Thursday, October 22, 2009


One of the hardest things for leaders to do is to own their mistakes. Humble pie is a pastry that is never tasty. But Winston Churchill said, "The price of greatness is responsibility." As leaders we are not always going to get it right. But when we get it wrong we need to know what was wrong, admit what was wrong, and remedy what was wrong. Admitting wrongdoing is a lost art that people are longing to see come into vogue. An episode of Seinfeld illustrates this beautifully. Jerry walks into a dry cleaners with a shirt that has obviously been shrunken:

Dry Cleaner: May I help you?
Jerry: Yeah, I picked up this shirt here yesterday. It's completely shrunk. There's absolutely no way I can wear it.

Dry Cleaner: When did you bring it in?
Jerry: What's the difference? Look at it! Do you see the size of this shirt?!

Dry Cleaner: You got a receipt?
Jerry: I can't find the receipt.

Dry Cleaner: You should get the receipt.
Jerry: Look, forget about the receipt, all right? Even if I had the receipt - look at it! It's a hand puppet. What am I going to do with this?!

Dry Cleaner: Yes, but how do I know we did the shirt?
Jerry: What do you think, this is a little scam I have? I take this tiny shirt all over the city conning dry cleaners out of money?! In fact, forget the money. I don't even want the money. Just once, I would like to hear a dry cleaner admit that something was their fault. That's what I want. I want an admission of guilt.

Dry Cleaner: Maybe you asked for it to be washed?
Jerry: No...Dry cleaned.

Dry Cleaner: Let me explain to you something. Okay? With certain types of fabrics, different chemicals can react, causing...
Jerry: (Interruping) You shrunk it! You know you shrunk it! Just tell me that you shrunk it!

Dry Cleaner: I shrunk it.

See, that wasn't hard, was it? Wrong. There is a line that is just short of taking full, clear responsibility, and many, many people, for whatever reason, can't get across that line. They try to minimize, defer, explain - do everything but admit that they were wrong. Meanwhile the angst only grows for those who desperately need to hear the eight words: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me."

I have been watching with peculiar interest the board of our local school district (where my son goes to school). The school board has been caught in a land boondoggle, purchasing property at too high a price, in an area not zoned for a school, with money that the district did not, and does not, have. It is a perfect storm of mistakes: a runaway superintendent, an incompetent appraiser, turncoat politicians, a lagging economy, a contract that was not carefully reviewed (in fact, the contract for the land cannot even be located). Now the board will be asking the community to pass a bail-out bond to help pay for the unusable land, and to keep the State from taking over the district in the next year to keep it from insolvency. (Cue Southwest Airlines' ad, "Want to get away?"). I personally think that the community might actually be inclined to bail the school district out, but I doubt it will happen unless the school board is willing to own their mistakes and take responsibility. A little bit of ownership for the mistakes would be like a paper towel on a spill. Instead, the board spread the mess around by sending out a four paragraph "message" to the community, and I quote:

"All school boards have an assortment of governance responsibilities and often face considerable challenges carrying them out..."
"(the purchase was) made after considerable evaluation..."
"the board was convinced at that time the acquisition of that property was in the best interest of the district..."
"we are committed to focusing on the future..."
"we are confident that together we will develop a plan..."

Do you notice something missing here? Yup. The closest the board got to saying, "We blew it" was use of the word "regrettable" (which still cloaks them in the role of victims, instead of protagonists).

I bring this episode to your attention, not because of the mistakes that were made in purchasing the property. I personally believe that mistakes WILL be made by leaders, and sometimes the mistakes will be quite significant. I bring this episode to your attention because of the lack of ownership for the mistake, which is a second mistake, that now puts salt in the wound. Wouldn't the school board be better served by saying, "Dear Community, We blew it. We meant well, but we kicked the can. We should have read the contract. We should have verified the information. We were the board. We were and are responsible. We didn't handle our responsibilities well and we're sorry that our mistakes have put the community in a bind." I think that might work. But truly one of the hardest things for politicians to do is ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY. The response of the board on this reminds me of Arthur Fonzerelli ("The Fonz") of Happy Days struggling to say he was “w-r-rr....w-rr-rrrr....w-rr-rrr---rrrrong.” The Fonz was cool in so many ways, but his inability to admit wrongdoing was not cool.

I have admired Bill Hybels (founder of Willow Creek Community Church) for years. But my respect went to an all-time high when he recently admitted that their attempts at spiritual formation had largely failed. Listen to this, and learn to be a leader who takes responsibility: "Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."

Wow. I know where Seinfeld would like to go to church!

Monday, October 19, 2009


There's something to be said for loyalty. I haven't said much about it because I've enjoyed so much of it over the course of my ministry career that I've probably taken it for granted. But if you follow Christ, you will get to experience what he experienced, and that includes knowing what betrayal feels like. You will be initiated into the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings." You will get to understand why Jesus kept asking Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). You will relate to Jesus asking the twelve, "You don't want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67). You will get why Paul bemoaned the fact that Demas had deserted him (2 Timothy 4:10). You will have to wipe a traitor's kiss off your cheek (Matthew 26:49). Jesus would be the first to tell you it's hard to build a movement out of people who are fickle, finicky and flighty, but Jesus also warned that fickle, finicky and flighty are what we'll get to work with.

I find loyalty hard to talk about because there is such a narrow path between cavernous extremes. On the one side I am sensitive to the many abuses of loyalty that have been seen in Christian circles, where the domineering pastor or Christian leader has everyone running scared. He keeps everyone silent through grand proclamations of authority and submission. The sheep meekly stumble along. But that is not actually loyal behavior. It's cultish behavior (loyalty is for the overall good; cultishness is only good for the leader). On the other side, there is a drop-off into gluelessness (not cluelessness, although probably that too). People come and go randomly. No one has any idea who is going to show up. No one stands by their word. No one trusts anyone. No one has the other person's back. I'm not sure which is worse. Too much loyalty or too little of it.

I'm still learning on this subject, but here's what I've discovered so far about how to engender a healthy loyalty, and process disloyalty when it occurs.

1. Another word for loyalty is team. Loyal people are team players. They think constantly, "How do we win together?" Individualism, on the other hand, is at the heart of disloyalty. A disloyal person is unwilling to put others' interests above their own. Their personal agenda ends up trumping all others, and eventually, when they don't get what they want, they leave and take their toys with them.

2. In a Christian context loyalty must be aligned with Christ. Paul said, "Follow me inasmuch as I follow Christ." If a leader is not following Christ, then all bets of loyalty are off (this is not Enron, here). We are only signing up to follow someone, because they are following Someone. But provided that our leaders are pointed in the right direction (toward Christ) then loyalty is godly and good.

3. Good followership is as important as good leadership. Just as there can be bad leaders, there can also be bad followers. Bad followers have a tendency to blame leaders for their lack of loyalty. Bad leaders tend to blame followers for their lack of leadership. The only way out of this death spiral is for everyone to over-own their own stuff; leaders need to step up their leadership, and followers must step up their loyalty.

4. Loyalty can thrive in a context of disagreement. For us to be loyal to each other, we do not necessarily have to agree with each other on every point. In fact, until there is disagreement, you will not be able to tell whether or not someone is loyal or just following along because it's going their way. Christian unity is embracing diversity within the will of God. It is an awesome thing to be on a team where people don't have to necessarily agree on every point, but when they leave the room they are 100% united in their direction and efforts.

5. The closer people are to the center, the more loyalty cannot just be encouraged but demanded. Not all disloyalty is created equal. Cracks at the edge can be cosmetically concealed. Fissures at the center threaten the very existence of the organization (can you imagine if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not united?). Because of this, a pastor-friend of mine who is intent on this point tells staff when they are hired, "Disloyalty will get you fired." Some might see this as a self-serving threat. He views this as a protective measure against the Enemy.

6. When you are betrayed, keep in mind the bigger picture. A very small percentage of people are truly disloyal. In Jesus' case the ratio was one in twelve. The pain of such behavior can be so intense, however, that it can cause you to lose sight of the faithfulness of the majority. Going back to the garden of Eden, it has been one of Satan's strategies to get us focused on what we don't have and think we need, and get our eyes off of the abundant blessings we already have. Don't fall for this! Recognize and rejoice in the majority of folks who keep their commitments.

7. Talk is cheap...and a red flag. The more of it you hear, the more skeptical you should be. Peter was vociferous in his declarations that he would never deny Christ. Jesus smelled a rat. Even Judas tried to play off his traitorous ways at the Lord's Supper. Maybe this is why James (Jesus' half-brother) said, "Don't tell us, show us." I believe you will find that the most loyal people will not be the ones promising to be. They will be the ones who keep their eyes on the Lord and week after week show up and carry out their ministry with a smile on their face, and joy in their heart.

Monday, October 12, 2009


The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond. The hardest thing is to initiate. But CTK has become a phenomenal story because many people do the hardest thing and initiate ministry, in ways big and small. One of our values at CTK is empowerment. Empowerment, turned inside out, is initiative. I was struck recently by a story told in The Power of Small; Why Little Things Make All the Difference:

"When Linda first decided to open The Kaplan Thaler Group, she had once piece of Clairol's hair care business - Herbal Essences Shampoo, which she naively thought she could run from her Manhattan brownstone. Steve Sadove, her sole client and then-president of Clairol, tactfully suggested that Linda would at least need a business partner, since her expertise was in the creative side of advertising. Considering she had never run a company, or earned a business degree, Linda reluctantly agreed. Flipping through her Rolodex, she went on a frenzied search for the perfect partner. She wanted someone brilliant, assertive, collaborative, and challenging. The last person she was looking for was a 'yes' woman. She instinctively knew she needed someone with the moxie to tell her if the work was veering off track, or if her genius campaign idea would send a client's company into Chapter 11. She needed to hire an alter ego.

"After watching Linda eliminate more prospects than an American Idol audition, Steve stepped in again. He urged Linda to contact Robin Koval, who handled a number of other Clairol accounts at a large New York ad agency. Linda arranged to meet Robin at Michael's Muffins, a neighborhood coffee shop whose Formica decor was, to put it kindly, a far cry from the power-breakfast venues where Madison Avenue movers and shakers usually ordered their egg whites. Robin was intrigued. As fate would have it, she was also a tad hungry.

"When Linda walked in, there sat Robin at one of the wobbly tables with a giant bran muffin in front of her. The muffin had been perfectly sliced in two. She promptly introduced herself: 'Hi, I'm Robin Koval. It's great to meet you. I ordered a bran muffin, and it was huge, so I though we might share it. Of course, if you want your own muffin, or a different kind, I'll just save this for later.'

"It was business-partner love at first bite. Linda realized that this simple gesture revealed more about Robin than a resume or references could. She had shown herself to be proactive, frugal, collaborative and willing to take the initiative, even if the task was ordering breakfast. Within an hour, a partnership was taking root."

Those two ladies have gone on to create a powerhouse ad agency (they created the Aflac duck, for example), but it all started with a bran muffin, and a little bit of initiative.

Like never before, real people, average people, can take initiative. Seth Godin writes in Tribes, "In the old model things happened to you at work. Factories opened, people were hired. Bosses gave instructions. You got transferred. There were layoffs. You got promoted. Factories closed. Leaders, on the other hand, don't have things happen to them. They do things."

It used to be that people in the church waited for instructions from the pastor. In today's world, the ministry happens when and where people take initiative.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Concerns about credit have stymied many great works of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit.”

We cannot become an organic movement of ministers and ministries "here, there and everywhere" if we are overly concerned about who will get the credit. In fact, I believe that one of the subliminal reasons why church leaders resist the notion of organic ministry is that they intuitively know that they will not be able to take credit for it when it happens. Let me explain, using the illustration of a woman's desire to reach out to elementary-aged girls.

A mom, seeing the challenges that confront young ladies, and feeling a call from God, desires to have a ministry to girls who are the age of her daughter. She discusses this idea with her pastor, looking for coaching and support. Two ideas come up in the conversation: a) that she could start an after-school group in her home, and invite her daughter's friends to come over after school, or b) that she could join the Sunday School as a teacher in that age group. As the conversation unfolds, lurking in the back of the pastor's mind is the desire for credit. If this mom starts a group at her home, will he be able to take credit for it? The answer is, "Not as easily as if she is working in our Sunday School." Will he let this gremlin manipulate the conversation? If so, he will say to this ministry-mom, "I think the best thing for you to do is to plug into our Sunday School."

If you are concerned about credit you will have a preference for ministries that you can see, because ministries that you can see are ones that you can control, and for which you can take credit. This is not empowerment in the truest sense, it is manipulation for the sake of the pastor's ego.

Organic church leader Tony Dale has a slogan that he tries to live by: "No empire building, no control, and no glory." He is careful to build His kingdom, instead of his own. In Isaiah 42:8 God says this: I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another." Dale writes, "For humans, the temptation to take just a little bit of the credit is very strong! But it is an incredible privilege to be a part of a move of God, and we need to remember this and stay humble."