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.

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.

Adapt or Die

I had the opportunity this weekend to spend time with three missionary families.  Each of these families serve God in unique ways in different areas of the world.  Each faces their own specific challenges and have adapted their ministry model to best fit the situation they are in.

One serves an impoverished inner-city where drugs and poverty have led to a corrupt crime-riddled culture.  Divorce rates are very high and fathers have held very little accountability to their wives and children.  Their mission approach is to focus on supporting men and women in small groups.  By increasing accountability, they have seen a dramatic improvement in the families they minister to.

Another mission team servers an impoverished rural nation.  They face many of the same cultural challenges (drugs, teenage pregnancies and split families).  However, in their situation the families are often struggling to meet their minimum daily needs.  These missionaries focus on meeting their most basic needs first, then teaching them the gospel.

The third team works in a domestic mission area where the people they minister to have become very disenfranchised by the church.  They have a synical view of Christianity and the baggage that comes along with it.  They are having to show them what authentic Christianity is all about.

What do these missionaries all have in common?  They have come to the realization that mission work is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each have adapted their approach to meet the needs of the people they minister to.  By meeting their specific needs, they are opening many more doors than if they followed a textbook method of mission work.

The lesson for us is that whatever your mission – whether work, church or any other organization – you need to adapt to the needs of those you are trying to reach.  Whether that is customers or consituents, the old adage “adapt or die” rings true.

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was at the beginning of a new stage of my career.  After an unexpected layoff and the first time not being employeed in nearly a quarter-century, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. 

I had spent my entire career working in IT shops of large corporations.  Three Fortune 500 companies had been my place of employment over 24 years.  Now I found myself in a company that was smaller than the departments I had been in.  Everything about this job was different.  The type of work, the type of company, the type of boss, the type of people, the type of office…. you name it, it was new to me.

I decided that I was going to go into it full bore, roll the dice, and just see what happened.  What I found was a job that has given me more fulfilment, more fun, and more excitement than anything I experienced in the corporate world. 

What has made this so much fun?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to trace my actions straight to the bottom line of the company.
  • The ability to make decisions without multiple levels of review, oversight and second-guessing.
  • The ability to get out of the box and be creative, harnassing the entrepreneur in each of us.
  • The ability to step out of your comfort zone and lead in various capacities (my role has expanded beyond IT into almost every aspect of the business).

Bottom line, I believe the fundamental thing that has made this job enjoyable is the ability to make a difference!  I’ve heard before that the number one thing employees want from their employers is appreciation.  No greater apprecation can be found than to believe you make a difference in an organization.

My encouragement for anyone going through an unexpected job change is to keep your eyes open.  You never know where your next opportunity will come from.  And no matter how different it may feel to you, it may end up leading to the most fun you’ve had (on the job) in a long time!   Good luck and God Bless!