Friday, April 29, 2011

Effective Communication for the Smallest Organization

In a previous post I relayed some leadership principles from a pastor in Phoenix. One of the concepts was the following...
You HAVE to communicate. You have to explain why you're doing something, what will happen if you DON'T do it, and what you hope will happen if you DO do it. People often will not understand even your very simple ideas until you are sick of talking about it. That is when they are just beginning to hear it.
Why is this the case? Why is it that communication is so difficult in an organization? I mean, if the person leading the organization says something, even just once, every one should listen closely and respond, right? It is a strange reality that even when people are motivated by money, (i.e. listening to my boss may directly affect my pocketbook), they often still do not hear the mantras, the clear, obvious, repeated statements that shape an organization. (For example, try stating the 'core values' for your business/company right now.)

But this really shouldn't come as any surprise. Take the smallest organization that exists, the smallest unit of society, the family, and evaluate the way communication occurs there.

I love my wife, she loves me, we like each other, we live together, we share so much of life, yet  we still mis-communicate. We still do not always understand or fully comprehend one another's vision for life moving forward. We may not always talk about it, and even when we do we may not listen. Or we may avoid talking about big issues for a season out of fear, hurriedness, awkwardness, or uncomfortableness. We still have disagreements about little things like where empty recycling items should rest in the kitchen before departing for their epic journey to the elusively placed recycling bin in the garage. We manage to miss each other on some of the more obvious things, and this doesn't even include communicating well with our children. All the above sounds slightly dysfunctional, yet I would say, based on my extensive research of other families, which means watching/stalking and piously judging all my friends and their marriages, that we're on the above side of average when it comes to communication.

Communication, even within your own family can be difficult, but as I quoted Dennis Rainey in the previous post, communication is the life-blood of an organization. Communication is the means by which you lead, love, guide, and direct your family through life. If you are going to lead your family well, you must learn to foster good communication.

Here are some tips for improving your communication with your family:
1. Do a weekly date night: Even if you can't get out on the town, set aside at least 1 hour to just sit on the couch and talk with your wife. Listen to her. Nod regularly. look into her eyes. Ask clarifying questions. Talk about things that seem to creep up and take your family by surprise. Right now our set up is for Thursday nights. One of those a month we go out, two of the other three we talk about finances and ministry (separate nights). The final night is a catch-all - no predetermined subject. Our consistency since moving (for the last month) has not been as great as I'd like - but that's my job to make sure we hold to it.

2. Plan out your week together on Sunday night: On Sunday night, I try to take an hour to think through my week. A few times lately I have sat in the kitchen while my wife does the same and we end up having GREAT conversations about the week. We never really planned to do this, but it has developed naturally over time.

3. Go to bed together WITH NO TV, INTERNET, OR EMAIL, in the room (but books are ok): It is amazing how many good conversations occur as you are drifting off to sleep. Last year I broke this rule and spent many nights working late into the night to meet some deadlines. It was out of necessity, but I am glad it is over. It has been good to return to our routine of going to bed together, and it has helped me get more sleep! It is a simple connection point, but the connection can be strong. If you have electronic devices in the room, there's little chance of conversations occurring. They numb the mind and prevent good conversation. Books are OK, however, mostly because I like books and want to self-justify my actions and have you join me, but also because they are easier to put down when someone starts talking.
4. Pray with your spouse every night: The simple act of praying together can make a huge difference in your communication.
5. Plan a yearly get-away: Weekly and daily communication is a must, but you also need to get away from the rut and routine of life once a year and talk about big picture items that cannot be solved in one evening. Things like schooling, vacations, dreams for the future, mission trips, ministry activities, and family sports/activities. Putting a plan in place helps your family focus on the main priorities for the year. FamilyLife offers a book called Getting Away to Get It Together to help you plan such a weekend.

6. Milestone celebrations with your kids: Whenever your child hits a key milestone, plan a celebration of some sort. FamilyLife has the Passport to Purity kit to help you plan a weekend away with your pre-teen to talk about purity. Last year I did an event with our son before he became an older brother. These events give you an opportunity to reinforce values that are important to you and also allow you to go deeper with your child.

7. Develop a list of family values: I have not done this one, but it is something other speak highly of. Steven Covey talks about the process for establishing these values in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Communication is hard, even with a small group of people. The only way it will ever happen well is if you are intentional. But it is worth the work. The other choice is to just passively allow your family to plod along with no clear direction from you. And just as with any organization, this leads to chaos, frustration, confusion, and eventually, a break down of relationships. Try starting one of the above items this week. If you have not done any, then start with #1 or #4, or whichever seems easiest to you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Biking to work

Recently I started biking to work three days a week. It is a seven mile journey each way which provides a good workout, time for processing the days events, and the margin to prepare the mind for home. I ride a mountain bike (for the terrain is varied) so my progress is slower than it could be. It takes 30-40 minutes, depending on the direction, weather, and the degree of tenderness that lingers within my backside.

I was partly inspired to ride by my brother Michael, who serves in the Army in Atlanta. He lives on the far north side, and commutes by utilizing his bike, the bus, and light rail system. I first thought he was a bit loopy for this - but then we visited his home and witnessed the results. The journey had made him both a better man (stronger, fitter, sharper of mind) and saved his family the added expense of another vehicle.

I was also partly inspired by the writings of Wendell Berry, which I have been consuming at a rapid pace over the last few months. One of the results of reading his works has been to think more about how to de-compartmentalize my life. Everything in life has a cost. Yes, all our machines and gadgets bring speed and efficiency to our lives, but at what cost? We often fail to consider, let alone count the costs of our daily lives. Berry tells the story of a neighbor, "I knew a man who, in the age of chainsaws, went right on cutting his wood with a handsaw and an axe. He was a healthier and saner man than I am. I shall let his memory trouble my thoughts."

Which reminded me of our days cutting and stacking wood at my parents home to heat their house. Swinging an axe brings a certain serenity and strength that stands apart from other activities. This is part of the reason I gave up my gym membership this year. I could never quite reconcile in my heart and mind why it is I would DRIVE my car to a building where I knew very few people (and they had little if any interest in knowing me) and then proceed to move items around for no obvious productive means except to improve my strength and mirror appeal. It often occurred to me that no farmer ever "went to the gym." He does not divide his work from his work-out, for the two occur together. So I canceled my gym membership, hopped on the bike, and joined some men at the office for lunch workouts. Not only do I save money on the gym membership, but also the gas, and I save time, and bring more calm to my soul.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Killer D's

Tommy Nelson, in his sermon "A Long Obedience" spoke for a moment about what he calls "The Killer D's," or the reasons why some Christians become eliminated from ministry. They are (starting at 6:13 in the message):
1. Depart: "They look good for a little while, but then they depart from biblical orthodoxy with some theological weirdness."

2. Disqualified: "They will get disqualified because of hypocrisy and sin. No one will listen to them anymore."

3. Distracted: "They will become distracted from spiritual things because they become worldly and covetous and materialistic. So now they're just succeeding in all the things that God doesn't even care about."

4. Divisive: "They can't serve in the body of Christ because all of their knowledge is in their head. They can't get along with warm blooded humans, and so they can't be used for God. And like a coal that is outside the fire, they just end up going out. they rattle around, but they make no impact."

5. Discouraged: "They just say 'I quit.' There's too much animosity, too much failure, 'I quit.'"

6. Danger: "Some Christians never ever do anything because of danger. Because 'I've got to become a marked man, to stand out, to stand alone for God.' and they just go silent.'"
Good reminder to watch out for these pitfalls in your own life, as these will not only hinder the ability of full-time Christian workers to be effective, but, more importantly, they will hinder a man's ability to serve his family.

Here are some antidotes to these Killer D's:
1. Stay sound theologically. Surround yourself with those that stand firm in the truth. Read your Bible regularly. Have a constant stream of trusted theological works infusing your thinking.

2. Continue to fight against sin and hypocrisy. Stay teachable. Surround yourself with men that have the stones to point out blind spots in your life. Take your wife's criticism with gratitude. Listen carefully to what she says. Apologize to your children when you mess up.

3. Focus on what is most important in life and strive for faithfulness. Make sure the primary voices influencing your life have a similar worldview as that to which you aspire.

4. Be real. Do not just be a virtual friend, be a real friend. Spend more time talking with your friends in person than you do emailing, texting and communicating with them on facebook combined. When you disagree, seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

5. When you feel discouraged, try sleeping, or exercising, or reading a good book. Do not just wallow in your pity and take it out on your family. Get active. The connection between the body and the mind is so much more important and complex than most compartmentalized American males realize. Get the blood flowing in the right direction. Do some physical labor.

6. Remember that you were called to live a life of courage, and that men are wired to take risks. Just make sure your risks are gospel focused. Risk for risk sake is insanity. Risk for the gospel's sake is life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some helpful leadership thoughts

Chris Davis, of Whitton Avenue Bible Church, shared this list of leadership principles with me that he received from a pastor in the Phoenix area. Good stuff. Italics are my comments:
  1. When approaching any change in an organization, start EVERY sentence/paragraph with "For now..." so people are OK with change when it happens (meaning... "we're testing this out and it may not be permanent, so don't freak out.")
  2. Be yourself.  There is a tendency to overemphasize your importance... ..and undervalue your uniqueness.  i.e. no movement is doomed if you die off or stop being a part of it. Don't forget that. You're not that important. The world will go on without you. Yet you do have a unique way of looking at things that adds value to the organization. Don't minimize that either.
  3. There is a difference between preferences and criticisms. --"It's too loud" is a preference. "You stink" is a criticism. Weigh your criticisms differently, based on who gives it. 
  4. Have a few key people around you who speak into the ministry.
  5. You HAVE to communicate. You have to explain why you're doing something, what will happen if you DON'T do it, and what you hope will happen if you DO do it.  This pastor shared an illustration of announcing for 6 weeks that they would need help setting up chairs for easter, then the day before easter 100's of people called the church office asking if they would have chairs.  If they don't get chairs, they won't get your nuanced missional vision for the city. Remember,You are thinking about this stuff 24/7. Others are not.) This reminded me of a saying I often quote by Dennis Rainey. He says that just about the time when you think you are absolutely sick of talking about something, where you can't imagine even saying it again for any reason, that is the time when most people are just beginning to hear it for the first time.He also said "Communication is the life-blood of an organization."
  6. Everyone is watching you.  It's not fair, but they are.  You can't be the exception to every rule. Chris relayed a story from this pastor when he was asked to move to the front of a food line and refusing for the above reason. You can't always break the rules and expect others to follow. I've appreciated Dennis' example of not taking first class flights (except for free upgrades) because of the precedent it establishes. 
  7. You have to be patient.  Time is your friend, not your enemy. Be a patient dreamer. Hmmm... something our political leaders could appreciate.
  8. Discipleship and raising up leaders are far more important than attendance. Ouch. This is a tough one. For most churches "growth" has come to singularly mean "more people attending on Sunday mornings." This is HARD because it is not nearly as measurable. 
  9. Nobody cares and you're not going to make a huge difference. i.e. keep your short life in perspective. The pastor shared a story of a MLB pitching coach who was illustrating a principle by talking about Sandy Koufax to a new crop of young players. The players said, "Who is Sandy Koufax?" Wow. How quickly we forget. He also noted the fact that you can buy full collections Chuck Swindoll's books packaged together in tiny print for a few dollars. He used to be the hottest preacher around! IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.  If you can get your ego out of the way, it will be so much easier to make decisions.
 I have some further thoughts to share on number 5 in the coming days...

Monday, April 11, 2011

irony of theology

Isn't it ironic that the "perspecuity of scripture" is a doctrine that describes how anyone can understand the basic message of scripture.... but yet how many people know what "perspecuity" means?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Resolutely Resolve

No, it's not the right time of year for making resolutions, but I just learned about this poster of Jonathan Edwards' famous list of 70 resolutions. Check it out at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Enemy Within

One of my favorite puritan works has been On the Mortification of Sin in the Believer by John Owen. Originally written in 1656, this 144 page abridgment of the much longer work (700+?) is surprisingly accessible and relevant for a contemporary audience. But be warned - the content is hard hitting. It comes at you with the subtlety of a charging bull on the streets of Pamplona; taking no notice of sacred territory, plowing through any obstruction with disregard for feelings and sacred cows. The book is voilent and bloody, but for all the right reasons. Owen unpacks Romans 8:13 at a level few dare to dive down as deeply (Rom 8:13 is "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live"). Owen calls for the reader to put sin to death and describes all the different ways this can be accomplished and what it means.

The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of SinOf course, many find Owen's works daunting. Mortification is actually a rather accessible volume, but still, some would rather cough at the doctors office than bend the cover back on this one. A friend recently introduced me to a re-working of this volume in a modern, popular form by Kris Lundgaard, called The Enemy Within. Being such a fan of Owen's volume, I picked it up hesitantly, skeptical about its comparative slaying power. My was I surprised. This has been the best book for personal spiritual growth that I've read in a long time. Lundgaard doesn't merely recycle Owen, he adds his own thoughts and great illustrations, combined with compelling writing. I felt as if I were reading a mash up of The War of Art and a Jonathan Edwards work - attacking the very essence of what causes sin to linger in our souls. The chapters are very short and have highly practical questions at the end. Take the time to pick it up - you won't be disappointed - though your sin may be.