Monday, March 18, 2013


I don't know if you have seen the show Shark Tank on TV.  The "sharks" are investors to whom entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas for a successful business.  Some times the sharks are enticed to invest.  At other times they are not.  As I have watched this show a few times, I have noticed something interesting.  The sharks will decline to invest in a great idea, when they are unconvinced of the entrepreneurs drive to succeed.  On the other hand, they will sometimes invest in an inferior idea, if it is championed by an entrepreneur with determination.  

I recently read an fascinating article by Paul Graham (who invests in startup companies).  He talked about what he's learned to look for as a predictor of success in new ventures...determination.  He says, "In most domains, talent is overrated compared to determination—partly because it makes a better story, partly because it gives onlookers an excuse for being lazy, and partly because after a while determination starts to look like talent.

"  I tend to agree with him on this.  I have seen very talented church leaders not "get it done," and leaders with lesser talent, but greater determination succeed.  Paul enjoins:  Therefore, my dear brothers and sister, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).  Paul encouraged determination in the Lord's work.

What constitutes determination?  Graham says it it a balance of willfulness and discipline.  And balance is a key word.  He makes the analogy of squeezing a slippery melon seed with two fingers ("The harder they squeeze, the further the seed flies, but they must both squeeze equally or the seed spins off sideways."

)  He says that equivalent discipline is even more vital the more willfulness one possesses ("The dangers of indiscipline increase with temptation....If you're sufficiently determined to achieve great things, this will probably increase the number of temptations around you. Unless you become proportionally more disciplined, willfulness will then get the upper hand, and your achievement will revert to the mean.")  I believe this last statement explains about 95% of the pastor "blow outs" I've seen. 

What gives direction to determination, Graham states, is ambition.  ("Here in sum is how determination seems to work: it consists of willfulness balanced with discipline, aimed by ambition.")  As a believer, we might add the importance of love as our motivator.  

Monday, March 11, 2013


IDEO is known for its innovation. The noted Silicon Valley company is responsible for such game-changing inventions as the computer mouse, the laptop, and the "Lavatory Occupied" sign on airplanes (among others).  David Kelley, the founder, was asked the secret of innovation.  His one-word answer sounded spiritual:  "Empathy."  By empathy he meant genuine concern for the customer's needs.  Kelley said the key is to watch the customer closely and see at what point they encounter difficulty, and cringe.  Then fix it so that never happens again.

As an example, Kelley noted the frustration airline passengers had when trying to use the restroom.  They would get up out of their seat, only to find that someone was already using the restroom.  Kelley asked himself, "Isn't there a way that we can send a signal to everyone when the restroom is available?"  The question led to a solution - a lighted sign that ties into the bathroom door lock.  Frustration solved.

One of the "arrows out" expressions of CTK is empathy for the unchurched.  We try hard to eliminate obstacles, remove confusion and squelch insecurity.  We try to make it as easy as possible for a non-churched person to feel at home with us.

Why do we...

Have greeters and ushers stationed at key entry points to welcome attenders?  Empathy...a person may not know whether they are wanted.
Dress in everyday clothes, instead of "dressing up"?  Empathy...a person may not have special clothes to wear.
Try to speak in plain language, instead of theological jargon?  Empathy...a person may not have the training to understand.
Hand everyone a program with upcoming events and a teaching outline?  Empathy...a person may not know what is going on.
Picks songs that are both understandable and enjoyable for all?  Empathy...a person may not relate to sacred music or insider phrases.
Have clear signage that leads to the bathrooms or kids rooms?  Empathy...a person may not know where they need to go.
Conduct a one-hour service?  Empathy...a person may not be used to sitting for an extended period of time.
Provide free coffee for everyone to enjoy?  Empathy...a person may need to have a cup of coffee to feel at ease...or to stay awake!

Empathy is why we go to great lengths to make things easier and solve problems.  Empathy is why we have staff meetings.  Empathy is why we organize.  Empathy is why we try to keep improving.  If we are lagging in our execution, it may be because we are lagging in our empathy.  Do we really care about these people?  Are we willing to do the work necessary to answer questions and eliminate obstacles?

Another word for empathy is love.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


One of the most beautiful things I've heard in a while was said during our recent Arrows Out Conference.  Andy Geer, who pastors the new CTK in Monroe, Washington, was recounting his first meeting with Missy Willis from CTK Network Resources.  He said that at the end of the meeting, Missy turned to him and asked, "How can we help you and your Worship Center?  What do you need?"  The question was sincere.  Missy really wanted to know.  Andy said, he couldn't remember ever being asked that in all of his years of being a pastor.

Come to think of it, the question is way too rare.  Yet, it gets at the very heart of caring, doesn't it?  Wouldn't you love to be asked that today?

I remember as a young pastor (in a traditional setting) how that question changed the dynamic in a very structured and intense meeting (we had a lot of those).  Our Board was meeting with a man who had recently begun attending our church.  This man was a representative from a ministry with which we were unfamiliar.  So he came to the board meeting to be interrogated.  We stopped just short of water-torture, as I recall.  But as the man got up to leave, one of the few servant-leaders in our midst said, "One more thing.  How can we help you?  How can we support your ministry?"  The man's shoulders suddenly relaxed as a smile hit his face.  He said, "Thank you so much for asking.  That means a lot to me."  He sat back down and he shared with us the needs he had, both personally and in the ministry.  With that one question, the mood of the room snapped into love.  I think we all realized in the moment we had been asking the wrong questions.  We were behaving as if we were the center of the universe and he was orbiting around us.  The question "How can I help..." reoriented us all to see his needs as the point of the meeting.