“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.

I have one more book to call attention to in this summer tip series. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating look at both the intrinsic qualities, as well as the environmental opportunities that set high-achievers apart from the rest.

While Outliers is a story about the best and brightest, it’s really more about the world we live in offering a “patchwork” of breaks, opportunities, and “arbitrary advantages”, and how some better avail themselves of those advantages.

While Gladwell asks if our world could be different from the one we’ve settled for if we understood those arbitrary advantages, I think many of us have become painful aware that there are systemic concerns that mitigate against some being able to accomplish the vision God has given to them.

The first story Gladwell mentions is the Major Junior A hockey league in Canada. “By the time players reach their midteens, the very best of the very best hockey players are channeled into an elite league known as the Major Junior A.” p.16. We might think that it was skill alone that got them there. Gladwell would say, “Not so fast.”

At about eight or nine years of age, when players are getting into the sport, there is a key age cutoff of January 1. Those who are closest to that cutoff have a several month growth advantage over those born later in the year. At that age, those 6-12 months of growth make a huge difference.

What Gladwell noticed was that the majority of the best high school players had birthdays in January and February. What’s more, in other sports and in other countries, elite players had birthdays during the first quarter after the cutoff.

“A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year—and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelve-month gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity…coaches start to select players for the traveling “rep” squad—the all-star teams—at the age of nine or ten, and of course they are more likely to view as talented the bigger and more coordinated players, who have had the benefit of critical extra months of maturity…He gets better coaching, and his teammates are better, and he plays fifty or seventy-five games a season instead of twenty games a season like those left behind in the “house” league, and he practices twice as much…In the beginning, his advantage isn’t so much that he is inherently better but only that he is a little older. But by the age of thirteen or fourteen, with the benefit of better coaching and all that extra practice under his belt, he really is better…” p.24,25.

Hockey is just a sport after all, but Gladwell observes that the same age advantage shows up in things of more consequence, like education. “The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year…persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years…” p.28.

For the sake of time, and your continued attention!, I won’t go into his findings from Trends in International Math and Science Study. But they mirror those outlined above. The researchers concluded, “So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again.” p.29.

(Full disclosure. The cutoff for school for me was February 1, and I was born February 18. I grew up thinking I was just a bit smarter than others in my class. I experienced advantages throughout. When our boys were starting school the cutoff was August 1. We kept each of them out of school for one more year to give them an age advantage on their peers.)

But I explain all of this to set up this question: Are there arbitrary criteria that we have front-loaded into our ministry, that unintentionally determine the trajectory of those who get involved? It might be an interesting exercise for our teams to consider.

I can think of three areas in which this might be the case.

  1. Our language, processes, and environment are friendlier to those in the majority culture and, unfortunately, present challenges for those who are ethnic minority.
  2. Our ministry is effective for the traditional student and for the traditional way we train and develop leaders. But those who are entrepreneurial and enterprising, the pioneer going after new places, and those who look to minister to the marginalized, can feel marginalized themselves.
  3. For 24 years, I have done distance coaching. We absolutely need more high school and college distance coaches. There are far more leaders out there seeking our expertise and encouragement than our ministry is currently servicing. But is there something in our ministry that predetermines satisfaction meeting with a person over a cup of coffee at Starbucks than coaching a leader impacting their campus over Skype, and doing that again in multiple places? Our ministry values both “growing where we are” and “going where we aren’t”. Can we add to the personal satisfaction of impacting a life, the strategic-ness of multiplied touches over a distance?

I hope you’ve enjoyed these synopses of books that aren’t our typical ministry textbooks. I have enjoyed sharing them with you. I will be taking a two-week break before starting another year of Coaching Tips August 8.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

Got a New Friend?

Have you met someone this summer who could start a movement? I can almost guarantee you have.

Maybe when you were on a summer mission, or at an MPD location, you encountered a Christian who…

  • wants to make a difference in a high school?
  • an International Student just beginning to grow in her new found faith?
  • an ethnic student looking to start something in his ethnic community?
  • someone on a campus where we don’t have a ministry?
  • a faculty member? Graduate student? ROTC cadet, athlete?

Read on for a story of how easy it is to start something and to connect them to a specialist who will help them start a movement right where they are.

Neil Cole, author of Organic Church, tells of a conversation with his 15 year-old daughter about starting a church among her friends.

“The next day she said, ‘Dad, my friends all want to do it!’ ‘Do what?’ I asked. ‘Start a church.’ I told her that she would have to do most of the work, and I would coach and lead only a little. She said that was fine. The next day she arranged a house to meet in, picked a night of the week, and found a worship leader; flyers were soon being passed out to friends on campus.

“After the church had been meeting for several months, I met with these students and we all sang praises to the Lord. I felt the Lord’s pleasure. I asked the students what was the biggest church they had ever been to. Living in Southern California there are many options of mega-churches, and a number of churches were mentioned, ranging in size from two thousand attendees to more than fifteen thousand.

“… ‘How many of you think you could start a church like one of those mega-churches?’ No one raised a hand. I asked, ‘How many of you think you could start a church like this one?’ and all raised their hands…

“Hey, if a fifteen-year-old girl can do this, how about you?” pp. 211-212.

When we think about starting a movement we often have in mind the organization on our campus of a few to several hundred. Starting something like that is overwhelming. But every one of those started small. Let’s consider what one person with five to ten friends can do, and give them the best shot at starting a movement of God on their campus or in their community.

So… back to my original question. Whom have you encountered this summer who could possibly start a movement on their campus?

Call Pat Senkbeil at 1 800 678-5462, or email her at Pat.Senkbeil@cru.org with their name, school, and possible context for ministry. She can pass on your individual to someone who will help them start a ministry in their high school, their college, with any of our Ethnic Field Ministries, Bridges International, or Valor, etc.

PS.  Might I suggest that you not try to do this yourself. You may have every intention of trying to assist them, but once things start in the fall, you will get busy on your own campus. Let someone who does this all the time take it, unless the campus is in your scope.

“A Cry of Hope, A Call to Action” by Charles Gilmer.

If I could add my voice to the chorus of so many lamenting the violence of this past week.

When we consider that every person is made in the image of God, He has a plan and purpose for every one. The two African American men and five law enforcement officers killed last week either went to a Christ-less eternity or had God’s purposes for them cut short.

Add to those losses, those in Orlando, San Bernardino, and others in the US, as well as in Istanbul, Baghdad, Medina, Bangladesh, etc. internationally, we see the depravity, and depth that sin takes us. Our hearts grieve. And for us as believers, we long for God to break through.

Several years ago, I read founder and former president of The Impact Movement, Dr. Charles Gilmer’s, A Cry of Hope, A Call to Action. The book, subtitled “Unleashing the Next Generation of Black Christian Leaders”, is a visionary call to make a difference for Christ. Charles chronicles his own spiritual journey and staff history with Campus Crusade for Christ,  and tells how the Impact Movement was born.

The message of hope and transformation is more needed today than when Charles wrote the book. Why not find your copy or pick up one to read sometime before school starts. And then consider sitting down with African American leaders on campus this fall to hear their story. The book may make a great gift, but for sure, listen to their own journey with injustice and inequality.

And if you want to dive further into these issues of injustice and inequality, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, is thought provoking and sobering. Our high school executive team read and discussed it this spring. For most of us it was very eye-opening.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

“God Space” by Doug Pollock.

I’ve been writing this summer about books that I think are important in how we look at and do ministry. Most of these have been outside the normal texts that our ministry uses.

Today, I want to give this space to my wife, Chris. She will tell you about one that has been invaluable in her ministry.

“About 4 years ago I started coaching some returning Stinters and interns leaving Cru and obtaining jobs in the marketplace. I’ve enjoyed coming alongside and helping them figure out how to use the skills and training they had received from Cru in an atmosphere that isn’t the most conducive to ministry.

“I’m always on the lookout for practical tools that will be helpful as they reach out to their coworkers. One book I found fairly early on was Doug Pollock’s, God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally. In it, he walks through several ways–noticing, serving, listening, and then wondering–to use everyday conversations as the vehicle to dialogue with others about spiritual things.

“In his chapter on wondering, he lists “99 Wondering Questions” to help in listening and understanding those we are talking to…and hopefully open a door to explore the Gospel. Those whom I coach have found them invaluable.

“I recently received the text message on the left from one of the women I coach about a conversation with a co-worker:

“Pollock has a website,
http://godsgps.com where you can find his list of “99 Wondering Questions” as well as buy his book. But if you’ve been on our staff since before 2009, you may have received it at CSU that summer and it’s already on your bookshelf.”

Thanks, Chris. I remember Pollock speaking to us that summer at CSU and remember that he had great examples of how natural conversations about Christ develop.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

“Go, following Jesus to the ends of the earth.” by Dave Dishman.

Last year at CSU, most of us picked up a copy of Dave Dishman’s little book GO, following Jesus to the ends of the earth. If you are like me, you probably put it on the shelf to read later. Later was last week for me.

I found GO to be a quick read. I did in two sittings; you can in one. It was very helpful in explaining why we ask others to go on a Global Mission. Dave, National Innovation Director, Global Missions, is humorous and even a bit tongue in cheek. And he doesn’t gloss over the challenges to going. Instead, he admits that that is part of the adventure God has called us to as believers.

Dave writes,

“As I’ve been involved in going to the world for years now, I’ve met fantastic people, seen wonderful sights, been nervous many times, hungry a lot, tired, surprised, shocked, frustrated, angry and lost more than once. In fact, [one night] in Romania, I was lost in the middle of a field with a pack of dogs barking nearby. I wondered if they were hungry and whether I smelled good to them. Had God used me and now it was time for my demise? Thankfully, not. Still, in the midst of all these experiences, have I been bored? No, not really. Adventure and boredom don’t mix.” pp. 15,16.

As I prepared to write this, Dave told me that students reading the book are really motivated towards missions. He knows of some participating in a mission this summer after reading it.

GO is short, and that was intentional. It’s meant to be read and finished. As you know, the longer the book, the less likely it is to be even started, let alone finished. The book is not Cru specific, making it useful beyond Cru groups, with churches and others we partner with. Some staff have even given them as gifts to ministry partners.

To order, staff can get individual copies from the Cru Store. But for bulk orders of 20 or more, at a reduced price, contact Dave at his Cru email. Oh, and by the way, all proceeds from GO goes to Global Missions, not Dave.

If you have not read it, why not set aside some morning over the next few weeks to re-energize your own vision for the world? And then sometime, when your team gets together to plan the year, why not talk about how you can put the book into the hands of your students and encourage them to read it?

If, as we have all been encouraged to consider, you’ve set a goal of sending 10% of your involved students and faculty to the world each year, this is a great tool to help provide motivation toward that end. GO can be a part of your team’s overall strategy for motivating others to go.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

“The Starfish and the Spider” by Brafman and Beckstrom

The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom was on my reading list for years, but not on my bookshelf. When I found it at my favorite used book store, I grabbed it.

unnamed (1)Spiders are top down. Sever the head and it dies. Starfish don’t have a top. Cut off an arm and it grows another back. Some can even grow a new body from the one arm severed.

Subtitled, “The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”, the authors use examples like AA, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Skype, etc., to show how their members contribute to the prolific growth and overall success and direction in non-hierarchical organizations.

Such organizations stand on five legs.

  • Circles of members.
  • A catalyst.
  • A common ideology.
  • They utilize pre-existing networks.
  • They have a champion.

By their definition, Cru would be a hybrid of a Starfish and Spider organization. For example, we distribute ownership down and out and we have a compelling ideology (DNA of win, build, send). If you’ve been around a while like I have, you’ve seen us move back and forth on the centralized/decentralized continuum.

The book details how decentralized organizations benefited from the energy and expertise of its membership.

“In starfish organizations, knowledge is spread throughout the organization…The best knowledge is often at the fringe of the organization.

“Toyota understood this lesson and encouraged its assembly-line workers to innovate and make suggestions, since they knew better than anyone else what was actually happening on the line. IBM and Sun incorporated this lesson as well—they opened up their software and let engineers all over the world help make it better. Jimmy Wales understood that in some far corner of the world there was someone with unique knowledge about greyhounds, someone else who was an expert on South American history, and yet another person with frighteningly deep knowledge about Twinkies. Wikipedia allows them to share that knowledge.” P. 204

Most organizations tend to gravitate toward standardization and centralization. As they do, they cut off explosive growth and lose the creativity and energy of the distributed ownership.

When my wife and I were on campus, we made a point to gather existing and up-and-coming leaders before each semester to brainstorm together about what we could trust God for that semester.

How about you?

  • Do you give students and volunteers say in the direction and activities of your ministry?
  • What events do you have planned where you are soliciting their ideas and suggestions?
  • How do you decide whether to implement an idea that they come up that you might not prefer?

The Starfish and the Spider is a thoughtful read that will expand your thinking on organization effectiveness.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

The Missional Map.

By now it seems like a year ago, when you said good-by for good to your graduating seniors, and until August for those returning. You have picked up on Facebook or messages directly to you that the summer has been harder for some than they anticipated.

You’re crazy busy right now on Summer Mission. You want to help, but, hmmm, how?

First, make sure they are participating in Summer Connect.

Second, encourage them to invest in their relationships with close friends and family. The Missional Map is a great way to see where people are on their own spiritual journey.

The campus is a great place to learn basic ministry skills. With a large pool of humanity, we typically can find enough people to share Christ with and follow up those who respond to the Gospel, modeling to those we are training or discipling. Our principle of “sowing broadly” makes it possible to train thousands of students every year. You know those going on a mission will have evangelism and discipleship opportunities.

But, how about those at home this summer where ministry is slower, more relational, and riskier? What happens when a student graduates, leaving a campus of thousands, taking a job in an office with 18 co-workers? What if they aren’t able to find anyone interested in that office, and the only believer is twice their age, divorced, and someone they can’t relate to? How do they “do” ministry there?

That’s why I like the Missional Map found in the Life on Mission section of Cru.org. Rather than categorize people as interested/not interested, it asks five questions about each person we are trying to reach.

  • Do they Trust Me?
  • Do they have a Growing Curiosity?
  • Are they Open to Change?
  • Are they Seeking God?
  • Are they Following Jesus?

If you are familiar with “I Once Was Lost” by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, these questions summarize the five thresholds of faith a person must cross to come to Christ.

The Missional Map helps us to engage specifically with each person. While it was designed for team use, it’s great for anyone thinking about their relationships at work or at home.

In a more relational ministry context, we start with trust. Are we building the relationship? Do they know we care? Can they trust us enough to go deep with us?

In Going Public with your Faith by William Peel and Walt Larimore MD, they tell the story of Jim. He graduated and found a job in a large office. With his campus ministry experience and passion for the lost he set a goal of sharing with everyone in the office.

After several weeks, his leadership let him go. It wasn’t because of the quality of his work, but, rather, the complaints by others about pushing his faith. Jim determined that he would not speak up again in the next job.

Jim went from one extreme to the other. Most alumni of our ministry think those are the only options concerning ministry in the workplace. The Missional Map offers a better way for God to use them in a work environment.

As long as you are forwarding the Missional Map to your students, why not send them my tip on “I Once Was Lost”? It contains some practical ways to build trust. Incidentally, I just heard that our Western European Staff really like this book and every participant in our Cru Study Abroad will receive it this fall.