Give Victory a Chance

An amazing thing happened this past weekend.  It helps if I set the stage a bit.

My family has never been accused of being particularly athletic.  The greatest accomplishment I ever experienced on the field of sport was with my high school marching band.

Now, people generally assume that a guy my size had to have played some kind of ball at some point in his life.  When asked what position I played in high school, the answer is always easy.  I played bass drum.

So, it was with a certain mix of trepidation, bemusement, and hope that I watched as my son began his first experience with organized football.  I am not one of those sport parents who imagines that their child is destined for a pro contract.  My interest is to present him with enough opportunities to discover what may or may not click with him.

All of that said, an amazing thing happened this past weekend.

His team won.  His team won and he played a big role in the success.  I saw the light in his head come on and saw him begin to understand the game and enjoy himself.

In watching him play, I was struck by a simple thought.

You can never know for sure that you don’t like something if you never experience a measure of success with it.  You owe it to yourself not to quit without first experiencing a taste of victory.

Sure, it’s easy enough to decide to stop when it’s hard and you don’t understand and it all seems pointless.  But only until you get to a place where you have pushed past the initial awkwardness and difficulty and experienced a little epiphany, you won’t be able to distinguish between your dissatisfaction with the activity/job/responsibility/role/etc and your apparent lack of success.

It may not be that you dislike what you are doing.  It may simply be that you have yet to see what it’s like when you are successful in it.

Give victory a chance.  Then decide if you want to quit or not.


Pulling Our Boats: When Culture and Technology Hinder

arctic-overview1I was watching PBS recently (as always) and saw a great episode of Nova titled “Arctic Passage“. It detailed the failed Franklin Polar Expedition from the 1850’s.

Outfitted with the best 19th century technology, Sir John Franklin set out on a journey to navigate a northwest passage through the Arctic waters north of Canada. It was a journey with a thousand horrible decisions and even worse outcome.

As the ships were crushed under the immense pressure of the surrounding ice, Franklin and his men decided to abandon them and set out on foot to safety. They were able to convert the dingys into sleds which they used to haul their gear and belongings. One of these sleds was actually recovered by archeologists.

What might you expect to find in a sled of polar explorers making their way overland to safety? How about brass buttons, button polisher, books, and silver plated silverware? Rather than focus on the things needed to survive in their new environment, they continued to hold on to the trappings of Victorian England. So much so, that archeologists estimate that each of the sleds weighed more than 1400 pounds.

But there fate was almost officially sealed before they even left port. Their choices of provisions reflect the popular tastes of the time, but were grossly unable to sustain the men in their time of need. Among the provisions were 9450 pounds of chocolate, 3684 gallons of concentrated spirits, 7088 pounds of tobacco. All things to be enjoyed and make life better, but not able to fuel a crew of men pulling 3/4 ton sleds across arctic wilderness.

If this was not bad enough, the literal killer was found in the technology that they thought would actually be their life saver. Included in the provisions were 33, 289 pounds of tinned meat. The revolutionary canning method would allow meats to be transported without spoiling and guarantee the men sustenance in the gravest of conditions. With one major drawback.

Forensic testing found that the men did not only die of exposure to the Arctic weather, but that most of the men were struck with severe lead poisoning. Studies proved that the food they had consumed had been tainted with lead. The lead came from the tinned meats.

The cans would be soldered closed and the soft metal used to seal the cans would taint the meat with lead. The men were already poisoned and sentenced to death before the ships were ever encased in ice.

I watched in amazement at the thought of trying to tackle foreign environments and situations from a traditional, cultural mindset. Sitting in London, the answers to their needs would be easy to solve. Faced with frostbite, scurvy, and lead poisoning, they quickly found that the culture of London did not translate to the Arctic.

It’s easy to scoff at the idea of dragging 1400 pound sleds full of novelties and trinkets across the frozen ground, but I wonder if we don’t often do the same thing? Why do we burden ourselves with so many needless weights when we are trying to survive in a new culture/environment?

How much of our own cultural irrelevance is found simply in the fact that we refuse to stop pulling our boats?

Ferret People & Sub-Culture

Was headed to bed the other night and flipping the channels when I got fascinated by a documentary on PBS called “Ferrets: The Pursuit of Excellence”.

The documentary followed a group of ferret owners at the Buckeye Bash Ferret Show.  These were not just any ferrets.  They were show ferrets.  Ferrets of the highest caliber who had been bred to compete and be judged.  

I started watching out of a bizarre wonder that people would spend that much time grooming, and thinking, and working, and daydreaming about ferrets.  

It seemed to me like a weird little community, but then I realized that is was just like every other sub-culture.  You can change the subject, environment, and lingo, but it’s the emotions that are the same.  

There is nothing different about the “Ferret people” that isn’t exhibited by a group of guys who are cheering on their favorite team, or people who are fans of a certain series of books, or folks like me who are hopelessly addicted to LOST.

We all have lingo and terms that are foreign to people who are on the outside.  Cover 2 and Mike.  Lothlorien and Hogwarts.  The Hatch and the Dharma Initiative.  These are all cultural shorthand within our respective sub-cultures.  Anyone who isn’t a part doesn’t understand.

These respective sub-cultures are made up of people who are looking to connect; people are wanting to be a part of something.  Where they are safe to share their passions and joys without the fear of ridicule.  

More thoughts to come on sub-cultures and how they might relate to the Church.  But first, what sub-cultures do you participate in?  College football?  Are you a Mac fiend?  Cars?  Shoes?

Whether we know it or not, we are all a part of some  sub-culture.

Permission and Mindset

Continuing some thoughts on permission and creating environments of innovation…

The “big news” of the weekend was Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama.  

I think there will be some Republicans who hear what the General has to say and will be influenced by it.  Certainly, some will join him and “convert”.  Not all, but some.

Colin Powell has broken the matrix.  He has stepped beyond what many dutiful Republicans see as very clear lines.  And in doing so, he has granted “permission” for others to do the same.

I believe that if you asked most people they would probably say they are pretty open minded.  We all like to think of ourselves as objective and logic based.

The reality, however, can be quite different.  

Most of us have constructed a mindset based on feelings, teaching, training and experience.  It is the feelings, teaching, training, and experience that create the boundaries of our thinking, and in fact, wall off our thinking.  

These walls often prove to be immovable and impenetrable.  Instead of confronting them, we shrink when we encounter them.  They act like mental bumpers. 

But very rarely, someone (or something) will come along.  Someone we have trusted or respected.  Someone we identified with and considered to be like us.  

And in viewing their journey beyond our carefully constructed walls, we will find freedom to think differently, believe differently, and live differently.

Their actions create permission that we grant ourselves to step into new possibilities.

Organizational Permission and Straw House Thinking

The following is from a post from Tony Morgan. Consider what organizational permission can do…

Once upon a time in a far off land there lived a leader who supervised three little pigs. The leader was committed to excellence in his life and in his organization. He knew there was a direct correlation between the quality of the houses his pigs built and the success they had in protecting themselves from big, bad wolves.

The leader obsessed about every detail. He also made it clear to his team of pigs that they, too, needed to obsess about every detail. It didn’t take long for the pigs to realize that their interpretation of excellence might not be the same as their supervisor’s perception of excellence. Because of that, the pigs began to bring every decision about every detail to the leader. The pigs didn’t want to run the risk that they might not “get it right.”

Over time, the leader found himself in a challenging predicament. He was overwhelmed because he had to touch everything. And, he was frustrated that he was responsible for generating every new idea. For example, he was the one who originally developed the design for straw houses. His pigs built excellent straw houses. In fact, no one built straw houses any better. What they did, they did well. But, they were stuck.

“If you try to control things, that’s self-limiting,” said Michael Dell, chief executive officer of Dell. “The easiest way to think about this is that if all the decisions inside an organization had to roll up to the center of the company or to one person, it’s a massive bottleneck to progress.” (Check out the rest of the interview.)

In the end, the leader in this story learned that sometimes values collide. His commitment to excellence wasn’t the problem. Control was the problem. His obsession with getting it right became a roadblock to progress. He discovered the need to empower his team with broad responsibilities to fulfill the organization’s mission while still holding them accountable to the overall vision and values. He needed to let the pigs take risks…and sometimes fail.

Continue reading…

The Permissive Environment

How often do you say “yes”? Not in the “Would you like cream and sugar” way, but in the “Try something different” kind of way.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creating “permissive” environments. Not places where anything goes, but, rather, places where people are free to adhere to a core set of standards and discover how they can be expressed through the prism of who they are.

I understand this doesn’t work in every circumstance. A Big Mac should always be two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, onions, pickles on a sesame seed bun. I shouldn’t walk into McDonald’s one day to find bacon on my Big Mac.

But when you are talking about “Change the World” kinda stuff, do you really want the equivalent of a burger flipper? Do you want someone who can tell you what you already know? Are you willing to not only hear but also learn from those who share your worldview, but maybe not your execution?

More thoughts later…

Essential Relationships for Worship Leaders – Media/Tech Director

Continuing thoughts on key relationships for worship leaders…

One of the best friends a worship leader can have is Media/Tech Director. Anyone who has ever grabbed a microphone understands that they have little control over the sound. The guy on the sound board at the front of house can have a huge impact.

My media director and I have fought for, and throughout, our friendship.  We have locked horns on numerous occasions, but always for the goal of reaching the best answer.  Through all of this, we have a relationship that is incredibly fruitful.  You can check out more from him here.

Below are a few ideas to tips for working with your media director. Once again, I am writing strictly from a worship leaders point of view. And, as always, I welcome a media directors perspective.

  • Remember the first commandment of worship leading – “Don’t be a DIVA!” 

The fastest way to erode trust and confidence, with the congregation and your team, is to have an over-developed sense of self importance.  It is a mark of an immature leader to believe higher of themselves than they should.  Anyone who has had the honor of leading others in worship of God understands how humbling it can be. 

Inspect your interactions with the media team.  Watch your tone and manner of speaking.  I would often find myself succumbing to pre-service pressure and snipping in frustration. I had to deal with the source of the pressure (which wasn’t God, btw) and change the way I interacted. 

Be sensitive to condescension. 

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Previously, I wrote about the need to create and utilize open paths of communication with the Senior Pastor.  Multiply that by ten for the media director.

They should be included in your service preparation plans and kept abreast of any upcoming changes of team personnel.  I know that sounds incredibly basic, but I have seen more than one occasion where the media team is making like Engineering on the Starship Enterprise trying to get things wired before the start of a service.  Tap that well too many times and she’ll explode, captain…

Also, your media director can be a very valuable resource.  It is easy to get stuck on your side of the microphone and finding someone who can honestly say how things sound and are coming across is a great help.   My director is someone I trust to see what is happening across my whole team and give me feedback, positive and negative, regarding the worship team’s performance.  And in turn, he understands how to offer such feedback without being overly skewed positive or negative.

  • Learn to speak the language.

Right brain vs. Left brain.  Creative vs. Logic.  Often the media and worship teams can find themselves split amongst these camps.  And sharing ideas between them is as easy as one side speaking German and the other speaking Chinese.  It’s not.

Invest the time to understand and speak knowledgeably.  And don’t expect them to be able to read tea leaves when you describe things in emotional or descriptive terms. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking.  Allow your media team to share their world with you.  You might even want to walk in their shoes for a service or two to see what it’s like.

  • Demonstrate respect through actions.

Make good use of their time.  Make sure that you are going to be where you say you are going to be when you say you are going to be. 

I know it is cliched but a failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on theirs. 

Be mindful of the behind-the-scenes efforts that are going on to allow you to minister effectively.

Those are a few quick hit tips to improve your interactions and relationships with your media director and teams.  Got anymore?  I’d love to hear them.