Learning Curve


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(click for photo credit)

My kids’ school system could take a lesson in getting to the point.  On snow days or snow-delayed days, we receive an automated 5 AM phone call to let us know the status closings or delays.  This is an almost word for word recap of what they say:

Hello, this is [guy’s name], superintendent of the [I’m not telling you which school my kid goes to, stalker] County School System, calling to update you on the status of school closings for [today’s date].

Road conditions in the county have deteriorated overnight because of the winter precipitation that began last evening.  We have had crews out since 4:00 this morning, surveying road conditions to see if they are safe enough for buses and our teenage student drivers.

Because safety is of the utmost priority, we want to make sure that we take utmost precautions when making a decision on closings or delays.  Although most of the primary roads have been cleared, some outlying areas might still have slick road surfaces, especially because temperatures are hovering around freezing, the barometric pressure is 29 and falling, and my artificial hip is flaring up again…

 

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Think about the things that end up on your to do list every day: there are emails to answer, phone calls to return, a hundred little tasks that compete for your attention, and probably a half dozen major projects that need your focus.

Out of all of those things, what’s on the list that only you can do? What are the things that most need your brain, your vision, your passion, influence, and direction?

For years I’ve struggled with trying to do it all…doing things that I’m not great at, but doing them anyway because I’m s’posed to. Thankfully, God has surrounded me with a great team who know when I’m operating out of my zone. I have an administrative assistant who is gutsy enough to say, “You stink at that. Let me handle it.”

And because people on my team do what they do, they free me to do what do.

So what’s on your to do list that you don’t need to do?

And what’s on the “do what only you can do” list?

When you figure that out, you begin to operate out of the giftings that God has given you. Crank up your “you do” list today.

 

For more on this subject, read the helpful and handy little book The Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley.

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(click for photo credit)

The chances are good that there are a few pastors sitting down at their desk, sipping a cup of coffee, and spotting this post in their blog feed just before starting work. And that “work” may be nowhere close to a church office or the pulpit they preached in on Sunday.

My name is Danny, and I’m a former bivocational pastor.

I did the bi-vo gig for a decade. I was always a pastor plus something else: Pastor + full time student. Pastor + 40 hour a week job. Pastor + full time student + 40 hour a week job. (I still compulsively chew on some stress meds just thinking about that one.)

Hardly a week went by that I didn’t curse my status in life. (Scratch that. I questioned it. Because good Baptist bi-vo’s don’t curse.) I wasted my day job for years because I saw it as a stepping stone on the way to somewhere else, not as a part of the journey where God had sovereignly, graciously placed me.

But then I came across this passage, which seemed custom-crafted for a guy who watched the clock in order to get back to doing the stuff he loved:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. (Psalm 37:3-6)

Befriend faithfulness. Your translation may say cultivate faithfulness. Your coffee cup or grandma’s cross stitch might phrase it Bloom where you’re planted (though I wouldn’t necessarily endorse that one). You can even hijack it to say things like “If I do A, God will do B.” (Please don’t make that mistake.)

But however you cut it, the scriptures say that we are to be faithful where we’ve been placed, to delight ourselves in Jesus before we grouse about our circumstances.

I had to learn that slowly over the course of a decade. But once I began to understand this passage, I saw that there was a method behind the madness:

Those customers I dealt with day after day? They helped me understand the importance of knowing people by name and caring about their needs.

The monotonous tagging and bagging I did as a part time seminary dry cleaner? (Shut up. I did too.) It taught me that details matter.

The coworkers I shared life with? They helped me to understand that we all have a story, and we all walk around as people in need of hope.

If you’re a bivocational minister, I’m praying for you especially today. I know it’s hard. I know there are days when you’d like to cash in your chips and take your chances on doing ministry while living under a bridge. But this season? It’s worth it. Your calling and God’s work is worth it. And more than that, God’s work in your life is worth it. Don’t squander the spot where he’s placed you. View that as much of your ministry as when you’re standing behind that pulpit.

Befriend faithfulness today.

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[Quick note: after I drafted this post last week, I heard from my friend Jason Young, who compiled the mother lode of guest services reading for the summer. You can find that list here or on Jason’s blog (which should be in your bookmarks, anyway). Alrighty, now on to the post…]

It’s that time once again, campers: time to dust off your beach bags and fill ’em with beach reads and head to the beach. Unless you’re like me – a guy who hates the beach – in which case you’ll stay inside out of the sunlight and as close to the air conditioning vent as is humanly possible.

There are plenty of bloggers out there who are offering up a fantastic eclectic mix of summer reads. Trevin Wax published his last week, and it’s been making the rounds quicker than a stomach bug in a first grade classroom.

I thought it might be fun to put out my seven favorite reads from the last year or so, all centered around guest services. And away we go…

Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees, Doug Lipp. Lipp trained under Van France, the first to implement Cast Member training at Disneyland. Reading this book will inspire you to capture the same kind of magic for your church vols.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Atul Gawande. You will instantly bear the title of “nerd” if you order this book. But you’ll also thank me. Gawande is a Gladwell-esque style writer who uses fantastic stories to illustrate the ingenious importance of a simple checklist. Don’t love it ’til you’ve tried it.

Secret Service: Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Customer ServiceJohn DiJulius. I’ve never recommended a book on hair salons before. And chances are, you’ve never read one. But DiJulius has captured the essence of his chain’s service with one (paraphrased) statement: “We don’t provide $100 haircuts. We provide $25 haircuts with $100 worth of experience.”

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek. Sinek unintentionally explains one of our First Impressions plumblines: the why is more important than the what. Get a grasp on how you help your volunteers know not just what they do, but why they do it.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull. We’re all fans of Pixar movies: whether it’s Toy StoryA Bug’s Life, or that classic kiddie movie about an old man whose wife died and left him to float away in his house, Pixar knows how to tell a story. Learn the method behind their team’s madness.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell. Some research says that a person will make eleven separate decisions about you within the first seven seconds of contact. How can you use that knee jerk reaction for both your benefit and theirs? Get inside the mind of your guests – and your vols – with the help of a fantastic storyteller.

Why Church Buildings Matter: The Story of Your Space, Tim Cool. Tim walks the reader through what your facility – owned or rented – says about what you value.

What about an eighth? Or a ninth? Got any great guest services reads that need to be on my reading list for the summer? Comment below.

 

Get a Load of That Trash

…It was when I drove into my hometown that I remembered the twice a year trash amnesty week.  For seven days in the spring and a matching seven in the fall, you can put anything – anything at all! – out on the sidewalk and the city will pick it up.  Reader’s Digest magazines from 1952?  They’ll get ‘em.  Broken dining room chair?  Not a problem.  Rat-infested mattress that looks like several people may or may not have died on it not that we’re asking any questions if we know what’s good for us?  You betcha.

Read the entire original post here.

Windows

My firstborn, Jacob, and I grabbed lunch at a local pizza place a few days ago. Without knowing it, we were walking in to dinner and a show: a window washer who was wowing everyone in the place with his mad skills.

He was super fast: he cleaned massive picture windows in no time flat. He was super talented: one minute he’d be washing with one hand and squeegeeing with the other, the next he would have both the brush and the squeegee in the same hand, knocking out the same work in half the time.

And all the while, he was keeping up a running dialogue with anyone who’d stop to talk: “I work fast because I hate to work. I want to get back home and get on the couch!”

For all of his anti-work braggadocio, I have a feeling that Mr. Window Washer likes his job a little more than he was letting on. He worked with a smile, he added a bit of theatrical flair, and he left the glass sparkling when he finished.

Today is Monday. Most of us are going back to our 40 or 50 or 60 hour workweeks. The question: how can you turn what you have to do into what you love to do?

Loving your work takes work. It’s not impossible, but it is countercultural. How can you highlight the work of God in the work you’ve been given?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

This post seems to appear every couple of years here, and for good reason. Max Lucado reminds us that the cross isn’t just an event in history, but a life-changing event right now. As you read, pray that the eyes of thousands would be opened this weekend and they would realize that the cross is for them.

With hands nailed open, he invited God, “Treat me as you would treat them!” And God did.  In an act that broke the heart of the Father, yet honored the holiness of heaven, sin-purging judgment flowed over the sinless Son of the ages.

And heaven gave earth her finest gift.  The Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

Read the full post here. And have a Great Friday.

Somebody's gotta launch Lego Church. Might as well be us.

Somebody’s gotta launch Lego Church. Might as well be us.

I spent the last few days in a guest services geek’s dreamland: I was fortunate enough to sit around a table with seventeen of the sharpest church hospitality minds in the country. We came from churches of different backgrounds (from maybe-sorta-traditional to hey-wow-you’re-not-traditional-at-all), churches of different sizes (from really big to good-glory-are-you-a-church-or-the-population-of-Montana), and churches with varying philosophies and approaches to how we do just about everything.

But one thing united us all, and that’s our vision that churches nationwide must step up to reach those who are far from Jesus. In addition to being missional communities who send people out, we have to be attractional communities that welcome people in. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

By the time the first sixty minutes of our conversation had elapsed, my brain was full. I picked off enough ideas and “aha!” moments to last me for months (and I’ll share many of those with you in the days to come). Even this morning – a half a day removed from the event – my mind is racing as I try to process some of the things I learned and some of the topics we discussed.

But here’s my first big takeaway: planning is not the same as dreaming. 

I plan a lot of things: from weekend volunteer teams to training opportunities to large scale events, planning runs in my blood. I love it. I love wrestling a spreadsheet under my control, ticking every little item off my to do list, and seeing it all come together at the end of the day. And the insidious nature of planning the work and working the plan is this: you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

But planning isn’t the same as dreaming. Executing a plan doesn’t mean you’ve created an experience. I can plan an event down to precise detail but never see the experience change from one time to the next. So if I never take time to dream, my plans will never really evolve into something better.

When it comes to guest services, I’m prone to take the easiest, cheapest, simplest, pragmatic-ist way out. I want it to be replicable across eight campuses. I want it to be simple for our staff and volunteer teams to understand. I dumb down the plans in the name of simplicity. But creativity is not the enemy of simplicity.

Here’s what I learned this week: sometimes you need to just dream. Forget the practical nature of what you do. Forget the budgetary constraints. Forget your lack of volunteers. Yesterday eighteen of us spent a couple of hours simply dreaming: “What if we could implement this?” “What if we had a blank check?” “What if we had an unlimited staff or a bottomless pool of volunteers or 27 hours in a day?”

When we get to the end of the “What if?” road, we know there will still be some limitations there. We’ll never have unlimited cash or the millions of volunteers we hope for. But the great thing about dreaming is that it knocks the ceiling off of some of our preconceived notions. When we get out of the world of spreadsheets and checklists and start staring into the blue sky of creativity, we see new things evolve. New initiatives arise. New values emerge. And sometimes those new insights may indeed mean just adding a couple of volunteers here or a couple hundred bucks there. But that small tweak is the thing that raises the bar and helps us truly create an experience that captures the imaginations of our guests and points them to the truths of the gospel.

So how about it, guest services friends? Ministry friends? Leader friends? Are you planning or are you dreaming?

 

To find out more about what we’ve been up to the last few days, check out a couple of posts by our fearless leader Bob Adams here and here.

 

Gandalf

As I type, I’m sitting in a local tire repair shop, getting my front driver’s side tire plugged. Or patched. Or replaced. They haven’t told me which one just yet, but I’m sure it’ll be the most expensive option, because that’s how my tire problems roll.

(I’m sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

The adventure began on Sunday afternoon on the way home from church. Merriem and I were in separate vehicles as usual (sorry, Mr. Gore), when I got a phone call telling me she was on the side of the road with a screw in the tire. This was no ordinary piece of hardware. It was a major chunk of metal. I think it might be the type of screw that holds up the Empire State Building. Heck…it may be the Empire State Building. And for once, I’m grateful that I wasn’t the one running around with a loose screw.

But I digress. We met up, switched cars, and I decided to try to make it to the repair shop on the still-mostly-inflated tire. But because I valued my life and safety (hands at ten and two, keep it below 40, no Netflix watching behind the wheel), I turned on my hazard lights and crept along in the right lane.

Now picture it: I was on two major highways (Hwy. 70 and I-85, for my local readers). There was always between two and five lanes of traffic. My hazards could be seen from a half mile back. And yet, there were still some – ahem – impatient ignoramuses who insisted on tailgating me, swerving around me, and shooting me dirty looks. And although I never saw it, I’m sure I received more than one Durham Wave. (Just like a regular wave, except with fewer fingers.)

Now my friends, I ask you: was such impatience justified? Other drivers had fair warning. They could see my hazards. They could obviously tell I wasn’t going fast enough for their preferences. In most cases the passing lane was clear and they were free to pass. So why the frustration?

In case you’re wondering, there’s a point to this story other than the one that went through my 225/60/R16’s:

if the guy ahead of you isn’t going as fast as you’d like, it’s okay to pass.

Here’s what I mean: more often than not, I’m not the smartest guy in the room or the best voice at the table. And a lot of times, my title and position possibly dictates that I ought to be. Maybe I’m talking to a group of volunteers, a new batch of interns, or a table full of much younger pastors. And though I should be leading the pack, I’m not. Whether or not I should be the fastest brain, I’m often struggling to keep up. And in those moments, I want to communicate that it’s okay to pass.

It’s okay to be smarter than your leader.

It’s okay to be more well-read on a topic.

It’s okay to bring up better ideas, smoother strategies, or cleaner systems.

Passing your leader isn’t something you need permission to do. No, it’s a gift. It’s a gift to the one leading you. It’s a gift to your peers. It’s a gift to the entire team. Don’t hold back a great idea or a valid opinion just because you feel bad about passing the guy in front of you. While it might not feel natural, it moves everyone forward.

To keep quiet and stay where you are just proves that you may have a screw loose.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

We can believe that Jesus is greater than any earthly competition for his affection. We can say that his glory should eclipse all others in our life. We can sing of our love for him, our devotion to him, our passion for him.

But while we believe, we forget.

We get into the busyness of our day, and we forget. We get into the heat of a trial, and we forget. We wrestle with the same old sins, and we forget.

What we know to be true, we forget to be true.

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