Category Archives: Character

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.

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

Acclimatization.

I passed a car today with a bumper stick that read, “It’s not all so ‘bumper sticker slogan’ simple.”

That’s true in politics, business, the Christian life, and, even re-organizational design.

I’m reading the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, detailing the 1996 expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest and the tragedy on the descent.

The month-long process of “acclimatization”, adjusting physiologically to the rarified atmosphere of high altitudes, was far from a straight line up the summit.

Krakauer was asked by the editor of Outside magazine to join an expedition to Mt. Everest, elevation 29,028 feet, and then to write an article about its commercialization. Having never ascended above 17,200 feet, he spent a year in preparation before joining the team in India in late March 1996 who would then take him to the summit.

They arrived at the 17,600 foot high Base Camp on April 12. At that altitude, the oxygen level is 50% of that at sea level. At the summit, it decreases to 1/3 of that at sea level. While the human body will adjust, it can take weeks to acclimatize. To do so they would need to reach various camps spaced about 2000 feet vertically up the mountain.

Krakauer’s expedition ascended and descended to these camps with varying rates and duration:

  • Base Camp to Camp 1, and then back to Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1 and 2, then back to 1 and Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1, 2, and 3, then back to 2, 1, and Base.

After a series of attempts and days of rest and recovery from different altitude complications, Krakauer reached the summit on May 10, more than a month after arriving at the Base Camp. He only remained at the top of the world for 5 minutes; hardly time to bask in his achievement.

In Romans 8:12-17, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” NIV

Different tenses indicate past facts, present realities, and future outcomes in that passage. Past events such as Christ’s work on our behalf and our response of faith, make a difference in how we live today. And these present realities in our life of faith determine a future character and destiny. They are interconnected.

While time is linear, our walk of faith is not. We take steps forward and back, forward again two steps, then back. Sometimes we experience great strides, but other times it’s really tough slogging. There are moments of clarity, as well as dark perplexity. And we pray for times of rest and recovery along the way. But in all of that, growth is happening, “acclimatization”, if you will, is taking place, and Jesus is becoming both the object of our affection and our source of satisfaction if we take His yoke upon us.

There is joy in the journey. Do we believe that? What we are experiencing in our ministry today has required our own spiritual acclimatization. Only as we submit to His lordship and “keep seeking the things above” (Colossians 3:1) are we able to take higher ground.

And finally, from “The Valley of Vision”, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, the one entitled “Openness” reads,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

 

The Power of Gifts.

The Student LINC and Coaching Center teams are reading and discussing Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. It has been out of the box from our normal reading.

We in Cru like to think we’re indispensable, or at least that’s what we tell our partners! The way Godin sees it, to succeed in today’s social and economic situation, we need to look at our role differently, to become linchpins, to make ourselves indispensable.

The chapter on “The Powerful Culture of Gifts.” stood out to me. Here a few excerpts:

“I must have been absent that day at Stanford business school.
“They don’t spend a lot of time teaching you about the power of unreciprocated gifts, about the long (fifty thousand years) tradition of tribal economics being built around the idea of mutual support and generosity. In fact, I don’t think the concept is even mentioned once. We’ve been so brainwashed, it doesn’t even occur to us that there might be an alternative to ‘How much should I charge, how much can I make?’ p. 150.

“You best give a gift without knowing or being concerned with whether it will be repaid…The magic of the gift system is that the gift is voluntary, not part of a contract. The gift binds the recipient to the giver, and both of them to the community…Gifts not only satisfy our needs as artists [that which we offer to others that impacts them], they also signal to the world that we have plenty more to share. This perspective is magnetic. The more you have in your cup, the more likely people are to want a drink.” p. 154.

“I don’t write my blog to get anything from you in exchange. I write it because giving my small gift to the community in the form of writing makes me feel good. I enjoy it that you enjoy it. When that gift comes back to me, one day, in an unexpected way, I enjoy the work I did twice as much.” p. 169.

Erin Brasher, Destino Distance Coach, shared some of her thoughts with me on this topic.

  • I saw a lot of correlation between our work and the thoughts in this chapter. The people I serve don’t pay me for the “gifts” I give them.
  • The closest thing to the Gospel I read in this book is on page 164 where he writes, “A priceless gift has been given, one that can never be valued monetarily or paid for or reciprocated.” It reminded me of Romans 6:22,23 and Acts 8:18-20
  • At the top of page 171, Godin writes, “And this is the challenge of becoming the linchpin. Not only must you be an artist, must you be generous, and must you be able to see where you can help, but you must also be aware. Aware of where your skills are welcomed.” The greatest challenge of gift-giving isn’t having the best gifts, but of others receiving any gift you give.
  • My last thought was a challenge about how we could be better recipients of gifts we’ve received using his “thank you and …” formula from page 171.

Godin mentions being an artist frequently. He defines art as a “personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.”

The “thank you and…” formula Erin referred to was stated this way. “If you appreciate a gift, consider saying ‘thank you and …’ Such as “…and I dog-eared forty of the pages,” “…and I told your boss what a wonderful thing you did…”

Practically all that we do in the ministry is gift giving. From sharing the Gospel, to establishing others in their faith, to discipling them, to praying for others, to launching movements so that more can hear the Good News, these all relate to giving gifts. Most of us do these out of sheer enjoyment and we know there is reward eventually for our efforts.

But do we ever bargain with God that we are doing such and such and why doesn’t He do such and such? Do we give gifts easily in some areas, but sure want others to know about it? Or do we subtly expect reciprocity?

I have always known the power of words, but I’m trying to be more intentional about speaking gifts to others. Someone really good at this is Lee Cooksey, Chief of Staff for the High School Ministry. He often jots a note, sends a text, or just generally makes you feel like you hung the moon.

Two other gifts of a different sort that I try to give are wiping my paper towel across the counter at the coffee bar, leaving it just a bit cleaner for the next person, and pushing chairs under tables so that the room has a neat, inviting appearance for those coming after. These are small actions, but speak to being aware of others.

What gifts do you want to give today?

Ending the Year Well