Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are You an Open Book?

One of the greatest gifts we can give to those around us is to be an open book. It is both a life of authenticity open to the scrutiny of others and it is one where we have no need to pretend we are something we are not or to hide the struggles we face. It is a "what you see is what you get" approach to life.

Authenticity is an all too rare commodity in the Christian world where we often feel a need to present a public face to others which looks like what we think Christians should look like. Simply listen to the level of candid conversation in many local churches and ask yourself - are people really being open with their joys, sorrows, struggles and challenges?

This past year has been an interesting one for our family as thousands have prayed for us in the aftermath of my forty two day hospital stay last December and January. Our extremely candid disclosure of our needs and situation was forced upon us by events beyond our control. But, it has been interesting how many people have thanked us for being transparent.

It seems to me that transparency is a gift we give to others because people can relate to real life struggles much more than they can to the facade that we can so often put up. I think that it is also a gift to unbelievers who can watch Christ-followers struggle with real issues of life balanced by imperfect but genuine faith.

Pastors give a gift to their congregations when they are transparent about their own struggles, fears, and doubts and how they integrate faith and followership with real life.

As a listener I can relate to that. I think that is the great attraction of the Psalms. When you read the Psalms you get the real David with his joy, fear, anger, discouragement and faith. Sometimes is is raw and uncomfortable but it is real life. And it is the Psalms that people go to more than any other place in Scripture when faced with difficulties. In the Psalms you find genuine transparency.

The more transparent we are the more approachable we are. And the more approachable we are the more true influence we will have with those around us. The cost to us is admitting that we are not perfect, that our families are not perfect, that we don't have it all figured out and that we need others. Of course, all of that is true anyway.

Give the gift of being an open book. You will be surprised with the response.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What spells Success?

Do you know what success looks like for your church, team, ministry or organization?

Being able to clearly define success can be a huge factor in an organization's effectiveness. In my experience, however, most leaders and their staff cannot clearly answer the question. And, many times, the factors that we believe would spell success actually do not - and we are chasing the wrong things.

For instance. Many mission agencies define success by the number of missionaries they have and the number of countries they operate in. If you doubt that, just look at their materials. The problem is that those two statistics have nothing to do with effectiveness or results.

And, that definition can have negative unintended consequences which include bringing people into the organization that are not really qualified (because we are enamored by numbers) or starting ministries in new places where we do not have the necessary infrastructure or leadership.

In a similar fashion, local churches often simply believe that it is about numbers and one can get numbers by participating in the shuffle of believers from one church to another. Reading the New Testament one does not get the impression that numbers are the final indicator of success, rather life change is.
What is interesting is that there are actually two factors in defining success.

The first is the end product you want. In my organization the end product is spelled out by a mission statement, The EFCA exists to glorify God by multiplying healthy churches among all people. Our end goal is therefore church health, church multiplication and ensuring that the denomination includes all ethnic, and socio economic groups who make up our communities, nation and through missions our world.

Clarity on the mission, however, is only half the equation. The other half is defining the culture, practices and central ministry focus that are necessary to reach the missional goal that has been defined.

First, we need a set of guiding principles which provide true guidance as to how the organization operates. This goes beyond a static set of values to a set of principles which all staff and volunteers (or in the case of a church) members are committed to living out (see here for an example). These principles ensure that your staff are committed to practices that will help you get the results you desire. Without defining those practices you are unlikely to achieve what you desire to achieve.

The second piece is knowing what the central ministry focus must be if you are going to achieve your mission. This is the one thing that your organization must do day in and day out, without which, you will be far less likely to get to where you want to go. (see this post for an example).

The third piece is that of defining the culture you must have if you are going to achieve your mission. The culture of your organization, just like the practices of the organization will either help you achieve your mission or will work against you achieving that mission. For the local church I believe the culture is spiritual vitality. For our mission, it is healthy people, healthy teams, healthy leaders and healthy churches. In other words we know that without a culture of health at all of these four levels we will not achieve our missional goal.

In the book, Leading From the Sandbox, I describe how these four elements of mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and organizational culture can be communicated in a simple way to all staff, and stakeholders.
The central point is that we must have the correct definition of success for our ministry. But once we have that definition, we must define the practices, central ministry focus and culture that are most likely going to help us achieve that mission - and therefore success.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A sense of Urgency

I am often asked after speaking to our world wide staff, "Why do you have such a sense of urgency?" The question caused me to stop and think.

It is not that I am driven. I believe I have come to the place where I truly have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. I am comfortable with who I am and how God made me. I am glad I can say that at 52.

It is not because I am competing with other mission agencies. There is plenty of work to go around.

It is because without a sense of urgency no church, no business and no ministry organization will be all that it can be. The opposite of urgency is complacency, comfortable, and maintenance of status quo. That is where people will generally live unless someone - a leader - or a crisis - pushes them out of comfortable into urgent.

Any business today that lives in the comfort zone will find itself in a crisis. The rules of the game are changing so rapidly, competition is so fierce, the markets so unpredictable that complacency is frankly death.

It is easy for churches to live in the comfort zone. Most do which is why 80% of the congregations in America are plateaued or in decline. And why conversion rates are terrible and life transformation rare.

Mission agencies have been living in the comfort zone for decades and are just now waking up from a long snooze and realizing that the world changed tremendously in the past thirty years and they did not. Some will not make the transition and will slowly slide into decline.

So what drives my sense of urgency?

First, we have 6 billion people on the face of the earth today. Half the people who have ever lived in human history are alive today (300 years ago there were only 600 million people on the planet). Never before have the stakes for evangelism been so high. Never before has it been easier to reach more people for Christ more quickly than today - if we will sense the urgency and use methodologies that are appropriate for the day in which we live.

Second, It is a matter of stewardship. Like Paul, I do not want to settle for anything less than the best effort, and certainly do not want to rest on the past but press on to the future. Why give myself to anything but the best that I can give - or lead an organization that does the same?

Time is our most precious commodity. All of us are personally running out of time. We need to run the race to the finish and reach the finish line knowing that we absolutely did our best.

Leaders are the ones who create a sense of urgency if there will be one. If there is no urgency in your business or organization, it is a leadership issue. Leaders are also the ones who model a sense of urgency. If I sometimes seem impatient with progress, I am. Without a certain impatience there is no progress.

As Paul wrote so eloquently, "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-13).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ways of seeing

Perspective and vision are interesting things. Eyewitnesses of an accident can both see the same thing but are sure they saw different scenarios than the others did. As Christ followers we are constantly challenged to "see" life, circumstances, events and news from an eternal perspective rather than a human perspective. Many Christ followers never catch the reality that "seeing" from kingdom eyes is very different from "seeing" from merely human eyes.

You remember the account in the gospels where Jesus and the disciples are overwhelmed with the crowds of people hungry to meet Jesus and desperate to have their circumstances changed. The disciples were tired and it seems a bit cranky and saw the crowds as a distraction and a hassle. But Jesus, "looking at the crowds was moved with compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd." The disciples saw from human eyes while Jesus saw with kingdom eyes.

Human sight is at its core selfish. It sees those things that either help us or hinder us, are to our advantage or disadvantage, give us power or rob us of the same. Kingdom sight is utterly unselfish. It is about giving rather than receiving, it is about serving rather than being served - as the disciples who asked for the honor of sitting at Jesus' right and left side when in heaven found out. Or as those listening to the parable of the good Samaritan discovered.

There is also a time perspective to human versus kingdom seeing. Human eyes are concerned about how the circumstances of life impact me. Kingdom eyes are concerned about how the circumstances of life build God's kingdom, even if to our temporary detriment.

Those who are martyred for their faith understand kingdom sight. They realize that there is something far more precious and significant than even their own lives and are willing to lay down their lives for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Hebrews 11 is a testimony to those who lived their lives with kingdom vision rather than human vision.

How we see deeply impacts how we live. Our world is driven by fear and a desire to protect ourselves and our interests at any cost. Following Jesus is driven by faith and a willingness to pay any price to be where Christ wants us to be - realizing that to be where Jesus is - is both the most dangerous and most safe place we could ever be. That is why some Christ followers can see circumstances from a perspective of faith, while others see the same circumstances from a perspective of fear.

How we do something as mundane as assimilate the news on CNN or Fox is influenced by whether we are watching with human or kingdom eyes. Human sight assumes that the news is all bad, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and is pervaded with a sense of gloom and fear.

Kingdom eyes see the same news and they realize that God is still sovereign and that in fact, God uses all the events of the world, good or bad to build his church. They know that no event occurs in our world, good or bad that does not first pass by the hands of God and that he does not use to build his church.

How we view people around us depends on which eyes we are seeing them through. From a human perspective many people are simply losers who have little value to us or society. They may lack the education, sophistication, status or whatever it is that gives one "value" in our world.

Kingdom vision sees the same people and it instinctively says, "this person is precious to God, Jesus died for her, and I will honor her." A study was done of hierarchies of value in a hospital setting. Surgeons were at the top, janitors were at the bottom. The level of respect, eye contact and interaction were highest at the top and lowest at the bottom.

Recently I was waiting in the TSA line at the airport. The TSA agent looked at my license and said, "Do you know a Dr. Addington who was a surgeon?" I said "Yes, it's my dad." He said, "Dr. Gordon Addington"? I said "Yes, that's him." He said, "years ago I was a janitor at United Hospital and your dad befriended me. He even invited me to spend Christmas with the family."

My father had been using his kingdom vision and in doing so upset the value proposition of human vision.

It is an intriguing exercise to go through one's day asking "How would Jesus view this person or this circumstance? How would kingdom vision differ from human vision?" They are very different and they yield hugely different responses.

Which way of seeing is your default?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The view from 39,000 feet

Because I travel often I have the joy of negotiating numerous airports around the globe. From the time I get to the airport I want just one thing - to be at 39,000 feet. By then, I will have negotiated the lines, crowds, security checks (sometimes two or three) the hot waiting room and pushy people. There is a world of difference between the airport and 39,000 feet.

That is one of the reasons that I regularly take a day or even half a day by myself to take a 39,000 foot look at my life. In our organization we call it a "Personal Retreat Day," or PRD. It is a time to get out of the crowds, activity, stress and deadlines to literally "get above it all" for a time to evaluate how well we are doing in the midst of our activity.

Our activity and our pace of life often mitigate against thoughtful analysis of how we are spending our time, where we are missing something vital, strategies for being more productive or just time to stop, think, pray, meditate and listen to the still small voice that will not compete with the din of our daily lives.

Here are the kinds of things I evaluate on my PRD:
-My marriage and family
-My spiritual life
-My personal and work priorities
-My calendar and invitations that affect my calendar
-The team I lead and the team I am on

In other words, the PRD is an opportunity to get above the fray and take a holistic view of life from a 39,000 foot perspective in order to ensure that when I land again I am living intentionally rather than accidentally. It gives me a time when I can reprioritize my time and energy when they have gotten off track. It gives me time to talk to the Father about issues I am struggling with.
Without the perspective and peace of 39,000 feet, I cannot be as productive as I need to be at ground level.

What is your 39,000 foot strategy?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Convictions that matter

I have a bedrock conviction. Actually two: First that God is sovereign. Second, that God is good....all the time! No matter what.

Last Saturday, a young man from a church I love in Knoxville, TN was heading down a zip line at 45 miles per hour. Someone had not moved the ladder used to get up to the zip line and Zach hit it smashing his helmet, and his skull and is clinging to life in a Tennessee hospital. My son's girlfriend held him in her hands as they waited for the paramedics to arrive. I don't understand why this would happen to a wonderful young man full of faith and energy.

Today I received an email that a dear friend of mine, much younger than me has prostate cancer. He is a wonderful father, husband and pastor. I don't understand why.

In the last several weeks I have heard that two other friends of mine have severe cancer. I don't understand.

I could go on. Last December and January God preserved my life against all odds after 42 days in the hospital, 35 of them in ICU. Five times at least I should have gone home to Jesus. I don't understand.

At 52, I have watched and experienced much that I don't understand. Life does not let one see around the next bend. Life is not fair, nor often explainable. At least I cannot explain it.

And so, I return daily to two convictions. That God is sovereign and he sees the horizon in ways we never will till we are with him. His sovereignty gives me confidence in the circumstances I face - even in the midst of tragedy.

But His sovereignty by itself is not enough because a sovereign God could be capricious as life often seems to be. That is where the second conviction comes in, breathed through the pages of Scripture. That God is good....all the time.

Sovereignty without goodness is no comfort.

Sovereignty coupled with His goodness is ultimate security. In His goodness and in His sovereignty I can rest my circumstances and those of others even though I don't and won't understand. Understanding something about Him relieves me of the need to understand all of what happens in life. In His goodness and in His sovereignty I can rest - whether in joy or in sorrow.

I don't understand the road we often travel. I do understand enough about the God who made that road enough to trust the road. Whatever is around the next bend.

Zach and Tony and Roger and Carol and Paula, I pray for you tonight. My heart hurts for your struggle. My heart rests in the goodness and sovereignty of God. And that is where my life rests as well.