June 2010


It’s day three of You Blew It Week.  Start the party here.

Sometimes I feel like a professional screw up.  It’s true.  As a guy who generally has his stuff together and is typically organized, there are times when I shove ten pounds of mistakes in a five pound sack.  (No, you can’t borrow my top secret scale for weighing your mistakes.  Patent pending.)

For example, I entered the week with this topic already lined up.  I was already going to talk about blowing it, because I felt like – for once – things were going well.  Then came Monday.  On Monday, everything that could go wrong did.  Everything that could be messed up was.  Every mistake that could be made was made.  Stuff had broken on Sunday.  Teams had fouled up on Sunday.  Systems had gone wrong on Sunday.  And the common denominator in every last one of them seemed to be…me.  It was almost as if God said, “Your writing material needs more examples.  More heart.  Maybe not so much cowbell.”

One of the first steps to fixing your life or ministry or whatever after you’ve blown it is to ask one question: “What went wrong?”  What caused what happened to happen?  What were the particular catalysts for disaster?

Sometimes your screw up is a one-time fluke.  To spend any energy whatsoever in fixing the fluke would be wasted.  You apologize and then you move on if the chances of a recurrence are next to nothing.

But if it’s an easily-identifiable problem, it’s typically going to be a people issue or a systems issue.

People issues tend to revolve around personality, personal errors, or simply a bad day.  On Sunday I had way more than my fair share of people issues.  Key volunteers didn’t show up and failed to let me know.  One team member got a little snippy with another.  3/4 of my leadership team happened to be out of town on the same day.  I over scheduled my morning and couldn’t be everywhere I needed to be.

People issues are tricky, and you should identify patterns before you call it a problem.  If one of my volunteer’s car wouldn’t start and her dog threw up on the carpet and her daughter got a Lego stuck in her nose before she left for church, then I’m going to overlook the fact that she showed up late, if she showed up at all.  If she shows up late every single Sunday, that’s a pattern that needs to be addressed.  And her daughter needs to stop snorting Legos.

Systems issues often involve people, and often occur when people make mistakes because the process makes no sense.  We’re smack in the middle of overhauling our First Impressions systems.  Our team and responsibilities have grown so large that individual teams don’t know where their job ends and another team’s job begins.  It’s not the people’s fault, it’s the system’s fault, so we’re going all out to fix the system.

Systems issues seem more cut-and-dried, but we have to remember that systems are there to serve the ministry, not the other way around.  Systems should make the job easier, not harder.  Systems should free us up to be better volunteers or pastors or friends on any given day instead of making us drown in details.

Here’s the difference between people and systems: you should be brutally ruthless with systems, but you must be mercifully kind with people.  We take no prisoners with our systems.  We scrutinize, study, tweak, kill, destroy, rebuild, you name it.  With people – and especially with volunteers – my goal is to assume the best.  Did I miscommunicate?  Did they misunderstand?  Is there a bigger story going on in their life?

The next time you blow it, ask what went wrong.  Identify the issue as people or systems.  Fix it.  And move on.

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Psst: Hey you.  This is the 2nd part of a five part series.  Start here.

My Grandaddy Franks was the King of Snark before snark was cool.  He’d tell his employees, “You can show up without your pants, but don’t show up without your keys.”  He’d tell my sister, “You’re pretty two ways: pretty ugly and pretty likely to stay that way.” (I was always particularly fond of that one.)  And whenever a grandchild would get within ten feet of him, he’d say, “Glad to see you back!” and slap you on the back as hard as he could.  Usually on a sunburned shoulder.

What’s that?  Oh yes, our therapist says we’re making great progress, now that we’re in our 30’s and 40’s.  Thanks for asking.

One saying I can’t attribute to Grandaddy – but know he would have loved – is this: “I know you’re sorry, now apologize.”

In other words, “I think you’re a pretty big waste of skin.  Stop breathing my air.  You screwed up, and I’m not just mad at your mistake, I’m mad at you.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is not the mistake itself, but the mistake of not taking it personally.  Instead of recognizing that we blew it, we usually blow it off.  “It’s not a big deal,” we say. “That stuff just happens.”  People forget.  Balls get dropped.  Systems don’t always work.

And while that’s all true, the fact is it’s a very big deal to the person you’ve blown it with.  Or with which you’ve blown it.  Or whom you’ve blown it wherewithall.  Whatever.

Being a professional mistake-maker, I’ve learned that if I can place myself in the other person’s shoes I’m 87% closer to making things better.  I’m not advocating that we pander to people or fake sorrow so we get out of hot water.  I’m saying that we sincerely make an attempt to see the inconvenience from the other side of the fence.  How did that make them feel?  What did we inadvertently communicate?  Why was this such a disappointment to them?

I mediated a conversation not long ago where someone felt like they hadn’t been “heard.”  The offending party couldn’t understand what he’d done to contribute to that feeling.  He had perceived his response as efficient, but they heard it as brusque and rude.  Once both parties viewed the situation from the opposite set of shoes, it changed everything.

In our get-it-done world, it’s easy to mumble an “I’m sorry” just to get the situation over with and get on with the task at hand.  But if we’re truly committed to serving people, we won’t settle for that.  We’ll look at things from their side of the fence.  We’ll put ourselves in their shoes.  We’ll take it personally.  And when we truly see the grievance through their eyes, the apology will not simply calm them…it will change us.

You did, didn’t you?  You screwed up royally.

You forgot to return that phone call.  That leader’s surgery fell off your calendar.  A guest’s questions were never answered after repeated attempts and multiple handoffs.

You’re in the ministry to help people, except in this case you helped no one.

You blew it.

It happens to all of us.  It happens more often that we want to admit and frankly, more than we’re even aware.  Sometimes we get a second chance, and sometimes we lose our influence with that person for good.

So what happens when you blow it?  Ah…that, dear readers, is what we’re covering this week.  Here’s a little scheduling sumpin sumpin so you can see what’s coming up (feel free to skip a day if you think it’s lame).

  • Tuesday: I Know You’re Sorry, Now Apologize
  • Wednesday: What Went Wrong?
  • Thursday: Regaining Ground
  • Friday: It’s Not Me, It’s You

See you back here tomorrow, unless of course I blow it, in which case you won’t.

There’s a dirty little rumor going around that the Summit is launching a North Raleigh Campus later this fall.  That’s right, we’re heading down 540 to the capital city…the City of Oaks…the City That Hoards All of the Krispy Kreme and Zaxby Joints and Leaves Nothing for Durham.

Not that I’m bitter.  Or hungry.

This Sunday I’ll be leading a First Impressions Training for our North Raleigh Campus, but you can get in on it too, regardless of your campus affiliation. We’ll be meeting from 10:45 AM – 12 noon in the Bay at Brier Creek. This Sunday’s training will be a high-octane, streamlined version of our normal two hour training.

If you’re interested in being on the First Impressions Team at any campus, this is for you.  If you want to know how to deliver five star service to first time guests, you need to be there.  If you’re a single guy and want to meet some single ladies, go to Kroger and hang out in the produce section, weirdo.

RSVP’s are not required, but they’d sure be helpful.  Shoot an email to Campus Pastor Daniel Simmons and let him know you’re heading his way.


Whenever I revert to my middle-school self (roughly every 20 minutes), I’m tempted to do lots of things: make puns.  Lots and lots of puns, because puns are punny.  People want to hate them, but they can’t.  I’m also tempted to watch SpongeBob SquarePants.  I despise him when I’m being an adult, but my middle-school version digs him and his maniacal laughter.  I’m also tempted to use dumb jokes, like this one:

Is your face hurting you?  Because it’s killing me!

Editor’s Note: Feel free to nominate his wife for sainthood here.

Middle-school humor or not, anytime your face goes public, you run the risk that it’s hurting you.  For example: last weekend we had a snafu during communion.  Immediately after the service, I tracked down our deacon who heads up that ministry so we could correct the aforementioned snafu.  It was not a big deal and required one simple step to fix it and make everything right again.  But on my way to track him down I ran into his wife, who later told me that my face was killing her (not in so many words, but I know that’s what she felt in her heart).  In my pursuit to find him and fix the problem, I communicated that I was mad as all get-out and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.  We laughed about it and moved on, but that conversation reminded me of the power of our facial expressions:

What I perceive as intense, others interpret as angry.

What I intend as focused, others read as ticked off.

What I mean by task-oriented, others define as I hate people and want to throw their children off a bridge.

In short, I have to keep my face in check on Sunday morning.  I’m one of those guys who expresses his emotion like a 12 year old girl…if I’m feeling it, you know it.  If it’s funny, I’ll laugh out loud.  If it’s sad (hello, Toy Story 3), my chin will quiver and you’ll see my eyes get moist.  If it’s a televangelist, I’ll yell at the set rather than order the prayer cloth (our gift to you when you send your love gift today).

That’s okay when it’s just me and the joke-teller or me and the movie screen or me and the televangelist.  But when it’s me and the public, that’s when I have to watch my face.

And so do you.

Don’t let the activity of your mind dictate the direction of your appearance.  If you’re dealing with a guest at your church, do so with a smile on your face.  If you’re in a rush, consciously slow down and get on their pace.  If you’re having a bad morning, set it aside so they don’t have one, too.  If you’re trying to fix a programming snafu, remember that what you think of as a fix can come across as funk.

Watch your face, because I’ll guarantee you others already are.

We continue a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question comes from Mike Gifford:

Church discipline has been one of the topics that I don’t know a lot about. What is the biblical process that a church uses to keep the body safe and restore those that may be disciplined?

Ah, church discipline: the topic that makes legalists cackle gleefully and everyone else think about…well, legalists cackling gleefully.  Those two words will make the typical unchurched person think of church as a place full of narrow-minded, finger-pointing, judgmental folks who are always looking for some funky sin to expose.  Sadly, many churches who practice discipline have a process that looks exactly like that.  Other churches, in an effort to avoid doing discipline wrongly, have chosen to avoid it altogether.

There are a few basic scriptural texts for church discipline: Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 13:1-11, and Galatians 6:1.  At the heart of all of these texts are a few principles…

  • The holiness of the church. Let’s be clear: the church is full of messed up people.  Everyone from the lead pastor to the first time guest are wicked sinners that deserve hell but are offered grace (be encouraged).  But each believing member of the church is to be on a continual journey towards Christlikeness.  We’re to encourage one another, teach one another, and when necessary, rebuke one another.  There are times when I need the guys  in my small group to get in my face, and times when I need to get in theirs.  It’s what Proverbs calls “iron sharpening iron” and it’s needed in order to keep the church as both a beacon of hope for those who are seeking and a viable greenhouse for growth for those who have found Christ.  In short, people need to see something different about the church.
  • The restoration of the fallen. Church discipline was never meant to be a nanny-nanny-boo-boo shame fest for grownups.  There is one primary impetus behind discipline, and that’s restoration.  The teachings of Jesus and Paul (see the verses cited above) had loving restoration as the goal, not public humiliation.  We restore the fallen when we help in broken marriages, when we intervene in someone’s addiction, and when we confront someone’s persistent life-wrecking issues.
  • The appropriate circle of confession. Just like discipleship, discipline happens best in relationships.  Jesus’ model in Matthew 18 kept the circle of confession small…just between the offender and the offendee (look at me, making up words).  Church discipline “goes public” only when absolutely necessary – i.e., when the one who sins refuses to turn away from their sin.
  • The matter of unrepentant sin.  We are not talking about an issue where someone is simply struggling with sin. In the examples throughout scripture, the final phases of public discipline only occurred in situations where people were willfully embracing their sin and turning their back on biblical accountability and authority.  There’s no need for discipline when sin is recognized, confessed, and worked through in accountable relationships. This is the example laid out for us in 1 John, chapters 1-2. In that passage, John reminds us that Christians still sin, but when we have a besetting sin (anger, lying, lust, etc.) we should have other believers in our lives that will walk through that process with us.

So how does this happen at the Summit?  On a practical level, you’ll very rarely hear about a case of church discipline, because it tends to fall to principle #3 above.  Our small group leaders are champs at shepherding and loving their people and helping guide them through areas of unrepentant sin.  We’ve had several cases which have come before the church’s directional elders, and in those cases we hold the principle of restoration as key.  Do we always get it 100% right? Absolutely not.  But our goal is to make sure that each situation is fully investigated, the truth is known, and people are lovingly restored to fellowship within the body.

Here are a couple of resources you might find helpful.  The first deals with a comprehensive treatment of discipline in the local church, and the second is a grace-based approach to how messed-up people help messed-up people.

A few weeks ago I was walking into a gas station because I heard the pitiful screams of a candy bar asking to be rescued and then eaten.  Just a few steps ahead of me was a woman in her early 50’s.  As she got to the door she stopped, turned around, and with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen said, “I’ll bet you’re a gentleman!”

Of course, that was my signal to catch up to her and grab the door and let her go in, which I was happy to do.  But that comment has stayed with me.  Why in the world did she label me as a gentleman?  Is it something she says to all the guys?  Is she a bigger germophobe than I am and wanted somebody else to touch the funky gas station door handle?  Was my deep south upbringing shining through and she just knew that I was a guy who says, “Yes ma’am,” “No sir,” and “Please pass the grits.”?

I know the truth: I’m not always a gentleman.  I interrupt people when they’re talking.  I believe a good burp should be shared.  Sometimes I slurp my coffee.  I don’t know why gentlemanly vibes were being spewed forth that particular day, but I know that this lady held that as an assumption.

She assumed that I was a gentleman, and therefore assumed I’d hold the door.  She assumed I was a gentleman, and therefore assumed I’d be happy to serve her.  She assumed I was a gentleman, and therefore assumed that I would accommodate her request with a smile rather than rolling my eyes and ignoring her.

The same things happen with guests at our churches.  Every single Sunday, our guests hold assumptions.  They assume we’re friendly or we’re cold.  They assume we’re happy to see them come or glad to see them go.  They assume they’ll be welcomed as family or shunned as a stranger.  Every guest comes with assumptions.

Every single guest.  Every single Sunday.

What assumptions do guests hold about your church?  Are they the right assumptions?  Do you constantly surprise and delight your guests by proving them wrong, or disappoint them by proving them right?

Look at your church through the eyes of your guests.  What do they assume?  What’s correct?  What’s incorrect?  And how can you make sure their assumptions are the right one?

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