Bits and Pieces

Some say that church is still the most segregated place in the nation. I disagree. The diversity found in our church plants is inspiring. While on a recent trip to Florida I ate at a restaurant that made me think about how diversity, intentionally engaged, is a beautiful thing.

The Columbia Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Florida and is still owned and operated by the Hernadez-Gonzmart family which started this amazing place in 1905. While Ybor city is most famous for the Cigar industry that thrived there in the late 1800’s, it is also famous for the origination of the famous Cuban Sandwich. The staple of the Columbia.

You see, the workers that made the cigars and the owners and operators of the cigar factories came from all over the World, and like every good factory, the workers needed a place to eat and the famous cuban sandwich was born by the collision of all these cultures: The Spanish brought the fine ham, the Sicilian’s brought the salami, the Cubans brought the mojo marinated roast pork, and the Germans and Jews brought the Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. They threw all those together on some fresh baked Tampa/Cuban bread and this amazing sandwich was born.

There is a great lesson to learn from this small bit of history. As church planters, if you can appeal to a multitude of cultures, expressions, and peoples in your geography, and put those together in an explosion of praise for the worship of Jesus, something incredible might come of it. Something that will withstand the test of time, and bring fame to His kingdom.

Here is the video I filmed on location at the Columbia Restaurant

Shallow

Tampa Bay is the Largest Bay in the state of Florida and one of the largest in the United states of America. It is huge when you look at the numbers… 2,200 square miles of hustle and bustle. It’s Huge. It’s impressive… It seems healthy… You see people and ships coming and going… It’s Busy. To the casual observer it would seem that this bay is the epitome of what a bay should be. However…

The dark secret about Tampa Bay is that the Bay is very shallow. It averages only 12’ deep which hinders deeper, heavier content from entering its Harbors.

Now think about that as a church planter. How many of your peers are shooting for big, busy and beautiful and because of that are shallow and unhealthy?

Have you pondered the question: What’s better, shallow and explosive or deep and healthy? As you aim for “heavier content” and health as a church planter, ask Father to honor that commitment to go deep. He will bless you for that conviction and your church plant may just become a port that the heavy laiden can enter and lay those burdens down.

Here is a video I filmed on location in Tampa Bay

Perspective Makes the Difference

Success is as much about hard work as it is about perspective. Hard work without a bigger perspective or vision can be wasteful. It can also defeat your people. As a Church Planter you need to remember that your words are viewed very heavily by those who follow your leadership. They are watching you as an example of how to live their own lives. Furthermore, how you represent yourself and your reality can either propel or dismantle your future success as a church planter.

I recently attended—one week apart—two different church plants in which the church planters had two very different perspectives. One had a church plant that was moderately growing and doing well, the other was on the brink of failure. But before I convey my experience, let me share an apocryphal story with you.

Sometime during the last century, two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential. The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here – nobody wears shoes.” The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

What a difference perspective makes. Now, back to our two church planters.

The successful one took the stage to do announcements and was super excited. He actually pointed out the empty chairs in the room and challenged his people to make sure those were filled in the coming weeks. He spoke of his adventure in church planting as a roller coaster ride for Jesus and his energy was apparent.

The second church planter (I actually visited him the previous week) came to the stage early in the service and made a comment about several families that were not there because of vacation, and talked about how hard church planting was. He was obviously speaking through a sense of disappointment. I don’t want to overstate, but I could almost—literally—see a cloud over his head.

Let me ask you – who would you follow? No one wants to follow a defeated leader with a pessimistic perspective.

As a church planter let me recommend that even on the worst of days you take the stage with the excitement of a man purchased by the blood of an omnipotent Savior and let your people experience that passion through you. Let them see a man who assaults the difficulties of church planting with an energy that is relentless and contagious. Let them find inspiration in the way you handle yourself in their presence.

Here is a quick video that I put together for this blog. Please share it if you like it.

Steps

It was 1989 and the Berlin Wall had just fallen. To the envy of every good and young adventurer, I was privileged to be sitting upon it when it did. Armed with a sledgehammer and spray paint (more about that later) we carved out a memory that would last a lifetime. The end of the soviet era came crumbling down and I was honored to have played a role in it, one hammer throw after another. I still treasure the barbed wire and slabs of the wall that I was able to transport home in my carry-on luggage, a pre-9/11 luxury that we will never see again. Many were the lessons of that night, but there was one in particular; getting robbed at knifepoint. In the midst of the excitement and speed of the soviet fall, entrepreneurialism fell upon the region just as hard and fast. Allow me to explain.

From the time that the wall began to teeter until the moment the first slab hit the ground in a swirl of soviet dust, vendors sprung up selling souvenirs, pieces of concrete, key chains and of course hammers. It was as if they were just below the surface of the earth and with the thud of the first slab of concrete, they sprung forth in mid-sentence selling their wares. It was a rented sledgehammer that plays center stage in my story. You see, my friend Greg and I rented a pair of them to leave our mark on history. At the first sign of crumble, the entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism drove dozens of future ex-soviet tycoons to purchase sledgehammers and rent them out so that every tourist in Europe could stake claim to a portion of the previously infamous barrier to freedom. Genius!

Fast forward.

By the end of the evening, pockets full of concrete and barbed wire, we began walking to the place where we were going to return our sledgehammers. That’s when it happened! An obviously late-to-the-party and disgruntled would-be entrepreneur accosted me with a knife. It wasn’t much of a knife, but it was a knife with an attitude behind it. I’m guessing he went to the local hardware store to fulfill his entrepreneurial dreams and found that they had sold out of sledgehammers, so he decided to steal a few so that he too could open his “tools of destruction” franchise.

This was one of those moments where a rush of things happen in a microsecond and life gets crystal clear. I know that what follows is going to seem like too much information to process in a second, but they are the crystal clear thoughts that rushed through my mind which allowed me to make some good decisions. You see, my assailant was about 5′-5″ tops and I am 6′-4″. He had a little knife at the end of a short arm. I had a sledgehammer at the end of mine. He had a nervous, desperate demeanor and I had a clear path to his destruction. You see, when it comes to fight-or-flight, the younger—less sanctified—me didn’t do the flight thing very well. With the length of my arms and the added 18″ of the sledgehammer, my new friend was going to fall as quickly as the Berlin Wall. He was in the danger zone, not me! He would need to take two of three full steps before I would have been in any danger, plenty of time for me to end his run. That’s when…

Spray paint.

I told you I would pick up on this later… Great timing, right?! Anyway, prior to our bludgeoning the wall with our sledgehammers, Greg and I purchased several cans of spray paint. In our thinking, the wall was coming down, there was media coverage everywhere, so we stayed ahead of the falling slabs of concrete with holy graffiti proclaiming the Word of God. We were creating Berlin Wall sized gospel tracts that the world would see on CNN. It was fun. Now, I don’t recommend graffiti generally, but hey, each slab was coming down in minutes… whom would it hurt? It was an opportunity for the world to see some powerful scriptures being painted by crazy Americans in a frenzied Germany. Sometimes life just moves quickly…

Clarity.

Returning to our would-be musketeer with his little sword. He is now twitching… Really! Ready to attack. In that moment, after all the thoughts about his size and mine, arm length, weapons, angle of attack, strike position, and aftermath, I though about the last scripture I had painted on the wall, John 3:16. Yes it’s true. I wondered who may have seen me paint that scripture and might also see me turn my new friend into a tent peg. I thought about the new me that Father had created only five years earlier and I let the sledgehammer go limp in my hand, handing it to this thief. That was tough! But I learned something valuable, that the war of the flesh can teach us important life lessons.

I have learned much from that experience so many years ago. I continue to ruminate over it regularly. Mostly, I am glad I did the right thing so that I pleased Father. Secondly, I am glad because I might still be rotting in a ex-Russian now German prison (smile/wink).

Allow me to share my latest thoughts about that amazing moment. Sometimes the best action in leadership is to take the stance of knowing the current reality intimately and acting on what is best to do in the greater picture even though your gut tells you differently. From our thief’s perspective, the right thing to do was to take two or three very clear steps toward his goal. From my perspective, it meant evaluating the situation and acting on what was best for all parties. It’s an easy thing in leadership to walk without strategy—taking steps—hoping it will all work out… At least you’ll be shown to be busy. That approach would have cost our thief some serious pain. It’s a harder thing in leadership to shelve your impulses and review all relevant data, applying it to your immediate context, and then acting strategically. It is a less visceral response, and it is ultimately and usually the correct one. The first is birthed of urgency and the other of importance. To him, his attack was urgent, my response, important.

As I process this line of thinking more, I am reminded how we are culturally inundated with immediate gratification solutions to every conceivable situation. I believe we are deeply harmed by this as a society. Nothing good comes quick, easy and without thought. Doing the right thing is hard, not easy. It is slow, not fast.

As an individual in a culture of progress, commercialism and immediate gratification it is increasingly easy to fall into a plug-and-play mentality as it pertains to everyday life. However, as leaders, we must be on guard with advisors who appeal to such approaches in our pursuit of transformational change. Lasting, impactful change cannot be achieved so easily. Think about the quickstep books that have invaded our leadership development and church planting culture. Transformational change demands a familiarity with one’s personal current reality and no book can provide that context. Each of us possesses books in our library that have titles like:

Twelve Dynamic Steps to Success
The Eight Practices for Transformation
Ten Principals for Renewal

Am I saying that such books have no value whatsoever? No. Only that our dependence upon them, or the expectation we place upon their methodologies have to be weighed. In them, you will not find your Aha. The Aha comes with a deep understanding of your immediate context. Steps without clear objectives can be hazardous. Think about the two steps that my 5′-5″ musketeer was going to take. Two steps to tragedy. I’ve done the research. Here are some other steps that may help drive the point home.

Eleven steps to the end of the plank on a pirate ship.
One step out of bounds at the half-yard line.
135 steps for a dead man walking at sing-sing prison.

Think about this; steps without strategy are dangerous. As a leader appointed by Father, you have an obligation to think strategically, to define and engage your current situation, to get the facts, counsel, and numbers. Measure everything. Rely on His voice. React to the important before the urgent, and show yourself approved.

Tension: The Need for Healthy Communication

As an Organizational Leader you cannot underestimate the power of ongoing, informative communication. Once positions are taken, assumptions are made, and tensions solidified, the results can be disastrous. I was reminded of the importance of ready communication on a recent trip to Waco Texas and a visit to the location of the FBI’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound.

If you study the history of the Branch Davidian Siege, individuals on both sides of the conflict desperately tried to facilitate communication because they recognized the tragic path that both parties were on. Their words fell on deaf ears.

Why?

Because conclusions had been drawn, plans of action had been made and the tensions were so high that no amount of talking could deescalate the situation. It had past that critical moment where the tragedy was destined to play out and no individual, no matter how skilled, had the power to stop it.

The Result: 82 Souls perished. 76 Branch Davidians were killed, of whom, 34 were women and 23 were Children along with several Federal agents. The massacre was a true blight on American history and case study on Liberty and Federal overreach. Furthermore, it’s a lesson in the importance of communication that cannot be ignored.

For the leader, reflection on this event is very important. Fostering an environment of open and transparent communication is paramount to organizational success. It is inevitable, that within your organization, issues will arise that if swept under the rug will fester until the point they become irreconcilable, and your organization will pay the price.

Begin with your leadership team, make sure they know they can tell you anything and that you will listen. Furthermore, that whether you agree with them or not you will hear, consider, and respect their opinion. Then, as you model that quality, encourage and train them to be the communication facilitators for the remainder of your people.

The “stand offs” that you avert will keep you healthy, thriving, and moving forward to become the best organization that you can be.

Remember: Communicate, communicate, communicate…

Here is a Leadership Minute video that I filmed at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas.

One Bad Decision

April was not a good month. A young leader that I thought had the charisma and talent to be one of our strongest church planters is gone. He left. Burned out, Quit, Stopped, Bailed, Fried, Skipped town, Crashed, Gone…

Those in his trust were left to speculate… What happened?

As an insider I will tell you exactly what happened. He’s gone because he didn’t listen to others and had a unique ability to make really bad independent decisions.

As a church planter, you need to carefully consider every decision that you make. The Word of God is clear, that “in a multitude of council there is wisdom.” If you fail to make good decisions it is nearly impossible to plant a God-pleasing church. The church belongs to Father, and the church planter is appointed to lead and guide His people in a way that is both God honoring and wise. Unfortunately bad decisions, made in isolation, can have ramifications that will last for generations.

I recently toured (for the third time) the Manzanar Detention and Internment Camp in the shadow of Mount Whitney, near Independence California. From 1942 to 1945 American citizens of Japanese decent were interred at Manzanar. Because the American government did not trust the Japanese they forced Japanese-Americans to leave their homes and businesses and detained them in California’s high desert. It is a decision that serves as a blight on the history of the United States of America. This great nation, based on freedom and liberty, made one really bad decision that altered the lives of innocent people, and is still seen as one of the great human liberty violations of our country’s history.

As you lead Gods people, remember that decisions have ramifications. and if those decisions are really bad, they can alter the lives of innocent people. Remember, you have an obligation to seek council and more importantly, the prompting of the Father in every decision that you make. Hold that path, and you may just create a future free from the regret of bad decisions and proud of what Father has done through you and your ministry.

If you are making your decisions in isolation, or void of council, stop. God’s people are too important for you to risk their spiritual health. Place wise individuals around you and allow the wisdom of the [godly] crowd to help shape and direct your future.

Church Planting Minute at Manzanar

Time Management

Inspired by Charles Hummel, Stephen Covey and Roger and Rebecca Merrill gave us a wonderful tool to deal with time management issues and I would like to share a very quick breakdown with you. This simple time grid has proven very useful in my own leadership journey and I am sure you will find the same value if you put it into practice.

If you take important actions and you cross it on a grid with urgent actions you get four quadrants that can help you define, and improve your use of time. Allow me to quickly break down each of those quadrants for you.

Quadrant 1 is where the required action is Urgent and the outcomes are important. This is the quadrant of Crisis because it is here where immediacy rules the day. In this quadrant decisions are important and you need to proceed carefully because your time is restricted in the Urgent. If there is a quadrant in which decisions can go really bad, this is it. If you find you are always working in this quadrant, you need to do everything you can to find margin in your schedule.

Quadrant 2 is where the required timeframe for action is not urgent but the outcomes are important. This is called the quadrant of Quality because it’s within this framework that a leader can truly excel. In this quadrant, those important decisions come with the time required for data gathering, theorizing, testing, and then implementation. This is where the five-star leader operates.

Quadrant 3 is where the action is urgent but the outcomes are not important to the forward progress of the organization or project. This is called the quadrant of Deception. Why deception? Because it is very easy to fall into the trap of working on urgent things that are not important to the future of your organization. The deception enters in because you are busy, and everyone sees you as busy and hard working. You begin to believe that you are doing well. The problem… you are busy doing nothing that matters. You have decieved yourself.

Quadrant 4 is where the action is not urgent and the outcomes are not important. This is the quadrant of Waste. I like to call it the quadrant of Casual Waste. Why? Because just like Quadrant 3, it is absolutely detrimental for a leader to be working in this quadrant. It’s Casual because it can sneak up on you… and it kills an organization if its people are working here on a regular basis.

In 1994 when Covey and the Merrills established these quadrants they estimated that 2-3% of all workers time was spent in this quadrant. However, with the popularity of social media today, many have speculated that this has increased to as much as 20 or 25% of man-hours being spent in this quadrant. Imagine that. Imagine the cost to business in lost productivity.

So, how do you get a grip on your time? Let me start with where you need to be. You need to work in Quadrant 2, Quality…

There are two simple ways to get there.

First. Take the time to review your daily activities. List them all. Determine what is important and what is frivolous. Those frivolous things have you working in either Quadrant 3 or 4 and by their elimination, you will automatically rise toward the quadrant of Quality. Decide you will no longer do frivolous stuff!

Second… Avoid procrastination… If you procrastinate, items in Quadrant 2 (Quality) make their move to Quadrant 1 (Crisis) forcing you to work in urgency which always minimizes strategic thought.

Giving yourself sufficient time to make the important decisions will move those decisions back into Quadrant 1, the quadrant of Quality.

Remember, true leadership is found in problem-solving and decision making, neither of which are found in the Urgent, or the frivolous.

Here is the video I created for this post.

Lessons from Hawaii

I was once again asked to write a short piece for Star News, a publication for law enforcement. This article will be published August 2011.

Life has a funny way of touching you at the strangest moments. If you miss those moments they will be lost forever, but if you find a moment of clarity within them they may just provide you with a moment of growth. I am writing this about three hours after one of those moments. You see, I have an absolute passion for Scuba Diving. There are very few things I have a passion for: Family, Faith, my Career, and Scuba Diving… That about sums it up!

Today’s experience brought several of my passions together in a single moment of clarity. I was diving with my son off the shore of Kona Hawaii and we were about to enter an underwater lava tube. Overhead diving is the most dangerous type of diving and it was quite a thrill as father and son entered into the unknown together. Apprehension, sure. Concern, you bet. Excitement, more than you know. Here is what I learned.

Whether it is Diving, Career, or Family, each of these can be improved by the lessons of this day.

First lesson, never enter times of apprehension or danger alone, you need the covering of those who care for you and your safety. The first rule of diving is always have a buddy. My son had my back and I had his. We watched each other and it put us at ease in an otherwise hostile and dangerous environment.

Second lesson, trust your training and the training of those you surround yourself with. Training is paramount. My son is well trained and should something have gone bad deep under the waves he would have shifted in a heartbeat from enjoying time with dad to getting dad safely to the surface. I trust him for that and he trusts me.

Third lesson, use your equipment. You see, in diving, maintaining and training with equipment is first priority. Quality equipment can make the difference between life and death and redundancy is part of the program. Two divers, two regulators each, two lights apiece, etc. You don’t want to be fifty feet into a pitch black lava tube, sixty feet beneath the waves, and have your light fail!

Forth lesson, it’s all equally important and it is the combination of all of it that brings you home. Companionship, trust of others, trust of training and trust of equipment. Whether life or career, each item means security for life. Could I have dove the lava tubes of Kona alone, sure. Perhaps for a lifetime without incident. But what if… Breaking the rules will eventually destroy you and those who love you.

Final lesson, for me, my final passion brings it all together. Faith makes it all worthwhile. Faith brings me the trust of others and the companionship that the human spirit longs for. It gives me the ability to trust and be trusted. It is my equipment for life, helping me with the times of apprehension, fear, and doubt. I approach those difficult moments in life, career and family in the same way I faced the entrance of that lava tube today, with a prayer!

The Reverberation Principle

I was asked once again to write a 400 word article for Star News. A monthly publication for Law Enforcement personnel. Here it is.

Easily stated, “You get what you give.” No one knows this as well as you. As a leader, you give respect, and it returns. That’s the way we are built. Innately we understand this simple but profound truth yet we frequently fail to employ the knowledge as a method of containing the situation. Whether it be at home, at the office, or in the streets, it is sometimes easier to rely on a little “command presence” to get the job done. Don’t misunderstand. Command presence is sometimes the answer, however, it is not always the answer. Many a situation can be diffused by that calm, authoritative, yet respectful voice. Even the ancients understood this to be true.

Proverb 15:1-2 A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.

We get into trouble when our mouth belches out foolishness.

We need to exercise wisdom in the use of every one of our tools, whether it is pepper spray, the black-and-white, our sidearm, and yes, even our voice. Think of it from the other perspective. How many people have rode the plastic because they simply could not control their mouths? It is no less crucial for us to understand that simple reality. Our voice, properly used can save our life. Used improperly it can get us killed.

Think about all the times in your life when your words got you into trouble. In fact, I would bet that your words have come back to haunt you far more than any other action in your life. Put that in the forefront of your thinking. Professionalism begins with self-control and respect returns like an echo.

“The story is told of a young boy who lived with his grandfather high in the Swiss Alps. Often, just to hear the echo of his voice, the boy would go outside, cup his hands around his mouth, and shout, “HELLO!” Up from the canyons the reply reverberated, “HELLO…HELLO…hello…hello…” Then he would call out, “I LOVE YOU…I LOVE YOU…I love you…I love you…”

One day the boy seriously misbehaved and his grandfather disciplined him severely. Reacting violently, the child shook his fist and screamed. “I HATE YOU!” To his surprise, and shocked at the sound of his own voice, the rocks and boulders across the mountainside responded “I HATE YOU… I HATE YOU…I hate you…I hate you…”

Now for the realist. You’re on the street, you’ve given your respect. Does it always come back? Of course not. But once in a while, especially when you least expect it, it will, and it will feel great.

One Guy Theory – Revisited

I want to share with some thoughts that I feel draw some important points for us as we consider the effectiveness of ministry in our churches. The thoughts come after reading February’s Business Week and is called “The One-Guy Theory.”

While we cannot run our churches as we would a Fortune 500, the ideas from the article that I want you to consider are: The effectiveness of streamlining the decision making process, Empowering leaders to make decisions, and, Supporting (publicly) the decisions they make (even if they are askew).

Here are my thoughts….

First. As a church (or other organization), how long does it take to move on a need? Does it require a group (committee) to meet, debate, and eventually rule on the need? Or, is there a person who is empowered to make a decision? I believe this to be a paramount issue in today’s church. In fact, our lack of ability to take definitive action is greatly responsible for where we are today with so many plateaued and declining churches. We need to respond to the shifts in our cultural surroundings, and empower our leaders with the ability to make those shifts.

Second. I know this is hard. But, we must give ownership to people we trust. Ownership to make decisions! I used to have a very frank conversation with each of my leaders when I was a Pastor. See, I believe that disunity in the public eye is detrimental to church harmony. The conversation went something like this:

“This is your baby! I will trust you to make the decisions necessary to make this thing happen. I want you to know however, that I am here for you, as an advisor, but you have the ownership to make it happen. I want you to know that if you make a less-than-ideal decision, I will support you publicly. However, we are going to talk about it behind closed doors. You are a trusted leader so I will never undermine that trust publicly. Therefore, I expect the same in return. If you feel I have made a bad decision in the running of this church, come talk to me about it. My door is always open. For the sake of unity, let’s commit to open conversation and trust in each other’s public support.”

A leader who knows that you will support them will be both cautious in their decisions and will give you the benefit of the doubt in yours.

Finally, this One-Guy Theory requires for the Christian that even in our ownership to make CEO type decisions, it is really a Two-Guy Theory. If Father is not involved in your decision making process, than PERHAPS you should not be making any decisions at all.

Ya’ know what, forget the word perhaps…