Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We Are the Network

It was my honor to be among the speakers at the Northwest Ministry Network's Annual Conference today. Here is my manuscript:

I have been asked to remind us about a great way we worked together as a Network about a year ago… a time when we ministers and churches demonstrated that we are the Network.

One way to think of life with Jesus is to think in terms of being a Disciple (a capital D, one of the 12 kind). I would have been bad at it. I’m a task-driven, agenda guy. Schedules and charts and spreadsheets and checklists are my friends. So… walking with Jesus and His Disciples could have been a pretty frustrating experience for me, since walking with Jesus seemed to be characterized by interruptions, uncertainty, obstacles, surprises, and need.

If one was going to be with Jesus, you would have to be ready for Him to respond to need.

And so it goes… if we are going to be with Jesus, we have to be ready for Him to respond to need with and through us.

We had one of those opportunities last year with the Oso Slide. I didn’t even know there was an Oso until the news reports began to stream in that Saturday morning. Sunday morning came, and all we could do was pray. Rescue efforts were still underway and the impact was only beginning to be measured.

The following Wednesday morning, as I was prepping for Sunday, it occurred to me that nobody had told me what we were doing yet. One of the great things about being part of the Assemblies of God and the Northwest Ministry Network is that we routinely get direction and resources when disaster strikes. Whether it is the Network, or Convoy of Hope, or AG World Missions… when something like this happens we don’t usually have to wonder what to do; there is an email with directions and links to resources.

So I started to track down my friends at the Network… and as I started an email I experienced one of those Holy Spirit moments. It was a question that went something like, “Are you ready to step up and help?”

I heard back pretty quickly. Network leaders had determined the best thing we could do was get cash in the hands of our churches already responding on both sides of the slide: Arlington and Darrington.

Our Network leaders had determined what we would do, but not yet how we would go about doing it.

So I asked them to deputize me. With their blessing I cleared my schedule and got to work.

It seemed like video would be handy, so I asked my friend and business partner Merlin Quiggle to help; we do some pro bono work from time to time.

We were able to line up the pastors on both sides for Thursday, Bill in Arlington in the morning and Les in Darrington in the afternoon. We captured their stories, how our church in Arlington was serving as a base of operations supporting the efforts in Oso and how our church in Darrington was really on the frontlines, not only supporting the work in Oso but dealing with Darrington’s own problems now that their only route directly west was cutoff. Both churches were doing meaningful work; it was easy to see that any support we could get into their hands would make a real difference.

By Friday morning we had:
  • A website 
  • Video ready to be downloaded 
  • Instructions, and 
  • Online and text-to-give options ready to go (thanks to Greg Stern)
By noon an email went out from the Network and we started to spread the word via social media.

I hoped we could raise $100,000 together by last year’s Annual Conference.

I know churches used the materials in a number of different ways. Some went with the program, showed the video, received an offering, and sent it to the Network Office. Others used chunks of the video, or added to it. Some didn’t use it at all, but watched it to inform their own approach. Some sent gifts directly to the churches, knocking out the middleman.

When it was all added together, we broke through that $100,000 mark in the days just before Annual Conference. Every dollar given was funneled to our churches.

I think we did a great thing together as a Network. The initiative of our leaders, the churches on the frontlines, and the members of our Network came together with Jesus to meet human need. That’s how we roll; I’m glad to be part of this expression of the Body of Christ.

Here’s the takeaway I would like us to consider today: what more can we do together? As we are walking with Jesus, let’s be on the lookout for ways that Jesus can work with and through us, together, to meet needs. We do not walk alone.

Let’s remember that we walk together… and when opportunity arises for us to serve together, let’s do that. When we can pull together as an area or region or Network, let’s meet needs together.

And let’s not wait around for direction from the Network; we are the Network. When we see opportunities to serve together we need to pull the Network in, and we need to be ready to act… to help, serve, and possibly even lead. We each have unique perspective and resources; when Networked together we are strong.

We are strong when we are bound together by relationship, and doctrine, and style, and geography… but I think we might be strongest when we are bound together by service… the Network working together with Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel and reaching out in acts of love, charity, and compassion in our communities and the world. We are the Network.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Could Have Told You

People who have worked with me know that the one thing you can say to me that may lead to a parting of our ways is, “I could have told you.” If we find ourselves in trouble, or with some mess on our hands, the last thing I want to hear from someone on the team is, “Well… I could have told you so.” It is as if they are saying, “I knew you couldn’t handle the truth.” I can handle the truth. And if for some reason I can’t, let that be my problem.

What I want is people to tell me. I’ve always strived to nurture a truth-telling culture. If you see something, say something. I may not agree, or I may be too stubborn or dumb to realize it really is the truth, but I want to hear it. And I want to hear it early enough so that by taking that perspective into consideration, we might be able to save ourselves pain and suffering down the road. So, don’t ever tell me “you could have told me”; just tell me.

Now there are those who with hindsight overestimate their ability to see the truth early. And there are those who lack the courage to speak up. In both cases I don’t want to hear “I could have told you so” either. It simply isn’t helpful. If you think it somehow elevates our perception of you, knowing that you secretly knew all along… you are wrong.

I’ve always tried to be a truth-teller. It has generally served me pretty well… certainly not always, but usually, and I’m able to sleep at night. As the famous scene depicts, some people can’t handle the truth. I would usually rather suffer for being truthful, than suffering with the truth.

There have been a few times I can recall when I’ve overestimated the relationship and shared a perspective that was not welcomed or appreciated. I had one of those times relatively recently. I saw a post on social media that I knew could be misinterpreted and would likely come back to bite the author. So I endeavored to give my new friend a heads up… in a pretty low-key way, I shared some perspective (arguably expert perspective in this case since it was well inside my field); I shared it directly (not in a retweet or Facebook comment). I don’t make a habit of this, but I have done it a few times that were gratefully receive. In this case, the author wisely pulled the post… but also responded with a short tirade about not appreciating the policing. It got me unfriended. I’m glad the author pulled the post because I think it would have likely resulted in trouble for their job and the organization… but I regret that I overestimated the relationship. I’m still not sure what I should have done differently, but I wish it had not resulted in dinging the relationship.

I want to continue to be better at handling the truth. Both as one receiving the truth and as one telling the truth.

There is a good article about nurturing a truth-telling culture (or dealing with a “yes-person” problem) currently on Fast Company; check it out by clicking here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Advertising Does Not Replace Selling

I have been doing advertising in one way or another all of my adult life… come to think of it, I started before I was an adult, putting together the advertising pages in my middle school yearbook.

Usually people come to me with adverting projects for the right reasons, such as:
  • Opening Doors – An ad campaign can help us get an appointment with customers; they might take our call as a result of a good ad. My friend Merlin describes an ad campaign as artillery softening the front lines so the infantry can charge in and win the battle. 
  • Generating Inquiries – Good ads might get someone to visit a web site, make a call, or even stop by the store; an ad will seldom close the sale, but it might get a customer to take a next step in the right direction. 
  • Expanding and Solidifying the Brand – Ads often do the most good with our current customers; and ad can help keep them as a customer or give them information about other products within our brand that they might consider. 
But sometimes I get into a conversation with someone looking for help with advertising and I realize that what they really want is to not be bothered with all the pesky work of selling. They hope that an ad will do work instead so that they don’t have to personally ask for the business or close the deal.

I have even had folks explain to me that they need a good ad campaign because their sales force is too busy (as if the ads will do the selling). If you're too busy selling, you don’t need an ad; you need a bigger sales force. The whole point of an ad is to make your sales force busy.

While I don’t think of growing a church in terms of selling, many of the same principles apply. No ad will replace the work of people personally sharing their faith and inviting people to church. Ads can certainly be part of the process (opening doors, generating inquiries, expanding and solidifying the brand), but an ad campaign alone will not grow the church. People vibrantly living and sharing their faith is how the church grows.

Friday, April 17, 2015

On Sundays I’m in the News Business

I’ll wear a suit and tie this Sunday, like I do most Sundays.

That will put me in the minority among pastors of my ilk (evangelical types in Greater Seattle). My suit isn’t a statement, but I do think about it; it is a choice.

Please allow me to say that I don’t have a problem, at all, with the choices other pastors make in this regard. I don’t have a dress code for other pastors on our staff, and when guests fill our pulpit I never specify directions; I’m glad they are comfortable and warmly received however they are dressed.

In fact, those pastors wearing designer jeans and stylish, untucked shirts this Sunday are probably making the better decision. Most of their churches are larger than the congregation at Pleasant Bay. I probably ought to be taking more than just wardrobe advice from them.

From time to time I’ve wondered where I should find my styling cues.

Should it be the entertainment industry? A lot of what I do on Sunday is like an entertainer, on a stage, singing and telling a few jokes.

Should it be business? And if it is business, should it be like the lawyers and bankers in Seattle, or the techies in Redmond?

Maybe I should just match what I see out in the marketplace… taking a clue from what I see at Bellevue Square or Alderwood Mall.

I have determined not to approach my work on Sunday’s as if I am in the entertainment business; on Sundays I’m in the news business (or more accurately the Good News business). I’ve determined that among the various roles in our culture, and the corresponding wardrobe choices, I’m most like a news anchor.

In a news cast, there are voices other than the anchor, and other approaches to wardrobe suited for various roles. But the anchor (when the anchor is a man) wears a suit and tie. It is so normal that it has become invisible to us; we don't notice Lester Holt's suit, but we would certainly notice if he wore anything else.

It is interesting that Fallon, Kimmel, and Stewart make the same choice.

We accept the suit and tie as the uniform for one who is ready for business, anchoring the presentation, and delivering the message.

On Sundays, that works for me. If it works for the news in our culture, I think it works for the Good News too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Alternative to Tradition: Bad Tradition

It’s funny. At least from my observation it seems that some of the most vocal opponents of religion are quick to establish their own. They may not call it religion, but we routinely make religions. We find ourselves frustrated with religion so we launch out and do our own thing, establishing our own ways and orders of things and styles… and before we know it we’re religious again.

It puts me in mind of one of my favorite quotes: “The only alternative to tradition is bad tradition.” I heard Jaroslav Pelikan say that in an interview a few years before he died. Dr. Pelikan was a professor at Yale, a historical theologian who has written the definitive academic volumes on the development of Christian creeds.

He said “tradition” but he could have said “religion” just as easily; he was speaking of Christian tradition/religion through the centuries.

His point goes to what I said before, we are wired to make traditions and religions. There is really no such thing as no tradition or no religion… just inferior versions of tradition and religion.

While we are on Pelikan, here’s another famous quote:

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition."

So if you agree with me that there is good religion and bad religion, good tradition and bad tradition, tradition and traditionalism (as I think Isaiah did)… then we could look to Isaiah 58 for an understanding of the difference. We can look to Isaiah in pursuit of good religion and tradition. Check out what I had to say along these lines, from Isaiah 58 here:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Power to Overlook

It seems to me that some of the happiest people appear to have powerful abilities to overlook. It may be that they are oblivious or blissfully ignorant… literally not seeing the faults in others; one cannot be bothered by what one does not see. Could be… but I think it is something more noble.

It seems to me that some of the happiest people chose to overlook. They chose to not see minor offenses. They accommodate faults. With them, there is abundant mercy and grace.

A study of conflict resolution reveals a range of activities. On one end of the scale is the sort of conflict resolution that requires professionals, the sorts of things that require lawyers and courts, or possibly professional mediators or arbitrators. On the other end of the scale is overlooking. The ability to overlook is the frontline of conflict resolution… when the conflict and the resolution occur near simultaneously, and the conflict is resolved all on the part of the overlooker.

There is a lot of power in the ability to overlook, or put another way… we should not overlook the power to overlook.

If we are going to be in any sort of relationship, we simply must determine to overlook. Whether it is a close personal relationship, a professional relationship, a distant relationship, or even a relationship with an organization, nobody is perfect. There are tradeoffs. We take the good with the bad, enjoying the meat and spitting out the bones.

We overlook the small stuff because we choose to see something more important, possibly even in the distance. We remember that small things can obscure big things. Like our tiny moon can occasionally eclipse our enormous sun, the small things we bring close to our view can block our sight of the bigger, better, more important things beyond.

Overlooking certainly does not fit every situation; it can be abused. I’m not suggesting that we allow ourselves to be doormats. But in cases where we can overlook, I’m suggesting that we should. Overlooking is not powerlessness, it is taking up our power and using it by determining to overlook.

The power to overlook is especially helpful to the hyperaware. Some of us simply see more details than others, quickly noticing what others may not ever see. For some, we are hyperaware about most everything, others are hyperaware along specific categories (maybe an area of expertise, or a particular sense). Without developing a high capacity to overlook, the hyperaware can be among the grumpiest, most miserable people among us. 

Would you like more happiness in your life? Perhaps we can make a little more space for overlooking. Chose to overlook. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Advice: We Usually Get What We Pay For

There’s an old story; I can’t remember when I first heard it, so I have no way to give it proper attribution. But I think it is helpful, so here it goes.

A landlord had an old, downtown building. It had charm so the tenants overlooked the lack of modern amenities, even the antiquated boiler system for heat… that is until it stopped working. The landlord couldn’t get it going, and the usual vendors were no help either. Someone told the landlord about Old Pete, saying “if anyone can get this thing going again, it is Old Pete.”

Old Pete came out, looking like he came straight from central casting… grubby overalls, grime stained hands, tools hanging from a tool belt. He wasn’t a particularly pleasant fellow, not mean or unpleasant, just seemingly not all that concerned with landing a powerful first impression.

He looked things over for about 15 minutes, approached the boiler, pulled a well-worn pipe wrench from his belt, made a few simple adjustments and the boiler fired up. Good as new.

The landlord was thrilled… until he got the bill in the mail: $20,000. He was immediately as hot as his boiler. He got Old Pete on the phone to deliver a few choice words. “Are you kidding me? You were here for less than an hour. You didn’t even break a sweat. It wasn’t even Sunday or a holiday! I expected to pay you for an hour; are you trying to tell me that a few cranks with your wrench is worth $20,000?”

“No sir,” replied Pete. “Turning the wrench is worth a plumber’s rate of around $100 an hour. Knowing what to do with the wrench, on your boiler, that’s worth $20,000.” The landlord couldn’t argue that… and paid the bill.

We don’t always get what we pay for… but we almost never get more than what we pay for. I think that may be especially true when what we are really buying is expertise. We all pay for expertise from time to time; lawyers, doctors, consultants, financial advisors and such. I’ve spent a lot of my own money for expertise, and way more of someone else’s money on behalf of the various organizations I’ve served. Sometimes it hasn’t been worth it, but usually it is. Looking back, my regrets are mostly associated with not seeking and paying for good advice, rather than regrets about the times I paid for advice that didn’t prove to be all that valuable.

Now when I say “pay for” I think of that in pretty broad terms. Of course the most pure transactions involve invoices and checks, or payroll. But sometimes the payment is a matter of relationship. For example, I work with a lot of volunteer boards. Their advice is worth a lot; their “payment” is transacted in the relationship with the organization and cause.

There are also subtle ways of getting paid. Take a blog for example. I monetized this blog a few days ago. I doubt anyone noticed or cared that I made some space for ads. It took me a while to get qualified, but now Google has some space on my blog to post ads. If you click on an ad, I get paid (so if you want to reward your favorite bloggers, click on an ad from their pages every once in a while… just seeing the ad isn’t enough, you have to click it).

Maybe you think I sold out, and would prefer to not have ads flashing on these blog pages, but consider this. There are plenty of times when I’ve sought out free advice. Here’s what I’ve found: free advice is often worth precisely what we pay. Thus, ad-free blogs are worth less than blogs with an economic engine (oversimplified, I know… but there is some truth in it).

I do a bit of consulting through my company (Greatifiers)… so I occasionally get paid for my expert advice. I’m not ashamed to admit it, the advice I get paid for is worth more than the advice I give away for free. When it comes to the paid advice, I work harder at it; I’m more thorough and thoughtful. And when it comes to the free advice… well, I don’t give the best stuff away.

So when it comes to advice, whether it is active advice in consultation with a pro, or passive advice we might get from a blog, I’d say two things:
  1. Be glad to pay for good advice, and 
  2. Be suspect of the real value of that which seems free.
Oh... and be sure to click an ad before you go :-) 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Guys: Not Gender Neutral

Forgive me, sisters, for I have sinned.

I have never been all that formal in my speech. I grew up a blue-collar kid. I’ve had mostly white-collar jobs, earned the whitest-of-collar degree (MBA), and even qualify to wear a clerical collar (ordained)… yet in my heart I am still pretty much a blue-collar guy. I think I usually write like a white-collar guy, but I often talk like a blue-collar guy. I can certainly be formal, but I prefer to be informal.

For years I have used the word “guys” as a gender-neutral term. I cannot count how many times in meetings (usually meetings that I was running, or had a great deal of influence) when I would announce: “when I say guys, please understand that I mean guys in a gender-neutral way.” I meant it as a term of endearment. “Come on guys, let’s get this done. Would you guys like to join me for lunch? How are you guys doing? Did you guys have a good weekend? See you later guys.”

The apologetic clarification revealed that I knew the word was not gender-neutral, regardless of what the dictionary says (most dictionaries allow the word to be gender-neutral as a secondary definition).

Nobody called me on it. Nobody seemed to mind. What were they going to say? I was the boss.

One day several years ago I decided to try to break the habit. I’m not sure why. I guess it was a mixture of politeness and an effort to show proper respect to my female colleagues. It was a hard habit to break, and I’m sure I still blow it from time to time, but I think I’ve pretty much got it under control. And I’m really glad I made the effort.

I don’t know that anybody noticed. But it seemed to make a noticeable difference. Maybe it was all in my head, but I found my relationships with female colleagues to be just a bit more productive.

When I pick up the occasional job in the corporate world, I rarely hear a man use the word guys in a gender-neutral way. I don’t think anyone would get in trouble for doing so… they would just run the risk of being marginalized. It could be perceived as a sign of ignorance or insensitivity; such a man would not be taken as seriously as he would like.

I do, however, hear the term used a lot in the church world. I am confident that nobody does so with intent to harm; they likely are just being lazy like me. 

If you are one of those guys (and by guys I certainly mean men) I want to encourage you to break the habit. If you do, I’m confident that you too will notice a difference.

For me, this isn’t a matter of political correctness; it is just correct.

I’ve asked women about this. Generally speaking it doesn’t really seem to bother them much… but they do notice. The term doesn’t usually carry much impact, but it does at least slightly impact the relationship, and it is always negative impact… usually just a little bit of caution or negativity. They usually easily overlook the minor offense. But why would we want to waste the energy, causing that bit of friction, for our lazy, outdated speech?

So what are we to do? One thing not to do is add something to the term. I was recently in a meeting of ministers of my ilk, mostly evangelical pastors, mostly men, but not exclusively men. One of the featured speakers, a genuine expert on the day’s topic, caught himself addressing the crowd as guys. Then he “corrected” himself by saying “guys and gals.” Seriously… guys and gals? He might as well have addressed the women in the crowd as “little ladies” or “dear.” It was clumsy… easily overlooked, but clumsy and it degraded his credibility a little.

I’ve never been a fan of doing the he/she or his/her thing. I guess in some cases it is unavoidable, but I’ve found that, with a little effort, I can usually write and talk in such a way that simply refers to people as people. We can be inclusive by specifying women and men… but it is most inclusive to simply talk about people, leaders, colleagues, and friends.

It seems that this is most important when we are in any kind of leadership. As leaders, our choice of words is closely scrutinized. When we use a term like this it can be interpreted and misunderstood in all sorts of unproductive ways.

I know that women sometimes use the term guys in a gender-neutral way; some women I know use the term regularly. That is fine for them, but it doesn’t give men license to use the term. This certainly isn’t the only term that a group of people uses in reference to themselves that is off-limits to those not in the group.

So, if you are a guy like me… come on guys, work a little harder and discipline yourself to not burn any goodwill on clumsy outdated language.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Beware: The Word Processing Department

It is hard to imagine that there is such a thing as a Word Processing Department today.

When I was an IT Director many moons ago, I found a sign like this (full disclosure, this is a reproduction… but I wanted one for myself). It went back to a day when my predecessor supervised the Word Processing Department. It was 30+ years ago and they discovered word processing software (a Data General product called CEO that ran on their MV 4000) and the HP LaserJet printer. They had one of the first LaserJets; it apparently cost around $5,000 and I was recently told “it was worth every penny.” Since they were sharing the one LaserJet printer at the College among 30ish administrative employees, they consolidated their resources in the Word Processing Department.

When there were letters to be distributed to donors, prospective students, alumni, students or other big lists, they looked to the Word Processing Department to format, mail-merge, and print. It is hard to imagine a day when it took a third-party with special skills and gear to produce a letter, a day when folk would schedule a walk between buildings to get to the one shared laser printer on campus.

At some point, before I arrived on the scene, the Word Processing Department became obsolete. People gained expertise with the software, and the software got way better. The gear got cheaper. And people invented new ways to exploit the technology. Eventually the day came when people did not need the Word Processing Department any longer.

I imagine that there was a season of frustration that preceded the demise of the Word Processing Department.
  • Fellow employees served by the Word Processing Department (internal customers) likely did not always agree with the priorities and schedule. I suspect that internal customers wanted faster turnaround, and I suspect that there were some who considered their work the most vital, and thus should always be bumped to the beginning of the queue. 
  • I suspect that the folks in the Word Processing Department were frustrated too. It could be that folks would seldom work according to procedure, not getting work to them on time or in the proper form. 
  • There were likely rogue units in the organization who did not play according to the rules and found ways to work around the Word Processing Department, maybe even getting their own unauthorized gear.
In this specific case, I don’t know how it all shook out… whether the Word Processing Department died slowly, clinging to the perceived value of centralized resources (and control) or they were glad to distribute the tools widely as soon as possible.

Like I said, with Microsoft Word on my iPhone and three printers at home, it is hard to conceive of a Word Processing Department these days. But I suspect there is often something like the Word Processing Department in a lot of organizations.

These days, in part of my work, I’m seeing something along these lines when it comes to Web. When it comes to Web, organizations easily see the outward-facing value and develop their Web presence. When the Web was getting started it was common for the IT Department to be the first to manage things, not merely providing infrastructure, but also designing the site and developing content (it is on computers after all, so it must be an IT thing). Before long that gets frustrating for the organization and management of the Web (still mostly outward facing) moves to a unit more aligned with the marketing functions of the organization.

Then the organization realizes that even though the website may be designed to be outward facing, the internal customers use the site a lot… so much so that it may seem like the internal customers are among the most important customers (they are the customers with faces, the colleagues we bump into in the break room). So meeting the demands of the internal customers becomes a priority, all the while the internal customers invent new ways to use the technology. It is great for efficiency… but may not be as great for effectiveness as folk turn inward, neglecting the vital outward-facing work.

Eventually we realize that there isn’t anything all that mystical about the technology and the tools are distributed. It could be as simple as a bifurcation, splitting between internet and intranet, or it could be distributed among several outward-facing and inward-facing strategies.

I’m also seeing a similar sort of thing happen with video. A marketing department develops expertise in producing outward-facing video, and then the organization determines that the same tools could be powerful for internal communication.

I am very much in favor of powerful and efficient internal communication. And I am in favor of collaboration and cross-pollination in such ways in which, for example, a marketing department would serve as a resource to help more inward-facing initiatives ramp up.

But my concern is that it easy to lose focus, allowing powerful internal voices to draw marketing departments away from their main thing. The perceived efficiencies gained by centralizing resources and control are not worth the price of neglecting, or even diluting, outward-facing work.

Do you have any Word Processing Departments in your organization?
  • Units where resources are centralized, controlled and rationed (even though they are really not all that scarce any longer)? 
  • Areas where internal customers are competing with external customers, pulling time, talent, and treasure inward that ought to stay focused outward? 
  • Policies and procedures that seem to generate a lot of friction (energy that generates heat but no motion) that could be elevated by simply distributing technology or resources?