“Your Arms Too Short to Box With God” was a gospel music theatre production in the late 70’s based on the Gospel of Matthew.
In its gritty, direct way the phrase captures the tense drama in a scene from the book of Acts.
After hearing the good news of forgiveness and joy in the life, death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus, people found faith, hope and freedom. But the religious elites and power brokers of the day became jealous (Acts 5:17), and put the whole thing on lockdown, attacking the apostles.
Why? What’s wrong with good news?
Bad news sells. Look at the first 10 minutes of your evening news. Fires, murders, rapes, gang violence, and political corruption (vote early, vote often, as we say in Chicago!) flood the screen.
Bad news stirs up fear…Good News serves up freedom.
Currently, our government leaders are debating and haggling about what services to fund. It’s a political wrestling match as we are well aware. Someone said, “When are these losers going to get their act together?” Sadly, regardless of your political affiliation, the real “losers” are needy people. Meanwhile many who are not dependent on government assistance or investment can laugh and throw stones. But a slowdown or a shutdown is a real letdown for so many. A government shutdown is indeed a crisis.
But today I realize I have avoided an even greater crisis in my life.
A Small Group Shutdown!
That’s right. I cannot imagine the impact of such a thing if it ever happened. As I look at the small groups I have been a part of over the years, shutdown would have been devastating for me and many others I know – at least from the human side of things.
Here’s what a Small Group Shutdown would have meant for me…
- No connection with Jesus a leader, lover and friend
- A disastrous marriage to someone who did not follow God
- A misfire on God’s moving me into a new career
- I would have never learned the real power of the gospel
- I might not have many real, lifelong friends – deep, genuine and “for me”
- An undiscovered teaching gift
- Participation in a weak church that had drifted from the truth
- I might never have attended graduate school for theology
- I would have missed seeing real prayer and real healing
- My own prayers and gifts would lay dormant or underutilized for years
- Serving opportunities would have passed me by
- International ministry and service would have likely evaded me
- I would have missed the support I needed for my marriage
- Raising kids would have been a disaster
- My personal pain and suffering would have had much less support
- My 2nd and 3rd career moves would have been made without wise counsel
- Might not have had close friends in the group become believers
- Would have missed tons of personal growth, love, and truth-telling I needed to hear
And I could go on for pages…A Small Group Shutdown would have led to a personal Breakdown.
It is sad that some critics believe that “small groups don’t work” and are not focused on making disciples.
I guess I was just lucky to be in the only group on the planet that is an exception. I am sure the rest are just hokey little gatherings of bubble Christians hiding from the world and ignoring their communities.
Sure, like parts of the government, some need to be shutdown. But most, as far as I can see (and I have looked at these around the globe), are lifelines for people of all stripes and backgrounds. These little bands of spiritual transformation form the foundation for communal life and service. Maybe that is why Jesus spent so much time with His.
So today my headline reads, “SMALL GROUP SHUTDOWN AVERTED!”
A Common Leadership Mistake You Must Avoid!!
I see it almost everywhere I work with leadership teams. Let me tell you what it is and what you should be doing differently. And I will cite two great HBR articles that are helpful. (For more about HBR go here http://hbr.org )
Before I name the mistake, let me describe how it pops up.
You want to move ahead so you brainstorm a bit, read the latest books, review all the models, attend a conference or watch some videos. Then draft the new strategy., delegate responsibilities, and launch the new plan.
And in six months you are…
Two areas drive my passion and practice. They “need” one another. And in my work with churches, businesses, educational institutions and start-up operations, these 2 THINGS really matter. At the end of this post you can see how I help leaders of quality organizations in these 2 areas. See if you can spot them on this list below.
- Clear Mission
- Competent Leadership
- A Great Team
- Essential Funding
- Creative Workplace
- A Visionary Person
- Strong Community
- Recognition for Work
- Ownership by All
- Enjoy My Work
I chose Competent Leadership and Strong Community – and here is why.
I develop leaders.
I speak at conferences.
I attend conferences.
This week, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Lot’s of enthusiasm and inspiration, great talks and encouraging moments. I took my family and 5 of my honors students. We found the experience exciting and energizing. Like many others, that is why we go. It is an emotional thrill, and leaders need a leadership lift whenever we can get one.
Many of the speakers acknowledged this kind of event is a REMINDER event. We need to hear what we already know, and be inspired again to plug away, stay the course, and lead well. And often we gain a new insight or have an “aha!” moment. These are truly valuable.
But what happens after the thrill is gone? It is the age-old conference dilemma. In a few days the buzz is gone, the notebook goes on the shelf, the twitter frenzy dies down and people return to the same challenges, problems, lousy bosses, fundraising shortfalls and HR headaches.
Am I being pessimistic? Should we stop going to conferences? NO! Let me be clear. I love conferences! I love speaking at them and going to them! I love hanging with other leaders and getting to know their stories, successes and challenges. This is essential for every leader!
Is your church ” Group Friendly ?”
I work with dozens of churches each year as I work with their leadership teams about small groups, spiritual growth and transformational leadership. Often I am contacted and asked some variation of this question: “Bill, can you help us build/grow our small group ministry?”
Before I answer yes, no or maybe, I engage in a conversation, asking lots of questions and getting to know the current state of the church. As it relates to group life, I discover that churches fall into four categories:
You might be wondering why a “group-hostile” church would even ask me to help them build groups. Reality is, they do not see themselves as group hostile, but I do. So allow me to unpack each of these and see where your church is these days.
My friends Henry Cloud and I have worked together speaking, writing and training group leaders. To coach small groups – especially newer groups – we created Making Your Small Groups Work, a DVD groups watch a few minutes at each meeting to learn to be an effective community.
Here’s a short sample if you want to take a peek.
Setting ground rules is one of the things we encouraged groups to do, so that everyone is clear about how to create an environment for growth in a group context.
Here are 5 to think incorporate into your group process or team setting.
Care: Being for each other and coming alongside one another on any group or team is essential. We need more encouragement and less criticism; more urging onward than looking backward. To say “I care” means we not on have empathy with others, but we show that in a tangible way with words, ideas, support and compassion.
This may sound a little “soft” for some settings, like working groups or corporate teams. I get that. But it can still be communicated in appropriate ways. When a group really cares about one another they can begin to care for one another.
Safety: Creating a “Come as You are Culture” as friend John Burke likes to say, you make it safe for full participation and risk-taking. It means we can show up angry, tired, strong, weak, excited or cautious – and that is all ok. Sure, you need to monitor how you express those realities depending on the setting and the culture of the group or organization.
But the basic premise remains. You avoid having a “you’d –better-act-and-talk-and-look-like-this-before-we-accept-you” culture that ignores reality and demeans people.
Authenticity: Yes, authenticity is an overworked word… but it remains an underutilized practice. I believe this is because it is often misunderstood. Sometimes it is interpreted as putting all your cards on the table all the time, totally revealing everything about yourself.
Not healthy. We have reality TV to thank for that perspective. Unbridled and unwise communication and action is not authenticity – it is simply overexposure. And, like too much sun without sunblock, it does more damage than most relationships can tolerate.
Or, people fake authenticity with trite phases and clichés. “I totally understand what you mean!” “Wow thanks for putting yourself out there, Susan. It felt so real.” Or what a women said in a group I was in “I hate my husband, he’s a creep!” That was certainly real…but was it wise to share in the second meeting of a small group just learning to become a community and trying to take basic risks?
Growth: We are told to “urge one another toward love and toward good deeds” and groups are a great place for that. We get so selfish, so cynical, so absorbed in personal realities that pushing one another toward growth is neglected. But if I am listening, I am eager to call the best out of you and watch you thrive.
Once a member asked me, “And how do you act with integrity and honor your boss even though now you realize he might never change his abrupt way of communicating?” He wanted me to understand I have a choice – my actions and reactions are under my control, regardless of what he says or does. I can be different. I can love. I can serve.
Help: Groups and teams flourish when members help one another in tangible ways. “Mike, I can get that report for you online and save you a few minutes of research time.” “Christine, let me take care of the kids for an hour while you get some quiet time – or just go shop!” Little helps make a big difference.
Let me know if I can ever help you or your teams get better at creating greater community and a vibrant group culture.
In the meantime, ask yourself:
Which of these 5 “habits” or Ground Rules can we make a reality in our group or team?
What will it take for us to make this a normal part of the culture?
Today my focus is the integration of Faith-Work-Culture as a central part of life.
I am privileged to participate in a panel discussion on Capitol Hill Wednesday with seminary scholars, policy makers and leaders who care deeply about the integration of our work, our faith and our culture. Here is the focus of the discussion:
- Centuries ago St. Augustine wrote City of God to explore what is the rightful and moral duty of Christians engaging in the public square. Today, the questions and tensions that plague public life in our capital city are no less fraught and frustrating than they were in his, ages ago.
- Drawing from the insight and experience of practitioners across the scope of public policy’s reach and application this panel will explore the role Christians have to act justly and walk humbly across partisan lines, in neighborhood communities, and global conflicts, in the committee rooms of capitol hill, and the board rooms of K street.
- While acknowledging the reality of politics and policy native to Capitol Hill, this panel will instead focus on the responsibility Christians have to support and engage the development of flourishing communities in every corner of the earth.
I come as a representative from three spheres.
First, as thinker and change agent in an institution, as a representative from TIU where we are seeking to bring a more robust engagement with “vocational theology” so that faculty, staff and students see the faith-work-culture tension as a central, not tertiary, part of life.
Second, I come as a common worker. Like you, I engage in meaningful labor and have done so since I was 15. I have had a dozen roles in my work history: as a camp counselor, lifeguard, groundskeeper, financial analyst, sales rep, painter, pastor, professor and a leadership consultant.
Third, I sit here as a human being. I know that’s stating the obvious. But it is the one thing we all have in common. We all want to flourish as people living in this 21st century world – economically, spiritually, vocationally, physically, and emotionally.
So I am eager to learn and contribute during these 30 hours.
But I need your help – really.
What questions or thoughts do you have about human flourishing as it relates to the integration and interaction of Faith-Work-Culture?
We need to keep breaking down the clergy-laity division. And we need to see the worlds of work and culture as much more than mission fields on the one hand, or places to avoid “lest we be corrupted” on the other.
What are your thoughts and questions?
I would love to hear them before we engage on the hill tomorrow. Everyone wants to change the world- but not everyone wants to change. I want to change personally as I participate. I hope you can help.
Image credit: catholicsatworkoc.com
I am always intrigued by what is said in commencement speeches. Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford is one of the most Googled. His “stay hungry, stay foolish” theme really resonated with listeners. If you never heard it, it is a real gem. You can watch it here.
This June, at my alma mater’s graduation ceremonies, Princeton’s departing President, Shirley Tilghman, referred to Jeff Bezos’ commencement address to graduates in 2010. Though not as memorable or as well-known as Jobs’ talk, Bezos offered a series of questions for leaders or at least what every leader should be asking.
Bezos is Founder and CEO of Amazon.com and is a Princeton Class of 1986 graduate. His remarks challenged graduating seniors to consider 10 key questions. Here they are for your consumption.
1) Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
2) Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
3) Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
4) Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
5) Will you bluff it out when you are wrong, or will you apologize?
6) Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
7) Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
8) When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
9) Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
10) Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
I certainly was challenge by almost all of these. I did not feel a sense of guilt or failure so much as new resolve to grow and risk in these areas. Numbers 1, 6, and 9 have particular meaning for me at this moment in life and leadership.
How about you? I suggest you reflect honestly on the list, and choose your top 2-3 questions for further investigation and focus. Leaders – especially those who share leadership or have collaborative styles – will have to take some risks that will cause discomfort and leave you vulnerable to failure or criticism.
But what other options are there? A life filled with woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets and a leadership legacy what-if’s and what-might-have-beens?
Not for me. And I hope not for you.
You do not have to do life alone. But some of you choose to. I cannot imagine why. Oh, I know…you have many relationships; you know lots of people. You have Facebook friends and Twitter peeps. You know some guys at the softball league or some gals at the monthly business leaders luncheon. You trade contacts and share ideas. You talk about the weather, the kids, the job and the economy.
But are you known? To be known is to place the heart-level truth about yourself into the hands of another person. And to trust they will receive it and guard it. And then to do the same for them. Can you really say that you are known deeply and have others whom you know at the heart level?
It starts small. It means doing some life together – a meal, a coffee, a play time with other moms and kids, reading a book, going to a museum, volunteering together to serve the poor. It is not hard, but it takes some effort.
And it means a conversation – about life and love and hope and fear and truth and the world. Pick a topic and tell a story – your story. How did you get here from there? What makes you smile? What stirs your passions? What gets you really mad? What kind of injustice is so intolerable that you cannot stand it anymore? What about your work gives you a rush; what part of it gives you a headache?
Just talk and listen – really well and real carefully.
But whatever you do make a commitment to never stand alone. Never.
I met a good friend today, someone who has championed the cause of community with me for years, and has helped build it with others around the world. We have been partners, co-workers, and fellow employees. I love him. I think the world of him.
But more important than that, we are good friends. We know the pain and the darkness of one another’s lives; the scary parts and beautiful parts; we laugh until we cry; we spur one another on; we provide counsel and feedback for decisions; we solve problems; and much of the time we simply share a slice or two of life – the good, bad and ugly. We know the gore and the glory. And we still do life together.
We made a commitment a long time ago to never do life alone – never again.
How about you? When will you move beyond the glossy surface of superficial relationships and break through into the depth of relational integrity.
Life matters. And it is VERY short. What are you waiting for?