Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Effective Ministry in the Face of a Pandemic

Awhile ago, we tried something crazy. Mindy and I pulled together a missionary who lived through SARS in Asia, a psychologist, a missiologist and a doctor for a conversation. We call it a Generous Mind Conversation. What did we talk about? We talked about the dynamics of a pandemic and what ministry would look like in that situation.

Out of the conference call and each of their thoughts, we created one concise article that took all of their ideas and wove them together. The result was a dynamic presentation of how to prepare for a pandemic and then how to shine for Jesus during such a catastrophe.

As we face the Swine Flu and see what a pandemic might look like, it is a good time to ask yourself, "Am I prepared to reach out even in a pandemic?" After all, God has put us here to be a beckon of hope no matter what the situation around us. Will you have the courage to be innovative in a pandemic?

Read our article published by Momentum Magazine.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shining Your Star

The analogy of a "shining star" or a "rising star" is very common in our success vocabulary. We hear it used in sports, business and education. Usually it refers to a person that is standing out or on the rise. Today I would like to apply the analogy to your innovation.

When we come up with an idea and begin to bring it into the world, we immediately run into one of the greatest tensions any innovator will ever face. Each day you are faced with the decision to either build/enhance/resource your innovation further or promote and market your idea. Usually you can't do both at the same time. So daily you make decisions about which is more important to your idea's success.

The strategic innovator knows when to focus on the details of the star and when to polish it. If you star is all polish and no mass, then you will disappoint people very quickly after their initial interest. If you have the best designed and smoothest running star in the galaxy but no polish, there won't be anyone to enjoy it.

Like anything else, we are looking for a wise balance. But first lets consider the folly of to much focus on either side.

No Polish:
I have sat with many presidents and ministry leaders who had an idea, saw a need and built something. They innovated in their area of ministry and there it sat. Sometimes that meant that there were 10,000 of them sitting in their warehouse. Other times it meant that a web site went unvisited. In many of these cases the product/service/outreach was strong. The philosophy was there and the back office support was there. But they had failed to think through how they would share it with the world and if the world even wanted it.

Too Much Polish:
I have also spent time with many innovators in ministry who have the best PowerPoint presentation, a great smile, powerful stories and examples, but no product . . . no service. When you push them, they are always in the process but there is nothing to back up what is on their heart. They go from meeting to meeting and from conference to conference selling their hopes and dreams.

In both cases the motivations are usually very good. What happens is that some innovators are introverts and others are extroverts. When God puts an idea on your heart and you hit the go button, you usually default to what comes naturally. That means that you approach your task with the skills you have.

If you love people and conferences, you take your idea on the road. If you love to tinker and work in silence then you start developing and you work till it is perfect. Both approaches if extreme will lead to failure.

The key is to know how you are wired and how you will want to spend each day and compensate. If you want to hit the road with your idea, you either have to plan it between idea development or have others helping you with the details. If you are in the back room tinkering all day, you need to force yourself to get out there or have people who come alongside you and help with this.

The innovators who learn to balance building and shining their stars are the ones positioned to impact lives. Are you one of them?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Snowman on a Grassy Lawn

This weekend was a strange one is Southern Colorado. It is mid-April and we had a huge snow storm sweep through. However, it was that odd mix of warm weather and snow that produces a gigantic slushy the size of several counties.

We really enjoyed watching the snow fall and seemingly melt right into the layer of ice on the ground. After a while it started to accumulated. We got about 3-4 inches of the sloppy stuff. So when the snow stopped and the clouds began to clear, our family went out and made a snowman.

This was the most perfect snow for snowman making. Every role of that snow pulled up everything under it. In no time we had the four piece and began to assemble it.

Later that day as it got warmer, I looked out and saw something I had never seen before. Our snow man was standing on a lawn of green grass - like an ice sculpture at a party. That was a first for me and as I looked at it and thought about the hilarious contradiction, I had some thoughts about innovation.

The snow is a lot like ideas. There are times when the snow is falling and it seems like everyone has a winning idea. I have lived through a time like this in the late 90's. As those ideas fall and seem so plentiful, it is tempting to let they lie there knowing you can simply come back for one later.

But as many discovered during the dot com boom and then bust, most of those ideas and the opportunity to make them a reality did not stick around too long. The ideas that made it were ones that got built up, crafted and designed in the good years - like our snowman. The only reason he hadn't melted is because of the packed snow and the concentration of cold. The crafting helped him live on an entire day longer than the rest of the snow that had been laying on the ground.

Have you been paying attention to your ideas? Have you been crafting them and defining them when there is plenty of raw material around? Take the time to do so, because if you don't you will wake up and find your ideas have melted away.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Success Redefined

Whenever we think about innovation, our minds immediately turn to success. We imagine the moment when our idea sees the light of day and the world is changed - or at least something is changed. That is what drives innovation.

But how is success defined? In our individualistic culture, we define success very much as a person's perseverance against the odds to engage a problem and find a solution. In Malcom Gladwell's most recent book, Outliers, he helps dispel this idea of success and instead paints a picture that is much more real. He shows how opportunities, culture, tradition and community make success possible. This is a huge lesson for us as missional innovators.

Here are some of the key takeaways:
1. Key Opportunities Make a Difference: Gladwell shows how Bill Gates, hockey players born in January and Italian immigrants in a specific Pennsylvania town had opportunities and surroundings that made success possible. Think about your world. What are the key opportunities that God has given you specifically? How will God use those to advance His kingdom?
2. 10,000 Hours: Gladwell shows that anyone who has broken down the barriers and succeeded has practiced for at least 10,000 hours. Whether they were a programmer, a musician or an athlete, there is something that happens when a person spends enough time on a certain activity. That proficiency is key. What are you good at? Are you spending enough time working at it? Or are you getting caught up in TV or other distractions?
3. Culture: Gladwell talks about how your Southern states view honor, how some countries view power and how Asians farm can impact success. Do you understand the culture that you live in? Are you aware of other cultures and observant about how you interact? Your heritage plays into your reality and impacts success.
4. Genius: Gladwell dispels the notion that genius alone equals success. He shows how other factors play into whether a genius will be successful. How are you using the skills and intelligence that God has given you?
Now one of the major factors that Gladwell doesn't address in success is the will and actions of our God as He works through us to accomplish His will. That doesn't mean that each of the things that Gladwell talks about aren't true. But it does mean that there is another factor out there for us to consider. When we are broken and surrendered to Jesus, He can use us in ways that go beyond our culture, our intellect, our opportunity and our investment in our skills.
As I read this book, I realized how complicated success is and why so few people achieve it. I also rejoiced knowing that the success in God's eyes is very different. Success in His world is judged based on sacrifice, surrender, humility, faith, hope and love.
So read this book. It is a powerful tool to help you see how earthly success happens. And then be thankful that beyond these real world rules is a God who works through us to innovate and birth new ideas.

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.