Friday, September 24, 2010

Keys to Being an Effective Team

I ran across a scrap of paper this morning on which I took some notes from "The Human Side of Enterprise", written by Douglas McGregor. He talks about what characteristics separate high performance teams from others.

Key Characteristics of Highly Effective Teams
  1. A good a team is comfortable, relaxed and informal in their atmosphere.
    There is a lack of obvious tensions, and people are engaged.
  2. Everyone participates in discussions.
    The discuss in on task, people speak up, not dominated by one person.
  3. The task is well defined and accepted by team members.
    Individuals can identify their objectives and commit to them.
  4. Members really listen to each other.
    Ideas are heard, not ignored, and the loudest voice doesn't win.
  5. Critical suggestions are made without personal attack.
    There is disagreement, and this is not viewed as unhealthy.
  6. Members are free to express feelings and not just ideas.
    In addition, the group is conscious about its own operations.
  7. Everything is out in the open, with no hidden agendas.
    There is both unity and clarity of purpose.
  8. Clear assignments are made and accepted.
    No ambiguity on next step or who is responsible.
  9. Most decisions are made at the point where there is general agreement.
    Reservations are expressed during meetings, not held and griped about later.
  10. Leadership shifts depending on the circumstance.
    At times others may step up due to special knowledge, skills, or passion.
Some of these may seem surprising. Disagreement and conflict are ok? Leadership can shift around? Full consensus may not always be required? The group takes time talking about itself and how effective it is functioning?

These characteristics apply well in business settings as well as on ministry teams.

Is there something today you can do to help your team be more effective?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review - Sun Stand Still

I'm a fan of Pastor Steven Furtick, and was very excited to get an advance review copy of his new book "Sun Stand Still" from the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Pastor Steven is the lead pastor and founder of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC (6000 strong and growing). He's a very talented young man, a passionate and biblical preacher, and someone who demonstrates audacious faith.

The full title of the book is "Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God for the Impossible." This comes from a passage in the Old Testament describing a highly unusual event. Joshua prayed and God caused the sun to stand still for a full extra day (!)  The theme of the book can be summed up in two words: audacious faith. In his own words...
"This book is not a Snuggie. I’m not writing to calm or coddle you. With God’s help, I intend to incite a riot in your mind. Trip your breakers and turn out the lights in your favorite hiding places of insecurity and fear. Then flip the switch back on so that God’s truth can illuminate the divine destiny that may have been lying dormant inside you for years. In short, I’m out to activate your audacious faith. To inspire you to ask God for the impossible. And in the process, to reconnect you with your God-sized purpose and potential."
I found this book to be simultaneously very easy to read, and very hard to read. It was inspiring, but at times discouraging. It was easy to read because Furtick writes heart-to-heart, in plain terms. It was hard because it's so darn challenging! He succeeds at encouraging the reader to consider a faith and a life far beyond what we can do in our own strength, and for this he is to be commended.

The difficult part for me, and perhaps for several other readers, is that much of what he talks about assumes the reader has a clear dream or vision from God, a definite purpose that perhaps seems too big to tackle. He says "Before you can pray a Sun Stand Still prayer, asking God to do the impossible you've got to set your sights on the specific impossible thing God wants you to trust him for in your life... When I use the word 'vision' I mean a "clear sense of purpose regarding what God wants to do through your life." Some people would refer to it as a calling or life mission."  Therein lies the trouble. For myself, and for many friends I talk to, there is but a faint sense of a calling or "life purpose." It's a huge great big fog cloud for many believers. I don't really have trouble believing God can and wants to do great things, and wants to act powerfully in my life, but have much less understanding about what it is He wants to do through me :)

In any case, there were a number of powerful insights I took away from the book.
- The key to being a disciple is being completely available to Jesus, i.e. unconditional obedience.
- Whatever you're good at, that's your calling. Wherever and wherever it may lead you, is holy ground.
- Every member of the body of Christ is a link in the life-change process of other people
- Furtick also hates the phrases "just a volunteer" and "full-time Christian ministry"
- The scope and impact of your vision will be determined by who you believe God is.

Probably the biggest takeaway on the nature of trying hard and/versus trusting fully in God was described in the story of Joshua in noting that in addition to this audacious prayer, he staged an all-night forced march of his army. That's a grueling task! And it led to this insight by Furtick:

If you're going to pray for God to make the sun stand still, you'd better be ready to march all night!

In other words, it calls both for giving it absolutely all we've got, but also trusting in God to do things absolutely beyond our ability in our own strength. If you've got a dream but are lacking the faith to see it come to pass, or if you just find yourself too stuck in comfort and safe prayers, this is definitely a book worth checking out.

Sun Stand Still releases TODAY, Sept. 21, 2010, and is available now at Amazon and other retailers.

(Disclaimer per FTC guidelines: as with other books I receive from publishers, the review copy is free but I'm completely free to post whatever honest opinion I have about the book, good or bad. I always call 'em like I see 'em!)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

For You Who are Hurting

I prayed for you this morning. I don't know or understand the pain that's going on in your life right now. But I want you to know that you're loved. We're friends, not close enough that you can share all that's going on, but enough to care, to feel sorry that you're hurting. I don't have much to offer you, except a word of hope. There is one who does understand your heart, your pain, and who knows your future. He loves you deeply, even though you may not feel that much right now. It may seem like He is distant, or does not care. It may seem like this pain will never stop. He does. And it will.

What I don't have hope in, I'm sad to say, is that people will stop being such jerks to you. Little hope that family members or once close friends won't continue to disappoint. Not much hope that everything will instantly be better tomorrow. Little hope that the craziness and bs you face will stop once and for all. I don't have hope you'll forget the pain that seems like got you into this season of despair.

What I do have absolute hope in is that the God who made you and loves you will be there for you when no one else is, wants to help you through this rough time, and will one day bring a time of peace and restoration of joy (yes, deep joy) in your heart that will pass all understanding. I have this firm hope because the One who loves you is faithful and He will do it. In Hebrews 10:22-24 we're asked "Let us draw near to God, with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith... let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." Until that day comes when you find lasting peace and and end to suffering, I hope that I and others can continue what is commanded next in verse 25: "Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching."

He loves you... more than you can imagine.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review - The Church of Irresistible Influence

"The truth is finally revealed. Anything done in the name of Christ, in the name of love, is ministry. Anything."  That's a powerful quote that caught my attention from a book called "The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community," by Dr. Robert Lewis. The Church of Irresistible Influence is a story-filled book describing the early church's spiritual energy and depth which amazingly transformed the surrounding culture - and encouraging the church to do its best to do nothing less. Lewis shares the story of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, and encourages the use of a bridge metaphor to become a church of " irresistible influence" (or i2). The book has five parts:  i) Spanning the great divide - what will it take to reconnect church and culture;  ii) Designing the Structure - How-to of incarnational bridge building;  iii) Experiencing the Results - true stories of i2 in action;  iv) Expanding the i2 effort - through partnering and leadership development;  v) Anticipating the Future - the Church in the 21st C.

What would it look like if it were more important that our lives were more attractive, rather than our church buildings? Lewis discusses at length the FBC mission statement: "We exist to manifest the reality of Christ to the world by equipping Christians to live lifestyles of spiritual integrity...  i) Passionately committed to Jesus Christ (a heart for God); ii) Biblically measured (everything by the Book); iii) Morally Pure (in a morally compromised age); iv) Family-centered; v) Evangelically bold (willing and confident in sharing one's faith); vi) Socially Responsible (the community around us is our business).  ... and to equip Christians for influential works of service in our community and in the world."

They talk quite practically about "Structure" which is about unleashing people with purpose - this structure must allow for hands-on i2 exposures, personal i2 ministry, strategic i2 investments. FBC's small group structure is designed to counteract getting stuck in our own safe huddles. The SG structure "intentionally processes people toward finding a personal ministry of influence." : They diagram it as: 1) Discovery,  2) Seasons of Life,   3) Common Cause. Discovery is for newcomer orientation, small group training and church membership, lasting 8-10 weeks. The Seasons of Life phase is a 3-year long small group spiritual growth experience emphasizing relationships according to a member's particular life stage. Common Cause is a small group spiritual growth experience emphasizing service to Christ according to a member's gifting and design; the time commitment is year-to-year. A partial list of the Common Causes groups includes CR, Bethany Christian Services, Crisis Pregnancy Center Support, Crown Financial Ministry, Divorce Care and Prevention, Habitat for Humanity, Upward. There are groups centered around the needs in the church, needs in the community, needs around the world.

Chapter 10 talks about the how there is no greater investment than in finding and training the leaders of tomorrow. "So, what kind of church leader should we be seeking to influence? Those who possess the following characteristics: keen intellect, high energy, a track record of leadership accomplishments, spiritual passion and a godly lifestyle, an ability to think conceptually, results-oriented, an ability to work in a team environment, a bent toward idealism. Of these, idealism is perhaps the critical trait."

Chapter 11 was quite interesting, talking about developing a community strategy. Phase One: Community Research.  Phase Two: Focus Group Feedback (panels of 22 community and social service leaders, to interact with the results of the findings from phase one).  Phase Three: Survey of Churches. In their area, race and education remain the dominant issues. Eight others were identified: affordable housing, domestic violence, health-care access, youth in poverty, substance abuse, elderly issues, transportation, economics/employment. The ended up with the following recommendations after the survey:  i) churches participating in the survey should focus as much as possible with their internal ministries on areas of need; ii) churches should focus on existing programs in the community that are doing a good job at meeting needs rather than start something new; iii) churches should look for creative ways to work together; iv) churches should look to partner with other organizations in the community that are effectively meeting priority needs and which are consistent with the mission of the church;  v) churches should be actively pursuing racial reconciliation.

Overall, The Church of Irresistible Influence is a good read. At times it provides great stories and useful principles, while at other times it feels a little too much like a canned model of things that might work great for them but not for us (I don't think this is their intention!)  If you want to have a greater influence in the community, personally or for your church, it's worth checking out.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review - Your Money God's Way

We're currently taking a close look at managing your finances, from both a biblical and practical perspective at Calvary. We're even preparing to launch a Financial Peace University program (Momentum) next January. So I've been doing some reading in this area. One book I got to look at recently (via a review copy through Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze program) is "Your Money God's Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths that Keep Christians Broke" by Amie Streater.

Streater's approach is different from other books teaching sound financial principles. While it gives a lot of practical advice, it's not trying to treat the symptoms of financial woes, but rather take a look at the root problems, identifying seven "counterfeit convictions" that love to get between people (especially Christians) and financial peace. She takes a look at money habits, where they come from, how they affect us, and sees which habits are supported by Scripture and which go against God's plan. Amie Streater is an Associate Pastor of Financial Stewardship (that's a new one!) for New Life church in Colorado Springs. Her writing style is very clear, filled with stories, and with no hesitation in telling it like it is!

The seven key chapters on counterfeit convictions are:
  • The Fix-It Fantasy (money can't fix you or your problems)
  • Saviors or Enablers (doormat syndrome)
  • Self-Righteous Slackers (how work is part of God's design)
  • You Must Be Here to Help Me (assuming other people's intentions are good)
  • God is an ATM (giving as a magic wand)
  • The Scarlett Syndrome (rose colored glasses, Christian style)
  • The Cliff Jumpers (pushing the need for faith a little too far)
At the end of each chapter are two useful sections: God's way - a collection of takeaway points from each chapter; and Solution Steps - simple actions you can take today to start improving your financial situation.

Overall I think this book should be quite useful to those currently longing for financial health, especially those wondering how God can let them as a Christian flounder so badly. It's a good complement to other action-based book. For example several times the author refers to and recommends Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Read it to find out if your beliefs or habits might be a key cause of current financial struggles, or if you prefer lots of stories rather than dry economic advice.

Your Money God's Way is available at Amazon and other book retailers. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Oh No - I am one of THOSE Dads

You know those dads who seem to not have a clue, who other people shake their head at as irresponsible, and take for granted the roughly 10 million things their wonderful wives do to take care of the family? This morning it was pretty clear... I'm one of those dads!

Dawn had to take our daughter down to Indy early this morning, so I just had to feed our three sons and get them on the bus. How hard can that be? It was a breeze. We had plenty of time. I toasted the bagels, slathered on some peanut butter, and we had breakfast together. Holy cow they eat slow. Like "watching a glacier advance across the polar caps" kind of slow. Eventually it's time for the bus for the older two. I notice my eldest's hands have an unusually large quantity of peanut butter on them. "You have any kids in your class allergic to peanut butter?" "Nope." "Good. Still, be sure to get that peanut butter off your hands. It's time to get the bus, so hurry up, put your things in the sink, and get moving." Note carefully the how that was phrased...

I went to grab something for my other son, and hear the other two say "Bye dad!" and sprint for the bus. Me and lil J relaxed a bit, and I got him on the bus 20 minutes later. Off to work. That was easy. Phone rings on the way, I figure it's Dawn thanking me for watching the kids or double checking they made it ok. Oops, I forgot to sign his homework like she asked. Hmmm, wait that's not even her ringtone.

'Is this Laurence?' (uh oh). 'This is the nurse from your son's school. He is covered in peanut butter. We are a peanut-free zone, and there are kids here who could be in serious danger with this! You need to come and get him, get him cleaned up and changed immediately!!' 'Yes ma'am, right away!' Off to school I drove, and when I saw him and took a closer look through the eyes of a school nurse, I saw a boy who looked as if he had literally taken the knife and spread peanut butter all over his face, shirt and pants. The hands were of course clean. The nurse held her tongue but had that look of "Are you naturally this bad of a dad, or did you take special lessons to reach this level of incompetence? Seriously!?"

I took him home, gave him a mini-lecture, but knew it was my fault. "Get all that peanut butter off your hands." Indeed he did! I had forgotten how I would have done that as a 10 y/o boy. Boys don't wear clothes for style. They wear them as a large surface area napkin available at all times.

As he got changed I pondered if I had to say more or punish him. Explaining to his mom why he was in difference clothes than what she left him in would be enough. I also thought that really, we're all "covered" in "stuff." Me, you, every one of us. It's not so easy to see as peanut butter on a dark shirt, but it's there. Envy, pride, lust, a drive to succeed at all costs. Whatever it is, we're covered in it. But the love of God and sacrifice of Jesus cleans us from all that. It's serious stuff, to be taken seriously, and God commands against all these, but he doesn't nag us or scream at us. Instead he says "Son, I love you. I've got some clean clothes for you to put on, if you're willing to put them on. I'll help you get cleaned up too - but I'm far more concerned about our relationship and how you love your brothers and sisters than I am about perfect behavior." So when he came downstairs with a nervous look on his face, I told my son I loved him, and gave him a big hug. "Let's get on with our day, shall we?"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Review - Velvet Elvis

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith is the first book by Rob Bell, pastor of the rapidly growing Mars Hill Church. (Published by Zondervan in 2006). Previously I had seen the Nooma series which he taught, and found it to give a very fresh perspective on the Christian faith. We definitely view some things pretty differently, but I found Nooma to be thought provoking and had a lot of important things to say to Christians and seekers alike. Yet Bell seems to be a bit of a controversial figure. What light would Velvet Elvis shed on Bell's beliefs, and on mine?

Even the title is interesting - what on earth is a Velvet Elvis? Apparently it's a painting of Presley on velvet. The point of the title is that no painting of Elvis could ever claim to be the 'ultimate rendition', so perfectly capturing his essence that no other painting need ever be done. Bell suggests our faith is like that - there is no 'perfect' once-and-for-all time snapshot the perfectly captures who God is or how we relate to Him. A key discussion point in the book is that the Bible - while a reliable source of truth - must always be interpreted. As we are not perfect readers, we'll not always get the right picture. Bell suggests that fresh painting of the faith are helpful conversations that can draw us closer to Christ and help us live the way He wants us to.

As I didn't know what to expect before reading this, I kept an eye out for crazy out-in-left-field stuff, and for powerful thoughts that encouraged me to think deeply about my faith. By the end, the latter far outnumbered the former. In fact, early on he wants to be clear that he affirms an orthodox position:
"I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. I'm a part of it, and I want to pass it on to the next generation. I believe that God created everything and that Jesus is Lord and that God has plans to restore everything."
I'm glad he did this, because in a few places his discussion of Jesus as the way and similar themes was rather fuzzy. At other points he raised interesting points about the trinity and the effectiveness (or danger) of some forms of gospel invitations which push hard for mental assent to get your ticket punched. I really thought several discussions were extremely thought provoking and useful - on calling, on relentlessly pursuing all the God has made you to be, Sabbath rest, and the Bible's teaching on the Kingdom of God. I also loved how Bell shared some interesting background on customs prevalent in the Old Testament and in the early church, on what it meant to be a rabbi and/or a disciple.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that a seeker or a Christian seeking a fresh perspective on the faith read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. At the same time, I would echo Bell's explicit instructions to the reader: Test it, probe it, don't swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it. Great advice, as the Bereans, Paul and Luke would agree (Acts 17:11). Pastor Bell know he hasn't "nailed it." In some ways the strength of the book is in raising good questions, not trying to give unique teaching or change your mind. It might make you a bit uncomfortable, or it may help revive passion and joy in following Christ.