Before I moved to Alberta 3 months ago, I thought the bottom part of a thermometer was just for show. The sub-zero scale, I reckoned, was like the speedometer on my Hyundai: measuring, at the uppermost reach, mere hypotheticals. The thing couldn’t actually go 220 km/hour – that’s just there for aesthetic purposes, to fill in the rest of dial. Plus, it looks impressive.
Now I find out, too late to turn back, that Albertans actually use the bottom end of the stick. Minus 5. Minus 10. Minus 17. Minus 28. Apparently, there’s limit to how far down the mercury will go.
And it’s only November.
When I complain loudly to the locals about this, they smile a thin smile. “Wait,” they say, “until winter hits.”
Winter? This isn’t that?
I came from Vancouver Island, where a cold day meant you put on a sweater under your wind breaker, and maybe postponed your golf game. Block heaters? Ice scrapers? Snow tires? Parkas? We’d heard of such things, but few of us had any first-hand experience with them.
November’s been my crash course. The other day I almost died walking to my car. The coldness skewered me. My toes and fingers turned numb. I pictured someone finding me hours later, my tipped-over body frozen in mid-stride, a thickening lacework of frost gathering on the blueing marble of my skin, my eyes wide with terror.
I made it, in case you were wondering.
So it’s been an education, if that’s the right word. This morning, I wrote some of these thoughts to a friend, a native Albertan. “At least,” he wrote back, “we’re not in Edmonton. It’s brutal there.”
The funny thing is, he’s the third person in 2 days to say this very same thing to me. At least we’re not in Edmonton. Such, I’m learning, are the consolations of the half-frozen.
But still, it’s cold here. To be fair, I’d been warned. But – like with most things – reality has a distinct force to it that theory can never quite capture. Minus 28 in real-time is much more, shall we say, impressive than minus 28 as a mere idea.
But at least we’re not in Edmonton.
That’s something you rarely hear: “I love meetings.” But I genuinely do. At least, I love the ones at the church where I’m a pastor. And especially, I love the ones we’re having lately.
Let me explain.
At the beginning of September, I introduced and implemented a new plan for church staff meetings. The structure we had used for our staff meetings had served us well for a decade, but it was starting to show signs of strain. Our team had doubled over the past 10 years: the old structure was designed to equip and unify a small team. It was, simply, less effective with a larger team.
It’s not that our team is huge – we’re only 11 paid staff. But I wanted something that not only served well this size of team, but that could be scaled quickly if we doubled, or tripled, and so on.
So a few of us took a couple months to re-envision and redesign how we meet.
First, we clarified why we meet. This remained what it has always been: to strengthen and deepen our team unity and to extend and empower our impact, individually and together.
Then we overhauled. Some of this involved tweaks. Some of it involved complete paradigm shifts.
What follows is a description of the new system. I share it in the hope that it might benefit you, and that you might share with the readers of this blog ideas you’ve found helpful.
- Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, 8:30-9:00 AM, we have a staff prayer time that is open to anyone in our church. We pray for our congregation, our community, and our church’s ministries. All staff are strongly urged to attend.
- Every Tuesday morning, 9:00-9:15 AM, we have a 10-15 minute Stand Up Meeting. This is an exchange of administrative information that everyone needs to know. All staff are required to attend.
- Every Tuesday morning, 9:15-10:00 AM, we have a 45-50 minute Step Up Meeting. This is a high-energy, interactive session to engage us with one of the core values of our church. Step Ups are “insight-rich, task-light,” meaning that they are primarily designed to inspire, enrich and equip staff, not burden them with more things to do. All staff are required to attend.
- Every Tuesday morning, 10:00-11:00 AM, we have a one hour Pastors Meeting. This is a free exchange of ideas and a discussion of issues. These are very frank, sometimes tense, usually energizing, always clarifying meetings. All pastors are required to attend, and sometimes other parties are invited in as well.
- Every Tuesday afternoon, 1:00-2:00 AM, we have a one hour Strategy Session. This is an intensive interactive session designed to engage a staff person or a ministry team in identifying and solving one problem in their ministry – a communication gap, or a volunteer shortage, or a fuzzy vision, and the like. Strategy sessions are “insight-rich, task-heavy,” meaning that they are primarily designed, not just to inspire, enrich and equip staff, but to give them a plan to be implemented immediately. Each staff is required to attend as scheduled, which adds up to at least 4 sessions for each staff each year.
- Every Thursday, I leave two 1-hour blocks open in my schedule (with some exceptions) for One-on-One Sessions. These are for any staff to book (or drop in if no one else has booked the time) to talk about anything – they choose the agenda: hanging out, catching up, counselling, coaching, confession, whatever.
We’re only 3 weeks into this, but so far I like what I’m seeing: fresh energy, clarity and creativity. Even though it takes me a lot more time to prepare these sessions – especially the Step Up Meetings and Strategy Sessions – I find the challenge deeply invigorating.
In my next two posts, I’ll provide working samples of both a Step Up Meeting and Strategy Session.
I welcome your feedback. What have you found most effective in building unity and effectiveness in a team?
It’s folly to stone your prophets.
Yet I see it all the time: people (I include myself here) who deal with unwelcome truth by rejecting the truth-teller. The child who denounces his mother for telling him his behavior is unacceptable. The employee who grouses about her boss for giving her a less than sterling review. The wife who harangues her husband for asking her to cease her gossip, or the husband who berates his wife for asking him to be kinder.
You know the beat.
There is some device in us that resists truth and resents those who bring it. The device is very active in my own brain. I can feel my hackles rising, my breath shortening, my jaw clenching, and my mind racing as soon as I see the slightest criticism coming my way. I start thinking up excuses before I even know what I’m excusing.
One of the best disciplines I’m learning is to turn off the device. Or at least ignore it. I’m teaching myself, not just to not resist honest criticism: I’m teaching myself to actively seek it and wholeheartedly welcome it. A question I’m asking people more and more: “Is there anything about me you wish I’d change?”
And then I take a breath.
And then I get an earful.
It’s rarely as bad as I dreaded. It’s always better than I hoped. It’s usually fair and accurate. In the end, it’s always life-giving – which the Bible says is a sign of true rebuke.
So far, I’ve been talking about criticism from people who love you. From those who want your best.
But let me push this even further. What do you do with harsh criticism? With the snipes of the cranky, self-appointed prophet – the accuser in the guise of a prophet? With the attacks of your enemy? With the barbs of the one who wants the worst for you?
Here’s a hard truth: they may be right. The day King David fled Jerusalem at the advance of his son Absolom’s revolt, an old embittered enemy – Shimei – followed him and taunted him all the way. He hurled rocks and dirt at David. He unleashed a brutal litany of curses and accusations.
David’s response? I think God is telling me something here.
God sometimes uses the mouth of an enemy to tell us what we refused to hear from the mouth of a friend. When we stone our prophets, it’s actually grace when God sends a foe to take his place.
Next week. I’ll to write about responding to criticism. But I wonder if you have a story of when God has used a friend, or maybe an enemy, to tell you a hard truth?
The curse of giftedness is laziness. It's complacency. It's settling for mediocrity, because mediocrity for a highly gifted person might be brilliance for a less gifted one. A one-talent person has to work hard to gain every inch. But a ten-talent person – a highly-gifted musician or chef or hairdresser or speaker – can coast for miles, and still get applause.
Recently I took a hard look in the mirror and realized I've been coasting in a few things. I'm not highly gifted in anything. But there are a few areas I've been living short of my ability.
I'm putting a plan together to change that.
Here's what my plan includes:
• Engaging in honest self-assement. I have to muster the courage to look full at myself and admit where I've become lazy, ineffective, unproductive, or deficient.
• Seeking honest feedback. I need others who love me enough to tell me the truth, no matter how unflattering, and then give them permission to tell it.
• Carving out time. No one drifts toward excellence. For me, two things are crucial to my getting better: reading, and practice. Both require dedicated time.
• Finding someone ahead of me willing to help me. I seek people who are brilliant at what I want to get better at, and I ask them to teach me or coach me.
• Deciding what success looks like. I try to envision what getting better looks like and then I set measurable goals toward it.
I'm writing this from Chicago, where I'm attending the Willow Creek Summit. This morning Senior Pastor, Bill Hybels, said we should all change our middle name to "Better," as a pledge to live up to our full potential.
I have no intent of changing any part of my name.
But I do intend to get better.
What about you? Is there any area you're living short of your ability? What's your plan to get better? I'd love to hear about it.
I’m going to sharpen my focus for this column. Each week, I will zero in on one of three themes: Leadership, Creativity, or Spirituality. These are my three grand obsessions. They are the large prisms through which I refract the world. Virtually everything I muse on has some touch point in one of these three areas – leadership, creativity, or spirituality – or in all three of them. Indeed, these three things are not separate, not in my head anyway: for me, they braid together so tightly that each intimately touches on the others. But I will, for the sake of clarity and brevity, focus on just one each week.
I was talking with someone recently who said that their boss typically gets them to do tasks he’s too afraid to do himself: correct fellow employees, confront exploitative clients, clean up messes.
There’s another word for someone like that: Coward.
This person’s verdict: “I like my boss. I just have zero respect for him.”
Every leader should pay attention here. All who have been given responsibility toward and influence over others – bosses, parents, pastors, teachers, etc. – must steward that responsibility and influence with utmost integrity, humility, industry, and courage. By all means, seek to be liked. But even more, earn respect. Nothing guts influence faster than forfeiting respect.
As I thought about this person’s boss, it struck me that he had committed the fatal error of abdicating responsibility rather than delegating it. The difference is subtle in practice but glaring in effect. It’s the difference between dumping a task on someone because you’re too proud, lazy, or cowardly to do it yourself, versus empowering someone to do a task because, well, they’ll probably do it better than you would anyhow. And it’s your job to help them be great.
No leader worth his or her salt should ever ask anyone to do something they are not willing to do themselves. That is so axiomatic it needs no further argument or defense.
But every leader worth his or her salt must ask people, and often, to do things they best not do themselves. Here’s a short list of such things:
- Ask someone to do what you don’t have time or energy for – you could do it and would do it, but it would demand more time or energy than you have.
- Ask someone to do what you lack sufficient skill for – you could do it (or maybe not) and would do it, but you’d do it poorly, maybe disastrously.
- Ask someone to do what you hired or recruited them to do – you could do it and would do it, but that’s what you brought them to the table for.
- Ask someone to do what releases their potential – you could do it and would do it, but it over-extends you and under-develops them.
What would you add to this list?
John Stott died this week. He was 90.
Stott was sometimes called “the evangelical pope.” He was a man of wisdom, depth, clarity, warmth, and massive influence. He radiated love for Christ and his church. Though he spent most his years as pastor of All Souls Church in London, he was truly a global Christian, giving the royalties from his many books to support scholars and evangelists in the developing world. Though a lifelong Anglican, he declined the opportunity to become a bishop because he wanted to remain available to the wider church, among whom he was affectionately known as “Uncle John.”
His death prompted a deluge of tributes from all corners of the church and globe, and even from non-Christians.
Saddleback Church?s Pastor Rick Warren simply declared him “a giant.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said of him, “During a long life of unsparing service and witness, John won a unique place in the hearts of all who encountered him. Without ever compromising his firm evangelical faith, he showed himself willing to challenge some of the ways in which that faith had become conventional or inward-looking. It is not too much to say that he helped to change the face of evangelicalism internationally, arguing for the necessity of ?holistic? mission that applied the Gospel of Jesus to every area of life. But he will be remembered most warmly as an expositor of scripture and a teacher of the faith, whose depth and simplicity brought doctrine alive in all sorts of new ways.”
The Rev. S. Douglas Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Conference, which Stott co-founded with Billy Graham, remarked that “John Stott?s focus was the cross. The church was his great love. World evangelization was his passion. Scripture was his authority. Heaven was his hope. Now it is his home.”
Maybe it was David Brooks, a Jewish columnist for the New York Times, who captured him best. In an op-ed piece a few years ago, Brooks lamented the tendency of the media to find the most outlandish and offensive evangelical Christians and to make them representatives of the movement. He then pointed to Stott as evangelical Christianity?s real spokesman, describing him as “friendly, courteous and natural” whose faith was “humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic,” and praising him for his “thoughtful allegiance to scripture.”
And that from someone outside the Christian faith.
Personally, Stott mentored me through his books, especially his Magnus Opus, The Cross of Christ. The man possessed the rare combination of first-rate scholarship, lucid and compelling prose, and godly pastoral wisdom. He could parse Greek phrases with rigor and precision, and argue fine points of doctrine with agility and exactitude, but he never lost sight of the biblical imperative to live the truth, not just to know it. His genius, indeed, was application: How then shall we live? Truth that does not work its way into our hearts, our tongues, our eyes, our feet, our hands, was dead.
But truth that takes hold of us and leads us into intimacy with Jesus, obedience to him, and Kingdom work for him and with him ? that is living. Stott had a living faith. Though he is gone, his influence will live on for many years ? indeed, I believe it will grow.
And of course, he?s doing just fine.
Billy Graham said on Wednesday, “The evangelical world has lost one of its greatest spokesmen, and I have lost one of my close personal friends and advisers. I look forward to seeing him again when I go to heaven.”