Archives For Philosophy

Thoughts man…thoughts

The title for this post actually came to me in a dream and I was describing to someone in a heated debate how their version of organizational effectiveness was like throwing dice in the dark: gambling and guessing about success.

This post (and the dream) come in the wake of years of passionate thought around what it takes for organizations to realize their potential and prevent the loss of toes at their own hands.

To me, it comes down to just one thing: metrics. Every action can be measured in some form or fashion. Consequently, that measurement can be evaluated against a standard and determined to either exceed or fall below that standard. The difference (or delta for any math majors) between the standard and the measurement will help determine next steps to either help maintain an exceptional result or correct a sub-standard one.

The real money is in answering some very key questions:

  1. What’s the question? Most want to ask a different question first – what to measure? But, before you determine what you are going to measure, you must first know what question you are trying to answer. Of course, there is an endless number of questions, so you have to be willing to ask the best and most important questions. How do you determine that? The mission statement of the organization should be your guide.

    For example: If the question is how to determine sermon effectiveness on a given Sunday, someone might suggest you measure attendance. Is the question a good one? Sure it is because spiritual growth is most likely part of any church’s mission statement. Can you measure attendance? Sure, just count the people in the seats mid-way though the service. Does that number correlate to effectiveness of a sermon? Unless you’re sole reason for preaching is to fill seats, then the answer is no. Silly example? You would be surprised how often this metric is used to answer all kinds of questions.

  2. What to measure? Now that we have our question, we can now get down to defining the measurements we need to make. Even still, a deep understanding of what success looks like must shape our thoughts in this regard. To be truly beneficial, success must be defined AND agreed upon before we can measure and draw conclusions from the data we collect.
  3. What to conclude? Ever heard of a police detective determining the suspect before any evidence has been processed? That’s called predetermination and just as in police work, making the data fit a predetermined conclusion is – simply put – wrong. Why go through the exercise of asking good questions and putting together meaningful metrics only to get the answer you wanted anyway?The truth is rarely easy to uncover and  sometimes less easy to swallow. It’s our nature to want to shortcut the process and our brains automatically make connections that aren’t based totally in factual evidence. That’s why we must resist these urges and maintain the integrity of the process. The only way to move forward toward a better tomorrow is to let the unfettered truth come to light and allow it to dictate next steps.

Like I said in the beginning, I believe this is the crux to discovering the potential for an organization’s effectiveness, but it is by no means the only piece of the puzzle. The process of examining decisions for success takes time, resources and energy – all of which are in short supply in America and especially in our churches.

It is my assertion that until we are able to ask the BEST questions, measure the RIGHT criteria and conclude HONESTLY the truth of a situation, we won’t BE better tomorrow than we are today. Until then, we are just throwing dice in the dark.

Light Your World

Steve —  5.20.2010 — Leave a comment

I love the use of light as an analogy – I mean LOVE it! As a physicist, light is one of the most fascinating elements of our world. But never fear, I’ll keep it light (pun intended)…this time.

I was in Russia for six weeks and we took a trip to the Black Sea one weekend. As night fell, I could see a huge light scanning the water back and forth. As I went to investigate, the search light became bigger and bigger – it must have been ten feet in diameter when I finally saw it up close. The purpose of that light was to search the open water for smugglers from Turkey trying to enter the country under the cover of night and I would say it was effective at lighting up the night for several miles.

The third and final installment of the banner series: Love Much, Live Well and Light Your World – moves us into the realm of influencing those around us. Like I said, I love the use of light in this last piece for two main reasons:

  1. Light overcomes darkness. In all cases (even black holes are defined by the light being captured around them), when light is shone into a dark area, that area is lit up. You never see the darkness able to prevail in that engagement.
  2. Light behaves as both a wave and a particle. Hang with me for a second. As a wave, light can travel vast distances and not be affected by gravity and other external forces. As a particle, light influences and impacts the physical world in real and tangible ways. The coolest thing is that light is neither a wave nor a particle – IT’S BOTH…AT THE SAME TIME. This means it has vast reach and real impact.

So when we talk about lighting our world, what we’re basically saying is that we (you and I) are to be sources of light shining into the dark world. Some questions immediately come to mind:

  • How bright is my light (effectiveness)? If you’ve ever lost power at night and your flashlight needed new batteries, you quickly realize just how ineffective a dim light can be when you need to find your way. I think a Christian’s effectiveness in being a light to this world is how connected you are to the Father. To put it simply, moving toward God means a brighter light and moving away from Him produces dimmer and dimmer light.
  • Where do I shine (intentionality)? Ever needed a buddy to hold a light when you’re working on your car or the kitchen sink? He can never shine the light exactly where you need it because he can’t see what you see. I think at times, Christians point their lights in the wrong direction and waste the lumen lighting up dead ends. Just like a third hand would ensure you get the light in exactly the right spot, I think God desires to use us in the same way. He knows where light is needed and desires to shine us right where light is needed most.
  • To what end? Lighting your world can take a variety of expressions. It could be seeing a need and responding out of love. It could be telling a friend about your faith and life eternal. It could be having hard conversations with your kids about morality. It really is about responding to the world around you based on loving much and living well.

One final point about light – multiple light sources produce a brighter overall illumination. Back in the day, as more and more candles were grouped together, their combined light was more effective in overcoming a greater amount of darkness – thus the term “candlepower” came to be. This speaks directly to making sure we are moving together, in one accord with purpose.

Putting it all together:

  • Be sure you are moving toward God so your light is a bright as possible
  • Ask Him and courageously move where and do what He instructs
  • Seek out and embrace community so we may increase our candlepower

PARADIGM CHECK: If you find yourself frustrated about the lack of response you are getting from efforts to influence those around you, examine how much you are loving and how well you are living. If you focus on step three and neglect steps 1 & 2, you may be shining your light into empty corners.

We’ve come full circle and as I consider the progression of Love Much, Live Well and Light Your World, it doesn’t seem like a linear progression any longer, but a circular one. Each step reinforces and deepens the next, but it all starts with love – may we never start anywhere else and may we never stop doing all three more and more.

Live Well

Steve —  5.19.2010 — Leave a comment

I was asked by a friend who’s life was falling apart why he should live according to God’s Word. After all, good behavior had gotten him nowhere; in fact, he considered himself worse off because of it.

The second part of our banner is Live Well. We covered Love Much in a previous post and Light Your World is coming up. What used to come to mind for me when I heard the term “live well” was keeping my nose clean and staying out of trouble, but I’ve come to learn it’s much more than that.

Just like loving much involves more than taking someone some chicken spaghetti when they break a leg, living well is much more than staying out of jail. Evidence of this is found in the Gospels (first 4 books of the New Testament of the Bible) in the way Jesus talked to those He met. The call was (and is today) to go and sin no more.

That’s it.
Very simple command.
Very difficult implementation plan.
And He knew that!

You see, you can’t go very far down the Live Well road before you understand that you must Love (Him) Much first. Living a life well is a response to His Love and must be rooted in some very weighty beliefs.

First, you must believe that God desires the very best for you. When Jesus talked about the abundant life, he wasn’t talking about a life free of pain and struggle. He was talking about a life that is used to it’s fullest potential to impact His Kingdom. He was talking about life lived with His perspective, not ours. With His priorities, not ours. With His values, not ours.

Second, you must believe that God has a purpose for your life. He uniquely crafted you with abilities, skills and experiences for His purposes. Exploring what those things are, with an eye purpose, is a fantastic way to understand why you are still sucking wind behind your keyboard. Assessments, other people and some good ole soul searching are great tools to uncover this information.

Finally, you must understand that a life lived well typically will mean hard times become the norm. There’s an Enemy lurking for anyone who starts making waves for God. For some, that will be enough to return to status quo, but for those resolute few who really desire to live well, it merely strengthens their resolve. Additionally, there is still Joy to be had when hard times come because we now have a perspective that we’re being used to make a difference.

So, the question about why we should live life well goes all the way back to a response to His Love and moves out from there to being effective in Lighting the world around you. Hmmm…that seems to be the next topic.

*PARADIGM CHECK: Are people asking you about how or why you live life the way you do? A life lived well is different from the world – different decision grids, different actions and certainly different values. If you look, act and smell just like everyone else, perhaps it’s time to examine your life from His perspective and ask some overdue questions…on your knees.

Whether talking about a person or an organization, there exists a framework – intentional or not – that dictates how decisions are made and situations are handled. Greatness can be described as an intentional examination of this framework and rigid adherence to it. Great leaders know how to develop and use each part effectively.

Below is a graphical representation of that framework. The core is critically important as it provides the basis for all other parts. Integrity among the elements of the core will help to ensure that the Strategies and Tactics are unambiguous and clear results can be achieved.

I’m starting a series of posts that will talk about sermons topics I wish would be taught on a regular basis – every year or perhaps even every quarter. These are the key truths that seem to be the linchpin to unlocking vast treasures of understanding – at least the way I see it (it is my blog after all).

The first one will be no surprise to those that know me: MARGIN.

Margin, by definition, is extra space allocated for a particular reason. We see it in books, roads and even in how the chairs are arranged at church. Have you ever seen a book where the words ran right up to the edge of the paper? It’s maddening to try to read – your eye has an extremely hard time transitioning from one line to the next. Or been driving in a construction zone where the road narrows and there just isn’t much room between you and oncoming traffic? Or sat down to someone and felt like you were too close?

Principle One: The lack of margin requires that you pay extra attention to the edges.

I don’t desire to have our pastors teach on proper book formatting or how to properly space the chairs in the worship center, but the concept of margin exists in some very key areas of life:

  • Time
  • Finance
  • Morality
  • Energy (physical)

Margin in our schedule is probably the one that we just hear and shake our heads at and say, “Yep – I know, but I’m simply too busy.” We know that we are running too hard and are missing life as we hurry along. Strategies and principles of how to create margin in one’s schedule is needed.

Financial margin is another place where we know the good of it, but don’t have any idea how to achieve it. Unless you have a money tree that you haven’t planted, obtaining financial margin will require some very hard lifestyle choices that hurt on the front end, but bring freedom in the end.

Moral margin is not talked about much, but it is simply staying far away from situations that pull you into the deep weeds. We live in a world that is ruled by one who would love nothing more than to see you and I be pulled into something that takes us out of the game. Thinking strategically about this area is what we need help with.

Finally, margin with our physical energy is something that is tied to all other areas. We are either too busy or too stressed to do what is right for our physical bodies. Physiologically, our bodies need rest. When we sleep soundly, our body goes to work repairing all of the crap we do to it when we’re awake. If we either don’t get enough sleep or aren’t able to sleep deeply, that regenerative process can’t accomplish its goal. The results are numerous and affect our lifestyles greatly.

Margin isn’t just a concept to be admired from afar and it’s not a fairy tale either. It is a choice. A personal choice. A personal choice between life and death – literally in some cases and we need our spiritual leadership to lead by word and example to embrace the importance of margin.

Margin is simply putting space in one’s life that is left for God to fill as He sees fit. The margin-filled life is the key to experiencing God’s spontaneous nature and associated we go.

Faith of the Mind

Steve —  4.23.2010 — Leave a comment

In college, I was surrounded by very smart people. I went to a small Liberal Arts college in Central Arkansas that had a reputation for excellent academic standards and somehow they let me in, but that’s not the point. I started my freshman year with a small idea about who God was, but had no faith in Him whatsoever, but that changed on April 1, 1991 – the spring of my freshman year when I was re-introduced to the person of Jesus and I placed my faith and heart in Him to do with my life whatever He wanted.

I tell people I was drafted because the next three years were a flurry of activity. I was being taught and was teaching others who wanted to learn about Jesus and it was in talking with other students that I often found myself in a recurring situation. Because the average student was brainy – the discussion invariably came down to understanding God with their mind before they would allow their heart to hear His call. A hard conversation to have for sure if you are wanting people to believe something, since beliefs are rooted in the heart.

Recently, I was having a Facebook “discussion” with a proclaimed Atheist that took me back to those days in college, but something was different. I think that part of my roadblock back then is that I didn’t know how to get people to move past their mind and listen to their heart. Today, that’s not the case. You see, I think God understands how we work – at a physiological level, we have to “get it” with our mind first.

The “ah-ha” for me came when I realized that in order to understand God mentally, I had to broaden my capacity to embrace something that I couldn’t prove, touch or existed in my past experiences. It’s hard to do – don’t get me wrong, but completely possible and it starts with humility. Recognizing that there exists a possibility that I don’t know or even have the capacity to grasp everything about this universe is the first step, which is hard for brainiacs.

If your mind is open, if just a little bit, to that possibility, the door to your heart will start to open and His love is able to make all things seem right – both mentally and emotionally.

I believe God wants to engage the WHOLE person – mind, heart and soul – and He designed our minds to be the gatekeepers of the heart for a reason. The pursuit of knowledge is a worthy one – we are made to learn and use that knowledge to enhance our world. That pursuit should include, most especially, those things that we can’t explain or readily understand.