issues facing the church today are important. But so is reading the Classics, history, science, and other academic disciplines. It broadens our minds and sharpens our thinking.

So, also, is the habit of listening and engaging with those who disagree with us. I find that most Christians today are comfortable only with reading or talking with those whom we agree. We, actually, are better when we seek out, spend time with, and befriend those not like us.

My neighbor of some 15 years voted for the other guy in every election that I’ve known him. His views and values differ from mine. He reads and gets his input from different sources than I do. We don’t shy away from those areas of disagreement, nor do they define our relationship. I consider John one of my very best friends. We run together. We watch each other’s dogs when they are out of town. We share meals together. His friendship is most important to me.

But that hasn’t always been the case. I made some mistakes years ago in thinking I could change his mind and have him see things my way. But I had to learn not to focus on the differences but on those things that bind us together. Family is incredibly important to him. John and his wife are great parents. They take pride in our neighborhood and are respectful of others. They attend a different church and have involved themselves in mission and community development.

All that to say, the differences have sharpened and expanded each of us, but don’t define our friendship.

The ability to befriend those who think differently is not all that is at stake. It’s also how we actually discuss those differences that will either deepen a friendship or lead to one fractured. Listening without responding, hearing the position and the heart behind it without being defensive, and acknowledging the unspoken feelings and perceptions without posturing are all critical to building the relationship.

We naturally want to win. And by the time we arrive at a place of leadership, we’ve usually been right a good part of the time. But in my reading the Gospels, I find that Jesus usually answers a question with a question; and especially, the challenging ones.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wishing to test Jesus about how to inherit eternal life was answered with a question. He gave the right answer and Jesus commended him for it. But the lawyer seeking to justify himself asked another, and that’s when he told this now familiar parable. Jesus ends with another question, which one was his neighbor? Then finally our Lord says, “Go and do likewise.”

I’m struck by what Jesus did not do. He didn’t argue. He didn’t “one up” or blister him with a zinger. He wasn’t cutting or defensive.

How do others receive us? Do we have an edge? Do we need to be right? Can we be charitable with those whom we differ? Do we immerse ourselves in groupthink? Are we afraid of being tainted, or losing control?

At the same time we don’t roll over and play dead. Being confident with our own thoughts and actions while comfortably engaging with those who live and believe differently is a habit of an effective leader.

Spring Coaching Tips

Habits of Leaders: Reading

Welcome to a six-week series of tips on habits of leaders.

A conversation with my son, Rick, this past week was confirmation of this concept I’ve been thinking about for weeks.

Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and long time Cru friend, was known for saying, “A leader is someone who knows where he [or she] is going and can take others along.”

I’m an unlikely candidate for leadership. I don’t conform to the typical profile of a leader–directive, decisive, quick, or charismatic, attracting others to my cause or me. I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. I was one of very few in my extended family or high school to attend college. I am by nature, reticent to lead, slow to process complex information, and easily swayed. I am a true introvert, and slightly bookish! Maybe more than slightly!

So…if God can use me, He can use anyone!

With that said, I want to take the next six weeks to consider some habits of leaders. These are selective, not the ones most consider first. But taking time to think and dream, exercise, being generous, and elevating others are a few habits that have served me well.

Reading is one vitally important habit of leaders. I’ve been on a kick for the last dozen years to read classic literature and history, and recently presidential biographies. I wish I had started earlier.

Currently I’m reading six books—a novel, a presidential biography, a true-life adventure story, two Christian devotionals, and one on the state of the church. I don’t recommend that many at a time. But some are because I am in community, and others are yearlong projects.

I’ve read or listened to 19 books so far this year. I could listen to same classic rock Pandora station when I run or workout, but I’ve found that I enjoy listening to engaging audiobooks. LibriVox offers 10,000 titles in the public domain. They have an app for both iPhone and Android. I can’t tell you how many illustrations or illusions I’ve come across listening to books at zero cost to me.

The yearlong presidential biography I’m working through this year is Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald. I’m in no hurry, just a few pages each day. But at least as far as I’ve read to date, I’ve been able to identify with some of what he experienced. Though he had aspirations, one of our nation’s greatest presidents was a reluctant leader. He was gangling, socially out of place, cautious, and often at a loss with little precedent to follow. He was greeted before he ever arrived in office with seven seceded states and four more ready to follow.

On his journey to Washington to take office, he said, “While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintainance {sic} of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag.” He had been elected President, “by a mere accident, and not through any merit of mine…a mere instrument, an accidental instrument…the humblest of all individuals that have ever been elected to the Presidency,” a man “without a name, perhaps without a reason why I should have a name.” P. 275.

Abraham Lincoln had no pedigree and had little to commend his leadership. But he chose to take responsibility. The prophet Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Nevertheless, he offered himself, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:5,8 NIV.

I am the Chairman of the Governing Elders in my church. I did not seek the role. But I seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and I’ve always tried to be available to the Lord. I’ve never led at such a level with a pastoral staff of over 100 years in our church alone. But this position has stretched me in ways I could not have imagined. While it keeps me trusting the Lord, and we have some challenges, I have thoroughly enjoyed the growth process and seeing God’s leading and answered prayers.

Reading Lincoln’s biography has given me perspective and a long view of leadership. The true-life adventure story I’m reading is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, that I’ve mentioned here. We all have assigned or work-related stuff to read, but reading, is a habit that is expanding me and helping me to be a lifelong disciple, learner.

So what are you reading? Here are some ideas if you need some.

Spring Coaching Tips