Sunday, April 05, 2009

Please no corn or green beans!

I was reading a list of outreach opportunities at our church and there I saw it. Nestled into the announcement about the needs in our food bank was this curious little line "Please no corn or green beans."

If you have never been a part of a food bank or donated to one, you might say, "How ungrateful! It is food after all." You might think that those receiving this food only wanted the brand name items or the processed food.

But if you have ever seen a food bank, you can be sure the shelves have more than their share of core and green beans. Why is this?
1. These are canned items that don't go bad.
2. These are some of the cheapest canned items you can buy
3. These are natural choices because they can be used in many recipes.

I have to admit, when I have gone into the store to buy food for the food bank or if I am picking things out of my cupboard, there probably hasn't been a time where either corn or green beans weren't in the line-up.

Put yourselves in the shoes of those receiving this aid. In some of the families it's probably a running joke - "Did you bring home any corn today?"

I find it interesting that we fall into this rut when giving to those who need food. Whatever the reason, it is a reality. It is almost a ritual or a programmed activity. In our busy lives, we try to travel on auto pilot as much as possible. So we go into the memory and redo the actions of the last time and save that energy/decision making for an unexpected event.

The same is true in our ministry lives. The reason that innovation is so difficult is that we are on auto pilot much of the time. If we encounter a situation that we have faced in the past, the easiest way to navigate through it and move on is to do what we did before.

At HCJB Global, where I work as Director of Strategic Communication, one of my areas of service is writing direct mail letters. There is a rhythm and process that I have learned. I find so many times that I move into auto pilot when I write these letters. I go through the steps and form the paragraphs in a certain way and then move on. Sometimes, I fail to stop and ask, "What can I do this month that will engage our donors in a new and unique way?"

I'm sure that each of you can think of examples in your ministry life. Innovation cannot exist on auto pilot. It's not possible. Instead auto pilot will thrust you full-throttle forward without any thought to what direction you should be headed.

Many of us have been on auto pilot through the beginnings of this major recession. We try the things we have always done but they don't seem to work the same and we wonder why.

Here are some ideas to help you get off auto pilot and rethink your
corn and green beans:

1. Take the first regular task that you do tomorrow morning and ask yourself, "Why do we do it this way? Is it working? Is it meeting the need the way it used to? How could we do this task in a more strategic way given the realities/technologies/resources of today?"

2. Block out 15 minutes in your calendar every day to read a blog, article, book that challenges the way you are used to doing things. Force yourself to read something new and different.

3. Identify 10 of your donors, customers, constituents, parishioners and pull them together. Ask questions about how they are seeing a particular service or ministry and get another perspective.

4. Pray specifically that God will bring new ideas and other perspectives into your life.

5. Be curious . . . when you meet a person at a party, at church or any event ask them how they are dealing with a particular issue in their field of work.

Just as those who depend on food pantries around the world get sick of the same corn and green bean cans, you can get sick of the way things run on auto pilot. But only you can turn that auto switch off and engage.


adriaanses said...

Good stuff mate. Keep it up!

C said...

I really like what you have said here and i am gpoing to "pass it on" to some of our leadership.

Nate said...

I really love this type of metaphor that allows you to tangibly grasp the concept. I often resort to corn and green beans--thanks Jon.

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...

Thanks for the props you three.

Nate, I agree with you. Metaphors are so key to grasping challenging concepts.

Blessings to each of you as you innovate today.