Walk It Out

0925190909As someone who writes and speaks a lot in my life, it’s not uncommon for me to find myself at an impasse. Some might call it writer’s block. Everything I speak I will generally write in some form before it’s spoken.

When I come to those places of blockage, those seemingly impenetrable walls, I’ve got to find a way through. Sometimes it’s moving to something else temporarily to clear my mind and then returning to it to get a fresh look. Sometimes it’s a complete disconnection from thinking to something mindless like watching a movie or playing a video game.

Most often, I find myself looking for a space of inspiration. When you encounter a block enough, you begin to find the places that help the most in working them out. For me, the two places where those blockages get worked out the easiest are when walking and when driving.

I won’t say that they’re worked out the fastest, because that rarely ever happens. Mental blocks, to me, are more like wrestling matches, grabbing, grunting, pushing, pulling, rolling, tumbling, and so much more. The thing about those kinds of wrestling matches is that they rarely leave you untouched. They generally leave their mark on you, whether good or bad, but you rarely remain the same throughout the wrestling match.

I think best when I’m moving.

There’s a field that I go to in a park that has some great, wide open spaces. It’s almost as if that space represents a picture of what I am hoping happens in my mind. I want things open, free, unrestricted, and walking out these blockages in a place that’s unconfined seems to be one of the greatest solutions.

I generally know where I am going, both mentally in my writing or speaking, and physically, when I am walking or driving. I can see where it is I need to get to, I can visualize it in my head, but this isn’t the world of Harry Potter, I can’t disapparate and reappear at my destination. I’ve got to go on the journey. I’ve got to take the walk or take the drive. I can’t speed it up or fast track my way through it

And at the end of it, I find myself at an arrival of sorts. It rarely looks how I thought it would or should. Most of the time, it takes far longer than I anticipated or wished that it would. Oftentimes, it’s much more obvious and I realize that the arrival to which I have come was there all along, lurking right there in front of me, waiting to be discovered had I looked at things more simply than I had.

But it’s a journey. Everything’s a journey. Journeys rarely leave us untouched or untainted. Even when we try our best to ignore them and their impact on us, they still have a way of touching us, twisting us, changing us.

I’ve been on a lot of journeys in my life, some which I would gladly choose again, others that I wouldn’t wish upon myself or anyone else, for that matter. As I survey the map that shows those journeys, I can safely say that they’ve all made me who I am, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am who I am because of those journeys.

I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t waste our pain. I think that’s true. But I think that God really doesn’t waste anything. His timing isn’t always our timing. His efficiency isn’t always our efficiency. But at the end of the journey, whatever it is has accomplished whatever he set out for it to accomplish.

Creating a Remarkable Culture

bet on talentThe dictionary defines culture as, “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.” Everything and everyone has culture. Some of that culture is inherited and we try to change it. Some of that culture is created intentionally to shape and direct the future.

Dee Ann Turner spent three decades selecting talent within her organization. In the process of selecting talent, she realized how important the people selected for talent were in shaping culture. In her book “Bet On Talent” she talks about using talent to create a remarkable culture. She writes, “Because people decisions are the most important decisions a leader makes, they can be game changers for the culture and the organizations.”

Turner speaks out of her vast experience at Chick-Fil-A. She says, “it is far easier to create a strong, healthy culture from the beginning than to rebrand a struggling culture after it is formed.” She talks about the characteristics that make up a remarkable culture and how that culture is influenced by the people within it. Toxic people can create a toxic culture. Domineering people, primarily bosses, can stifle a culture and reduce creativity, innovation, morale, and motivation.

The essence of a culture is in the person at the top. As Turner writes, “Culture is not owned by the talent, people, or human resources function of an organization. It is owned by the person at the very top, and then all of the other leadership and everyone who is part of the organization have a role to play in  building, growing, and strengthening the culture.”

Throughout “Bet on Talent,” Turner shares about the elements of a remarkable culture, how to build a team that creates this kind of culture, how to grow that culture among your team, and how to engage guests through that remarkable culture. There is so much wisdom that Turner shares about the characteristics of culture, how they are created, and how they impact not only your team but the people that you are seeking to reach.

Turner says that quality people can create a remarkable culture which can, in turn, draw remarkable people to that culture and experience. She talks about the importance of principles over rules as rules can be restrictive, especially for those who can’t see beyond them. So much of what she shared had me nodding my head in agreement as I had experienced in various places in my life people who had created both remarkable and toxic cultures. It was helpful to see not only the characteristics of remarkable cultures, as shared by Turner, but also how to go about creating those cultures and to avoid some of the pitfalls that will be encountered along the way.

If there was any criticism for this book, it was that the chapters were so long. The book was structured well and flowed well, but there were not as many stopping points throughout the book to allow for digestion of the material. Chapters varied in length from about sixteen pages all the way to over fifty pages.

There were so many insights that Turner shared that I thought were so beneficial. I came to the book at a time when I was in the process of creating culture in an organization myself, so it felt that much more significant and relevant for me. While Turner shares from her experience in the business world, the principles that she shares can easily be transferred into the non-profit sector as well, allowing for remarkable cultures to be created in that world just as well.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Here We Go

branch launchReady, set, launch!

The closest I will ever come to childbirth is launching a new church. Thankfully, the physical pain doesn’t hold a candle to what a woman experiences when she gives birth (I think women have a much higher pain tolerance than men, by the way).

I spent just about a year preparing, praying, and planning to kick off this church. In the process, I was changed, formed, reformed, and transformed. I’m not the person I was a few years ago, but I also think that I’m not the person that I was a few months ago.

After our service launch, my team went out to celebrate. A friend who has been on this journey with us joined us and he asked me how I was feeling afterwards. I told him that I was feeling uncharacteristically calm. Seriously, I can have a tendency to get amped up, but I was fairly calm throughout this final week leading up to launch. A testimony to what God has done and has been doing in my heart and soul.

The parking lot was full and the chairs were full. There were old friends and new friends. There were hiccups that will require course corrections. But at the end of the day, we accomplished what we set out to accomplish.

And I would be nowhere had it not been for God’s provision for me. That includes my incredibly supportive family. My wife has been a rock, stepping into places where she would rather hand things off to others. My kids have been fantastic, lending their hands and making this their own community as well.

I’ve had a phenomenal team around me. It’s been awesome to see the gifts of this crew rise to the surface as they are put to work. I love watching people live into their gifts and I’ve been privileged to be a part of that.

I’ve made some great new friends and this New York born, New England raised boy has lost just a little bit of his cynicism as I’ve experienced the grace of God through friends and colleagues. My head-scratching moments of wondering why people are being so nice are happening less and less. Not that I’ve come to expect those moments all the time, but I think I’m not as surprised as I once was that people, especially church people, can be so loving and gracious.

I am excited for what is to come. Since I was a little boy, I’ve always loved Christmas Eve. Forty plus years into life, I still have that feeling of anticipation and expectation when I go to bed on Christmas Eve. Not that feelings should be driving the train here, but there is something to be said about always wondering what’s coming next. I’m hoping that the best is yet to come.

So, we press on.

Over the course of the days leading up to our launch, I spent some time immersed in the music of Bruce Springsteen. My wife and I went to see “Blinded By the Light.” I bought a few more of his albums. I listened to them with headphones. I found myself lifted away to another place, and it felt strangely right for this convergence and collision of seemingly unrelated things.

I told my team as we were wrapping up our evening that we get to go rest and do it all over again next week. Course corrections there will be, but I think there’s going to be something to all this. I don’t know exactly what, but I’ve learned to embrace that tension of not knowing but expecting.

I Need, We Need

As I am on the heels of kicking off a new faith community, a lot of my thoughts have been about the church. Not only have I been in full-time vocational ministry for the last fifteen years, but I grew up in the home of a pastor and can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t connected in some way to a local church community.

Starting a church from scratch has given me the opportunity to look at everything with fresh eyes, as if I had never experienced any of it before. When you start things from scratch, you don’t get to say, “We’ve always done it that way.” There can be no excuses.There are no magic formulas. There should be no sacred cows.

I have spent the last few years focusing on StrengthsFinders and how it relates to people within the church community. One of the key uses of StrengthsFinders is to help people connect with what will engage them in their jobs. It made sense to me, as I thought about StrengthsFinders, that the same application could be used within the church. Couldn’t we look for the ways that we would be engaged in our church to find out how we could stick better?

When we start looking at ourselves as pieces of a bigger picture, we move from simply looking for ways to have our needs met to looking to help meet the needs that we see before us. We don’t just ask what I need, but we also ask what we need.

I had a meeting the other day with a few friends, two of whom have been on this church planting journey with me. All three of these friends have a strong voice of advocacy for their own special needs children. I brought us all together to consider what we can be doing as a new church to consider this important community and how they can fit and integrate into what God is building in and through us.

As we talked about different local expressions of the church, one of my friends talked about this very concept of needs. When we fail to see who the church is and why she exists, we fail to move past the question of what she can do for me. We simply see the church as an organization that provides goods for us to consume.

But what happens when we ask ourselves how the church needs me. The way that I see it, in community, we should be transformed and be transforming. Not only are we transforming, but we should be part of that transformation process in others. We should be seeking to be used and to use the gifts that we have for the sake of the community as well.

When we come to this place, we began to see how we fit into the big picture, we begin to see that if we are truly seeking to be used, then our community needs us as much as we need our community.

It was a beautiful reminder of the mutuality of community. Any kind of relationship that is one-sided will grow stale at best, will lead to some kind of abuse or burnout at worst. But when we find the mutual aspects of community, finding our way, our use, and our purpose, it changes the whole thing.

So, considering our place in community, how do we move from simply asking how I am getting what I need and move to the place of helping us with what we need? I think we need to understand who we are, how we are made, and what we have to offer. If we can identify that first, that’s a great step in the right direction of helping us stick better and find our purpose in the place that God has brought us.

Fearful

home aloneAs the day approaches when we will publicly launch out our new church, it’s been a journey of faith for me, my family, and the team of people who have joined us to embark on this new adventure.

I met with a friend yesterday, thinking, dreaming, planning for the future as we look at how we can collectively, with our two churches, press into the place where God has planted us. 1 John 4:18 came up in our conversation, a verse that I’ve quoted many times in years past. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I told my friend that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s fear.

There have been many days along the way that I could easily have been gripped by fear. There will be many days ahead where I could be gripped by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the inability to provide for my family. Fear of failure.

But there are also many times along the way that I have seen my faith multiplied and enlarged. In those moments when fear begins to creep in, slowly threatening to overtake me, God has allowed these small glimpses of what could be, propelling me forward with just enough hope to get me over the next hill, kind of like the little engine that could.

Fear tells us that we can’t. Faith tells us that God can.

Fear tells us that we aren’t enough. Faith tells us that God is everything.

Fear tells us that it’s impossible. Faith tells us that all things are possible with God.

I have refused to be gripped by fear in all of this, and every single time that I am ready to give up, to throw in the towel, to pack it all up and walk away, I am reminded that the driving force behind what I am doing has nothing to do with trying to be good or look good or succeed, it has everything to do with feeling called to do what we are doing.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

I believe that I am loved by the One who created me. I believe that he has given me the talents and strengths to do what he has called me to do. I believe that he can sustain me and that just as the author of the Book of Hebrews says, he can equip me with everything I need to accomplish his will.

Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? No. Do I wish that I didn’t have to walk in faith? Sometimes. But the whole reason why I am at this place in my life, fifteen years away from a successful engineering career, is because I didn’t feel like I could make the same difference in the world around me as an engineer as I can as a pastor. That’s not to say that engineers can’t make a difference, just that as an engineer, I didn’t feel like I could be as effective as I can doing what I am doing now.

And so, we press forward in faith, not fear.

Many people tell me that this is what I was made for, to do this, to launch out. I can echo those sentiments and I see this as the culmination of years of being shaped and formed.

Only time will tell whether or not we are “successful” in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, I would much rather be faithful and faith-filled than successful, because I think in his eyes, faithful and faith-filled actually amounts to success.