Book Review: Built to Last by Jim Collins & Jerry I. Porras

If you are involved in building and managing an organization, the single most important point to take away from this book is the critical importance of creating tangible mechanisms aligned to preserve the core and stimulate progress. This is the essence of clock building. ~ P. 89

A pastor friend highly recommended I read ‘Built to Last.’ I would echo that sentiment. The quotation above really encapsulates the book. To put it in other words, the book is more concerned about who you are as apposed to what you do. The visionary companies described in their book were more about who they were- their core ideology- then the products produced. Their great products were a result of their core ideology in action.

Building the core
The purpose and values of an organization is what is most essential and non-changing. It is the preservation of this core ideology that drives leadership development, products, adaptations, consistency and culture of visionary companies. These companies have transitioned through multiple CEO’s, economies, products, and culture shifts. Core ideology is the center of visionary companies, not profit nor product. The company itself is the greatest achievement. Preserving the core allows freedom to and opportunity to explore what the company can do.

Vision?
The greatest shock in reading the book was the un-central role vision played. Many of the leaders were not charismatic visionary leaders, though some were. In reading through the book everything went back to who the company was at its core. Growth of these companies normally occurred in one of two ways, BHAG’s or trying a lot things and keeping what sticks. The paperback version, which I read, had a chapter about vision, but this chapter still pointed back to the core ideology. Surprising fact from this book: can you build a dynamic organization without a vision? Yes. Without a core ideology? No. The book does not negate vision, but vision is certainly not the driving force, as the book almost arguing against it being the driving force.

Ministry value
The greatest ministry value from this book is to focus more on who you are and want to be rather than what you do. Values are discovered, rather than imposed, and a culture is developed rather then chosen. Attention should be given to the theology of what a church should be more than its actions. What a ministry does will have a greater impact if it is from its ideological center. As with any book, discernment should be used. The church is an organism not an organization.

A big key to the success of these companies was the preservation of its core ideology, particularly through multiple CEO’s. This is an element many churches struggle with. I have heard of too many stories of ministries declining after a successful tenure of a key leader. The draws attention to a much broader discussion.

The book
The book read ok and the stories were excellent. It did feel very choppy to me. The book is a report on a study and it felt like a report on a study. Things they pointed out were very well done, but the book could have been considerably shorter and communicated the same thing. While a worthwhile read, it was not the most enjoyable to read.

Bottom lines
Focus on living out and preserving the ideological core of the organization you’re in.
Focus on developing the culture and leadership of the organization you’re in.

Why not Wednesday: Be a kid!

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” ~Jesus

We often hear the line “child-like faith.” Jesus uses children to teach about humility and faith. Other than the disciples, children are the only group Jesus blesses in his earthly ministry. Leaders in children’s ministry love this verse. (We love other verses too!) In watching my two boyz grow, I’m learning more and more that child-like faith is not about simple trust or joyous abandon. I’m also thinking that children as a model of humility is less about their status. Here is what my boyz are teaching me about child-like faith.

“Amazing!”
My oldest son when I brought (OK, dragged) our first real Christmas tree into the house, stood in complete amazement. The word he used: Amazing! My youngest started kicking and flailing his arms as mom held him in a way he could see the tree. It was big, it was huge. And, after all dad’s kicking, screaming and complaining about a dumb ol’ tree in our house, two boyz changed my heart (my wife gave me the “see I told you so” look). The little and big things are equally amazing to kids. Jadon had the same reaction to the ice machine, the moon, ice cream, toy trains, the list goes on. Kids get amazement. They get wonder. But, its more than just the newness my boyz eagerly seek amazement. Its wired into their DNA. The quest for amazement is a skill we lose or forget.

“Daddy! Daddy!”
Daddy! Daddy! Means the same thing as Jesus saying “Truly truly, I say unto you!” Its not enough for a kid to be amazed. When amazed, we HAVE to share about it. Whether its demonstrating a newly conquered skill, or some simple thing they discovered, kids talk about it. They have to. Discovery is the root of their joy. What is learned and enjoyed must be shared- except with a brother or another child. We’ll talk about depravity at another time. Kids talk. They share what is most valuable- their hopes, dreams, and mostly the little things of life. Its wired into their DNA. The desire to share is a skill we lose or forget.

MA-MAAAAA!!!
When it comes to being hurt, dad is second fiddle to mom. Kids get the ministry of presence. But, my boyz get mad if I’m not around, even though its mama they want to play with or hold them. Jadon grabbed my hand once, sat me down on the couch and then took my wife’s and took her to the choo-choo’s. When I got up to go to the kitchen, play stopped and Jadon looked at me. He did not resume until dad was back in the picture. Kids get that people are the most important thing. People are more important than the task or what is being done. And whether it’s being held, or just being near, kids thrive on presence. Its wired into their DNA. The importance of people is a value we lose or forget.

CHOO-CHOO’S! Train. Train. Trains!?

Kids are devoted. When they like something, they want more. And more. And more. You get the picture. But, they don’t just want it- they CRAVE it! Jadon cannot get enough trains. Gavin cannot get enough doors for him to open. They must have more. They celebrate what they love. They ask for what they love and they go crazy when they get it. What they love is bigger than life. You do not have to convince them they know it. Its wired into their DNA. Devotion is a value we lose or forget.

Child-like faith is being amazed at, sharing, being there for, and being fully devoted to God and the people He places in our life. Sure, simple trust and joyous are a part of that, but those barely scratch the surface. Children are not simple followers. They are much, much more, and we would be wise to re-learn the skills that were once a part of our DNA.

Three lessons from Apple…

“Everyone in silicon valley was trying to be someone else…”
~Welcome to Macintosh

It is no secret that I’m a Mac. I watched Welcome to Macintosh, written and directed by filmmakers Robert Baca and Josh Rizzo, while my wife baked incredible delights. Expecting to enjoy the back ground story behind my beloved computer company, three big lessons stood out to me: 1) Be who you are, 2) Only take on projects you are passionate about and 3) Be dedicated to your strategy. These lessons are reflected both positively and negatively in Apple.

1) Be who you are!
A theme throughout the documentary was people trying to be who they were not. In Apple’s dark times, this was rampant. People in Apple were trying to be Steve Jobs, or some other key person. (It was also mentioned that its a Silicon Valley wide issue.) This theme really came out when discussing the future of Apple without Steve Jobs. The worst thing that could happen would be for someone to come in and try and be the next Steve.

Ministry touch point
One thing is clear: God designed you to be you, and ministry happens best when you are true to how God designed you! Focus on how God designed you. There may be similarities with others. There may be great ideas from others you can incorporate. But, the final question must always be asked and answered effectively: Who did God design YOU to be?

2) Only take on projects you are passionate about
A key quote from the movie: “When Apple really got behind a product, it did well, when they didn’t, it did really poor.” The story of the iPod demonstrated this point. Apple did not invent the mp3 player. Apple revolutionized it. Good design aesthetics and simplicity stand as pillars in Apple culture. The people of Apple also love music. The iPod revolutionized the mp3 market and music industry based on the merging of those two passions. Apple’s culture of innovation and passion drive the company, more so than the profit aspect. Its art verses business. It’s being verses doing.

Ministry touch point
If God is our delight, our desires will become/match up with His. If a project lacks passion, a key question to ask is: Is this what God wants us to do? (Sometimes the answer is yes, as obedience to His Word is another key aspect.) Passion is not everything, but it is what often will gets the job done. No something is not a negative. The power of no is a stronger yes. God gives us all 24/7 to accomplish His will. Our no’s are just as important as our yes. Go for the passionate yes, and be ready to say no a lot.

3) Be dedicated to your strategy
Innovation, simplicity, good design drive Apple. It is not a mistake that Apple developed 3 game changers: the personal computer, the iPod, and the iPhone. Apple rarely invented a concept, but they revolutionized it and made it usable. Apple’s success came about when they held to their core strategy or values. Again, its about being not doing.

Ministry touch point
How you get a job done is as important as what you do. Its a variation on the “Its the journey not the destination” principle. Understanding and articulating your values and strategy is essential to accomplishing effective ministry in the long run. Being creative is not always about new, but making something usable and best. Apple innovated, and their strategy centers on that. Innovation and creativity should be a result of who you are, and not the other way around. Its about being missional not program driven.

We need more stained glass windows…

 

Stained Glass Window
by Hauki-

“We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future, your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you can tell them…” ~ Joshua 4:6-7a NLT

Where is the art?
Stained glass windows were used to communicate basic bible stories to a largely illiterate world. Part of this was an extreme case of the Bible being in a language people didn’t understand. To communicate the stories from the Bible, the church used art. The buildings, decor, everything was to communicate and teach something about God, to inspire worship. For better or worse, we’ve lost the sense of art in many churches.

Theology in Art
God frequently used artistic expression as a tool to both remember and pass on who He is. Think about this, how abstract is a pile of stones in a middle of a river? The picture itself has to be explained. Think of the passover where God uses taste to communicate bitterness- the bitter herbs. Intertwined through the Old Testament God placed artistic expression to generate conversation. Some expressions were very abstract, others very understandable, they all were intended to generate conversation and engage people in theology- understanding who God is.

Generate why….
We need awe. We need environments and opportunities that get kids and adults to ask why, to dream. There is a broader context to following Christ. Our walk of faith is not an island unto itself. God showed Himself to be the one true God. If the church is truly one body, then our story and the stories of others in history connect. Theology is not a vacuüm, its communicated and lived out in history, in life. Art understands this language, as God created that rainbow of grammar and syntax. We need more stained glass windows…

Questions:
If all the words in your ministry environments disappeared, what does it communicate about God and who you are?

What have you done to help people see what God has done through the history of your church or ministry?

Do kids in your ministry start asking questions and talking about God because of what surrounds them?

Why Not Wednesday: Rearranging Deck Chairs

The cliche “that’s just rearranging deck chairs” has a negative connotation, but sometimes that is exactly what is needed. Slight changes are seemingly insignificant. Rearranging of things can open up a world of possibilities. One of the best things to help build creative muscle is to just move things around, take on a different perspective. It adds freshness, and keeps you from getting into a rut. It helps you become aware of things around you, and may help you at least find some lost pens.

Rearrange your deck chairs:
Move things around on your desk. Is the phone on your right really the best place?
Move your living-room furniture around
Take a different route home from work, and park differently.
Rearrange a friends desk… Enjoy your co-worker trying to figure out what’s different.
Set your desktop differently, if you’re a Mac user, move the dock to the side instead of the bottom.
Change how you normally arrange you library on iTunes.
Reverse your meal, eat dessert first, then the main course, then appetizer…Better yet, go out to eat and do this. When he brings you the bill for dessert, order a meal, then, when he brings the bill again, order and appetizer…

Bottom line:
Rearrange your “deck chairs.”

Methods and Content and Needs (oh, my!)

There is a tension between methods, content, and needs. With tensions we often pit one against each other, or take the “both/and” approach. This pours into another tendency; using nebulous terms such as balance, equilibrium or compromise. Everyone defines balance differently. We love to prioritize, especially if we’re analytical types, or just make bigger messes, if we’re mystical ministry as art types. How do we navigate these big three things?

The big three defined
What do I mean by methods and content and needs? Here are some definitions with examples of how they look when taken to an extreme:

Methods: What we do.
On steroids? Over emphasis on the non-biblical.. aka maximizing leadership, synergistic program developments, the latest greatest book based on statistical analysis.

Content: Who we are, theology.
On steroids? Over emphasis on the biblical… aka comatose preachy preaching, Word studies from languages we don’t speak, dead orthodoxy.

Needs: Where people around us are at.
On Steroids? Over emphasis on doing… aka the social Gospel, building self-help groupies, incredible families enterprises, political action.

What we need is balance right? In a word, no. Equilibrium? Not so much. Both/and? Sigh. These concepts often get people thinking in terms of 50/50 or compromise. I believe God cares about all three.

Think organic
The body is an incredible organic analogy. No one thinks to prioritize the heart, lungs or brain. Without each of these things you’re quite dead, and perhaps this is why many ministries are dying. We think in terms of health. We seek to sharpen our minds, and build a strong cardiovascular system. These are both keys to a long healthy life.

How the disciples succeeded
In Acts 6 the church was not healthy in an area. Hellenistic widows were being overlooked (need). The old program was not working and a new one was needed (methods). The Apostles recognized that focusing their energy on that problem would take away from what was essential, God’s Word and prayer (content). These things could have been in tension, but they weren’t. Rather the situation called for radical change, an opportunity to live out the Gospel and repentance, and a chance to reaffirm who we are. The church moved forward and God’s power was unleashed.

Where the disciples learned success
WWJD? Luke tells another story. 5,000 men were hungry and in need of food (need). The disciples thought the best idea was to send them away: there wasn’t enough food or enough money to feed everyone (program). Jesus was not about to stop what was essential, His teaching (content). Did  the disciples pass this test? No. But, they learned and God’s power was evident. (When we lack in an area, God will provide.)

The lesson
The disciples learned from failure that ministry is about health. Methods, content, and needs must have an intentional active focus. They did not sacrifice one area to bolster another. They brought up the weaker area through the power of God, while continuing the other essential areas. They changed when needed, tackled opportunities when they arrived, and kept their message front and center.

The bottom line
Think organically. The overall health of your ministry is related to the health of the three areas discussed. Ask: How is your health?

Methods:
Are in you a rut or open to radical change?
How well are you leading?
What steps of change or improvement have you taken lately?

Content:
How well do you know and understand God?
Are you still a student to the Bible & Theology?
What was the last theological topic you’ve studied lately?

Needs:
Do you know where your people are at?
When was the last time you studied your community to see how you can best serve?
How has your ministry demonstrated compassion?

Why Not Wednesday: Touching History…Creating Irony

There are few times when you realize that you’re not just seeing or reading about history, but you’re touching and hearing it in a way that is profound. I’ve had a few of those moments, but this one was unique. Not long ago I went to the Restoration Center for the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington. I went to see a plane, but walked away with something unexpected. This event led me to believe we need more irony in ministry.

The Story

Being a plane buff, and not losing my awe and wonder aspect from my childhood, I just had to visit the center (I was afraid to fly as a child, ironic). The main reason for my visit was in having hopes fulfilled of boarding a de Havilland Comet. The Comet was the first jetliner, designed during late WW II in Britain. To actually board one was a dream come true. I remember seeing pictures of it in books or web sites about aviation. It was a beautiful plane. Amazing how the one I was on flew in 1959, ten years after the first one flew. (It was also a bit ironic to be onboard a British made plane that was used by a Mexican airliner only yards away from the Boeing factory.) So, mission accomplished, I set my mind to look at the other stuff, and then head for home.

Irony is the state of affairs that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects to find. As I interacted with some of the volunteers who restore aircraft, I was amazed by the quality of their work and the amount of time they took, normally about 10-15 years per aircraft. These guys in their retirement years seem more productive then many my age. A whole blog post could be written on their work ethic. Some of the guys took us to a photo album and shared stories about war stories, lost friends or projects they had done. This moved beyond the seeing history to hearing and touching it in a profound way. One gentlemen really stood out, though.  Ironically again, he doesn’t like planes, he just loves electronics.

This gentleman grew up in Eastern Europe and started to head West during WWII. He learned multiple skills, languages and talents to gain the “freedom” (as he put it) of the West. This eventually led to him being able to come to the New World. Feeling a lack of education, he had a passion to be a life-long learner and still pursues that, though his time is invested more in reflection now. Visiting with me at the time was a friend who works regularly with electronics. My friend stated, “This man has already forgotten more than I’ll ever know.” The gentlemen worked on technologies still employed successfully today, and is still hard at work using his skills. His story was the interaction of history, passion, family, love, pride and work. His last words to me were: “Pastor, I don’t know why God put me through all this and allowed me to go through what I did. But, I pray the Lord’s Prayer every night, in the five languages I’ve learned. This gives me great peace.”

The conversations with these seasoned men was a profound experience. It led to a greater appreciation for life, freedom, hard work, and friendship. Reflecting on this experience, I wonder how many people would actually hear and understand the implications of what these men shared. Then, I realized some would. It may be one, it may be more, and the epiphany may come years down the road. It happens at ironic moments.

Here is the Why Not:

We need to cultivate irony. Preaching and teaching cultivates and readies the ground for the ironic moments of life to take route. Learning may happen during teaching and preaching, but change, understanding and epiphany often occur in the most weird or unexpected venues. It occurs in the hallway, the older person sharing a story or comment, bed time conversations, but rarely in the classroom. Training your ministry team to cultivate and prepare for irony, or the unexpected, is just as important as training to teach well. And this thought came from a person who was scared of flying as a boy, is a plane buff… well, you heard the story. But, here is the thing: The one group of people who have the ability to fully produce irony in our ministries is seasoned saints.

Book Review: Think Orange by Reggie Joiner

“As leaders our primary purpose is not to keep our children in church, but to lead them to be the church.” (p. 217)

Think Orange will be the defining work on Children’s Ministry & Family Ministry for quite some time. A significant discussion within the church is the relationships between the church, the family, and the various generations within both. From a methodology standpoint, Think Orange gives a road map to answer these questions. The book’s strengths are in explaining the why and what questions of a Family Ministry. There are other resources by the ReThink group that address the how.

The why question is critical
While there are many who do not appreciate or think philosophically, what you believe truly effects what you do. Reggie Joiner does an excellent job of explaining the essential role of both the family, the church and how they are combined and interact through leveraging community. A continual frustration of mine in Children’s Ministry is how programs or materials merely view parents as important, not essential. Think Orange views parents as essential! The combination or synergy of the family with church produced produces a powerful result. Reggie states: “2 combined influences make a greater impact than just 2 influences.” (p. 15) This principle, along with others, gives practical guidance to living out the truths of Scripture, in particular the parents’ role in discipling their children and the church’s role in equipping the saints for ministry.

The what question is helpful
What is needed is a collaborative model for family ministry, and not a hap hazard, random, or departmentalized one. Essential #1: Integrate Strategy, starting on page 110, is the most critical section answering what we need. A professor of mine often used the term “braiding,” getting various things to work together.  Having an integrated strategy helps all areas of family ministry to be on the same team and working towards the same goal. Said another way, it teaches children about the church by being a church. As a child grow up in the church, he or she is taken to another level at each life stage, including transitions between life stages. With society causing more and more fragmentation, the church needs to be a place that brings people together. Think Orange understands the equilibrium between families together, age appropriateness, and being one church. This equilibrium is a result from Reggie high view of community. Children are not the church of tomorrow but the church of today.

Final Thoughts
The book’s design and layout is helpful for those who are sequential & analytical thinkers, or the more abstract & random thinkers. It offers many ideas, discussion questions and insights. The book can be read sequentially, treated as a manual or encyclopedia on family ministry methodology. The charts and quotes that stand out were extremely well done and help to navigate the book.

Reggie shares frequently how the ideas translated into what was done at North Point. One should be careful to distinguish between example and what is/ what works at North Point. This is normally distinguishable, but there are times when it may be confusing. This is not a criticism, just something to be aware of. Another point that stands out and one should be aware of is Reggie’s humility. He gives permission to disagree with him, and even states that he may disagree with himself. This tone and attitude is refreshing and should be more prevalent within the church.

The Bottom Line
Think Orange is a critical work to navigate through if you are serious about impacting yours and other children to be the church, not merely attend church! Its strength is in family ministry methodology, with a close secondary strength in ministry philosophy.