MLK 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago, an assassin’s bullet took the life of the greatest civil rights leader of our lifetime, Martin Luther King. Looking at MLK 50 years later, we see his message more clearly, we hear his words more distinctly, and we wish for the civility in discord that he portrayed.

Today we are polarized by opposing factions that spread lies and do everything they can to split our great nation.  But when I look back on King’s words, I don’t hear hate.  Passion, yes.  Did he fight the establishment? No doubt.  But his message was one of love, not hate.

Servant the leadership, the type of leadership that I espouse and strive to exhibit in my life, is one that has to be rooted in love. A servant heart cannot survive without love.

King noted that love is integral to leadership.  That power and love are completely intertwined:

“One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love . . . What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love, implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

One writer noted that King’s ministry was formed by the way of love. In his words, “I would recommend to you a way of love. I still believe that love is the most durable power in all the world.” Love is a power, power at its purest, but as such, it is a power that runs contrary to the powers and principalities of the world. It is, as we have seen, power that is only known in our weakness.

The opposite of love is hate. And King also makes it clear what hate does to us:

Hate is a cancerous disease which distorts the personality and scars the soul. To return hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate in the universe. Hate seeks to annihilate rather than convert. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. We must learn that it is possible to stand up courageously and positively against an evil system and yet not resist it with physical weapons and inner feelings of hatred.

I hope we never give up on the goal of having a unified world based on love. It seems like, in some ways, we are more divided than ever. But I see so much good in so many people. I cannot help but believe that MLK’s dream is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of many.

Let me just close by reminding you of the words from Romans 12:17-21.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Facebook – A Negative Impact For Society?

A couple of months ago, CB Insights conducted a survey. The question was “In ten years, which company will we say was a net negative for society?”. The choices were Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.  It’s a challenging question, and one especially facing Facebook.  Is Facebook a Negative impact for socieity?

I easily predicted the top two, Facebook and Amazon. The latter has completely transformed the retail industry. While extraordinarily convenient, no one can deny the negative impact it has had on brick-and-mortar retail establishments. The truth is, it has even had a negative impact on other online retailers who simply cannot compete with them.
Amazon is doing to retail what Walmart did to “mom & pop” retail in the 1980s and 90s. The local hardware store and five ‘n dime are almost extinct.

But what I didn’t predict in the survey was how extreme the results would be. Facebook was first, as I expected. But it was first by a dramatic margin. It received 59% of the votes, with Amazon coming in at a distant second with 11%. (It should be noted that 22% of respondents felt that all would have a net positive impact on society).

Note that this survey was conducted in January. Two months later, the bad news continues to roll in on Facebook. But sadly, the data harvesting scandal of this past week pales in comparison to the other challenges Facebook is presenting us with.

Before I share my list of my top five concerns. I will disclose that I am a long-time user of Facebook. I check it out on a regular basis, and it’s the primary way that I keep up with some people.

  1. It has turned normal people into narcissists

    It’s sad but true. I’ve seen this in some of my friends. I believe this surfaces most in people who are craving attention. We see them post pictures of food, checking in at the grocery store, and sharing every minute detail of their personal life. Eventually, they delude themselves with the idea that others actually do care about this. Leading to an unhealthy level of narcissism.

  2.  It’s essentially putting a drug in the hands of children (and adults)

    Simon Sinek shares the concern in his well-documented interview on millennials. He describes the effects of dopamine on the brain. Dopamine is produced whenever we get those great feelings, like when someone “likes” our post. This addictive drug is the same one produced when we smoke, drink or gamble.  It’s like giving teenagers the keys to the liquor cabinet and saying “have fun”.

  3. It is eliminating the “need” for normal social interactions with those we are distantly connected

    Remember the good ole’ days? When you would get together for that high school reunion every five years or so. Or when you would go visit the church you grew up in? Or attend that annual festival in your hometown. Statistics are showing a dramatic drop in these types of events. I believe Social Media is one of the reasons. If you already know what is happening in people’s lives (based on what they say on FB), then what’s the need of getting stressed out about how you look, what you wear, who you are going to take, and all of the other stresses of reunions and similar functions.

  4. People are not representing themselves accurately, leading to problems of low self-esteem

    Granted, we all have that friend that shares their deepest, darkest problems on Facebook. But that’s not the norm. Most of us just keep things on the surface and share the highlights of our lives. That leads to the false impression that everything in our lives is exciting and perfect. And, consequently, theirs is not. This leads to low self-esteem, depression and everything else associated with that.

  5. We are willingly telling them (almost) everything about ourselves, and that will surely be used to manipulate us at some time.

    And, finally, to the latest concerns that have come up about Facebook. We are sharing an unbelievable amount of information about ourselves. It hasn’t been proven, but it’s very possible that Facebook and Google (and other applications) may actually be listening to our conversations unbeknownst to us. What is the purpose of all of this? No doubt, this data has great value to marketers, politicians, potential employers, government and much more. The downside of this level of exposure into our private lives is certainly something to be concerned about.

    So, what do you do?

    Social media is here. There’s nothing we can do to stop this train. And, unfortunately, the next generation of social media tools are probably going to be even more dangerous and a greater cause for concern. My advice is to be careful about what you post. Be honest, but reserved. And limit your time. Remember, real living takes place away from the keyboard.

Strategic Planning for Churches and Non-Profits

Many don’t understand the need for strategic planning in some organizations, especially churches.  A common feeling is that if we just pray for it “God will provide”.  Now I would never want to take anything away from the power of prayer and God’s ability to bless any ministry or organization.  But I also believe that God placed us on this earth to be good stewards of what he has bestowed upon us.  And it’s our responsibility to serve him and make the most out of those gifts.

I see five key components of a church strategy:

  1. Core Beliefs – these are the things that you cannot compromise.  They are at the root of everything you stand for.
  2. Mission – this is what you do. It’s current and real, not aspirational.
  3. Vision – this is where you want to be.  3-5 years is a good standard, but some prefer shorter.  I would not attempt a vision any farther out.
  4. Values – these are the things that set you apart.  These define who you are and what is important to you.
  5. Strategies – These are the specific steps, activities, programs, etc. that you are going to put into place based on what you have discovered in the first four.

Each of these items builds on the other.  They also get more specific to your organization as you work down the list. For example, core beliefs will not vary that much by a church.  Mission will also be pretty similar from church to church. Vision will be a little more varied, based on where you are and your current state. Values will certainly be (and should be) distinctive for you. And strategies will certainly be tailored to each organization.

So why are these important?  Tony Morgan of the Unstuck Group gives these seven “frustrations” of doing church without a strategy.  I believe this applies to any type of organization.,

  1. The loudest person in the room the license to decide what happens.
  2. True leaders will leave if there is no plan or strategy.
  3. It requires more meetings (to discuss minutia).
  4. You are setting the stage for a split.
  5. You never have the opportunity to celebrate a win.
  6. You don’t have the opportunity to unite in prayer around something.
  7. People won’t give if there is no vision (especially true with millennials).

If you are interested in learning more about how to do this in your church or organization, please contact me and I’ll help you get started.

Would You Hire Him?

Ken Collier wrote, “The primary quality of a godly leader is that he follows Someone who is stronger than he is, wiser than he is, more discerning than he is, and more in control of circumstances than he is. A godly leader, whether a parent, teacher, supervisor, deacon, business leader, or student body officer, excels at following Someone to a greater degree than others around him do. How unlike this pattern is from the modern view of a leader as one who is great because he chooses a direction and consults only himself and his own resources!”

One problem people often have with thinking about Jesus as a role-model, is that they don’t think of him as being a leader. Teacher? Yes. Savior? Sure. Healer? You bet. But we have this timid view of Jesus that just isn’t based on the Bible, it’s based on a history of flannel-graphs and bedtime stories.

Think about the challenges Jesus dealt with:

  • Building a team from scratch, who had no relevant skills or training
  • Establishing a sense of purpose and mission
  • Working with imperfect people
  • Dealing with conflicts of time, energy and resources
  • Fierce competition
  • Turnover and betrayal
  • Reluctant customers
  • Handling of criticism, rejection, distraction and opposition
  • Pain and suffering

Jesus taught his followers that leadership, at the heart, is an act of service. It’s not about gaining power, it’s about relinquishing it. He literally turns the popular view of leadership upside down and inside-out, and tosses thousands of pages of literature about leadership out the window.

Servant Leaders Let Go of Their Relevance

The great temptation of power is control, and the great consequence of control is lack of relationship. The reason that intimacy is so difficult in ministry is you’re not in control—you’re in relationship. You have to enter a person’s life and they have to enter yours. The minute you start becoming obsessed with control, you lose the relationship.

Henri Nouwen was an amazing man.  He’s one of my heroes in exemplifying servant leadership.  His story is amazing.  He was a respected Catholic Priest.  He was a professor at Notre Dame, then Yale and finally, Harvard Divinity School.

“After 25 years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues”. As he continued to struggle, he prayed “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!”

Enter Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arch Communities.  Vanier founded L’Arch in the 1960s (L’Arch means “the Ark” in French).  These communities (houses), located all over the world, are formed with a dozen or so mentally handicapped adults, along with a few adults who live with them. It’s a 24×7 arrangement.

So this world-renowned, respected priest leaves Harvard to live in a home with mentally handicapped.  In his book “Reflections on Christian Leadership”  (actually a text of a speech he gave in the late 1980s regarding Christian Leadership in the 21st Century”), he tells more about this interesting relationship.

One of the first things he noticed that their liking or disliking of him had nothing to do with anything he had accomplished.

  • Since none of them could read, they didn’t appreciate his many respected scholarly publications.
  • Since none of them had gone to school, they didn’t appreciate his years of service at Notre Dame, Yale or Harvard.

Every respected, worldly accomplishment he had made was rendered moot.

“These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of accomplishments”.

The Servant Leader is called to be irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his own vulnerable self.  What a model of humility Henri Nouwen was and remains today.

The most important word

The Scout Law

A Scout Is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Helpful
  • Friendly
  • Courteous
  • Kind
  • Obedient
  • Cheerful
  • Thrifty
  • Brave
  • Clean
  • Reverent

Several years ago I asked my scouts which one of these words is most important.  Hands flew up, “Reverent!” several shouted.  I told them no.  Then one-by-one they guessed at each of them.  Frustrated, they finally said they gave up.

The most important word is “IS”.  It doesn’t say a scout tries to be trustworthy, or is sometimes loyal.  It doesn’t say that you are reverent on Sundays and friendly to those that you like.  It simply says that he “is”.  And that’s an important distinction, and why I think it’s the most important word.

Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge

I saw this little plaque in a store in Washington DC a while ago.  It said “Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge”.  I took a picture of it with my phone, but sadly that went swimming in the gulf a while back (another story).  But the quote stayed with me.

We live in a “pro-knowledge” society.  We emphasize knowledge.  We want our kids to go to college.  And not just any college, we want them to go to the best school possible.  And it doesn’t stop there.  We emphasize learning on our jobs and send our employees to a variety of technical and business classes.  All in part of infusing them with “knowledge”.

On the other hand, we often stifle creativity.  We force kids to master standardized tests.  We remove or reduce arts from education.  We take the creative air out of so many things that we do.

Now this may sound like some wacky, left-wing. touchy-feely liberal thinking.  But those of you that know me know that I am far from that.  As I’ve spent the past few years outside of traditional corporate bureaucracy and worked in a small business, I’ve grown to understand the overwhelming power of creativity.

Whether it is coming up with a creative solution to inexpensively resolve a network problem, deal with an employee or resource challenge, or invent the next big thing that will transform your business, creativity is key.

Steve Jobs didn’t create the iPhone and the iPad because of “knowledge”.  He, and every other innovator of our day took their knowledge and took it to an entirely different level because of creativity.

Eagle Court of Honor Benediction

Recently I was invited to provide the benedeiction at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for a young man I’ve known a very long time. I was honored to do so. I love the tradition of the benediction, a blessing given to those in attendance, and in the case of an Eagle Court of Honor, a blessing upon the new Eagle himself.

I wrote this specifically for this young man, but many have asked for copies of it. So I thought I’d share it here.

May honesty and integrity be your guide so that you can always stand by your word, a Scout is Trustworthy.

May you stand by your family, your friends and your country, even when it’s difficult and at times you may feel like you are standing alone, a Scout is Loyal.

May you always offer a helping hand or a cup of cold water to those in need, whether or not they ask for it, a Scout is Helpful.

May you always be the type of person that people want to be with, work with and live with, a Scout is Friendly.

May you always show respect to everyone, even those who may not seem to deserve it, a Scout is Courteous.

May harm never fall to anyone or anything due to your actions, a Scout is Kind.

May you always follow the laws of man and of God, a Scout is Obedient.

May you greet each and every person with a smile each and every day, a Scout is Cheerful.

May you cherish the gifts God has bestowed on you and never take them for granted, a Scout is Thrifty.

May the courage you have shown thus far in life only grow as you face steeper challenges on the road ahead, a Scout is Brave.

May your words, your mind and your body remain pure as God intended, a Scout is Clean.

May you always love and honor the God which created you in His image, a Scout is Reverent.

May you keep yourself Physically Strong, Mentally Awake and Morally Straight.

And, May the Great Scoutmaster of all Scouts, be with us until we meet again.
Amen.