Leading When Things Are Going Well

March 20, 2018

He was the leader of his organization.

In this case, the plant manager of a manufacturing company. He was responsible for overseeing 650 people producing the company’s products.

He was bored. Wandering around aimlessly. Unsure what to do. There were no emergencies. No one was calling about parts shortages or quality problems or production behind schedule.

What do you do when things seem to be going well? His assistant, the plant engineer, told him, “Just relax. When there are no problems, just enjoy it.”

This could have been any organization.

What if you are the leader? You’ve organized the project or process and things are proceeding according to plan. What do you do?

Ah, but we are talking human endeavors. When we begin involving many people–could be 6, could be 600–circumstances become complex. We could bet that somewhere, sometime, the process will begin to drift from stable to unstable. Something to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

At this stage of a project or process, there are things we had best be doing or we’ll soon find ourselves under water.


In Lean thinking, we call it Gemba. A 1980s guru called it “Managing by Wandering Around.” Go out to the scene. Check the data.


Study what other people are doing. Read about current technology trends. Are there ideas from somewhere that would make the product, process, or people better? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can save us from a disintegrating situation.


Gather some people together from an area of the plant or process. Encourage thinking about how to improve. Hint: things can always be improved.


A leader’s job isn’t just “putting out fires.” Leaders must be looking ahead and behind. Observing people and process.

Let Us Describe Our Congregation

March 18, 2018

A professor of political science loved to condense his tests to three “compare and contrast” essay questions. I’m hooked. Once while teaching seventh-grade writing, I had the class compare and contrast a sonnet from Shakespeare with a poem by Paul Simon.

The song has been going through my head for several days. I hope by writing this that song will go away (only to be replaced by something similar, I suppose).

Paul the Apostle wrote several times about the various people in a church congregation. For example, I’ve been reading Romans 12 almost daily for a month. Here he lists:

  • Prophecy
  • Ministry
  • Teaching
  • Exhorter
  • Giver
  • Leader
  • Compassionate

Does your church resemble this? For some strange reason, I keep thinking maybe it resembles a zoo? “They say it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it, I do believe it’s true.”

The monkeys stand for honesty
Giraffes are insincere
And the elephants are kindly but they’re dumb
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum
Zebras are reactionaries
Antelopes are missionaries
Pigeons plot in secrecy
And hamsters turn on frequently
What a gas, you gotta come and see
At the zoo

Does Paul Simon come closer to describing your group than Paul the Apostle? How do you cope? Where do you fit?

Yes, we don’t all bring all of our positive characteristics and talents to church all the time. We usually bring our foibles, problems, preconceived opinions, sins. We look for acceptance, change, a mission.

And now, I have passed the song off to you–and maybe I’ll sing with the Monkees “I’m a Believer.”

Is 10 AM Sunday Still The Most Segregated Time In America

March 16, 2018

Have you ever tried to explain Christianity to a person of another faith? Especially also of a different color? Or–for us Midwesterners–explaining “Trump Country” to urban people?

I’m always torn between amusement and sadness when I read things from the urban coastal areas (not to mention Washington) trying to figure out people from the rural middle of the country. Neither side has a clue about the other.

The New York Times recently explored the effects of the 2016 election with the visible racial references upon “evangelical” churches who had been trying to bring black people and other “people of color” into their communities yet supported a candidate who was openly disdainful of those people. It was an interesting article, albeit limited. They sent a reporter to Dallas to interview a half-dozen African-American women about their experience in a church turned political organization.

They all “lost that lovin’ feeling” and left.

That is all anecdotal. Not all churches are like a Baptist church in Texas.

But…look around at your worship time. Does everyone look the same? Is everyone from the same economic strata? Is anyone free to voice a differing opinion?

On the other hand, I once tried to explain why there are so many varieties of Christian churches and why they don’t seem to like each other to a person of the Sikh faith. That religion teaches tolerance of all religions. So it is confusing to them that people of one religion fight so much within the faith.

I can explain how it happened, perhaps. Why is another matter. What happened to our focus on Jesus over hundreds of years that we are so split, and argumentative, and focused on matters other than salvation and living a life with God? Why have we become the Pharisees that Jesus battled against?

Like I say–stop, look around, see what’s happening. Are we doing things to drive people away? Or, are we living the love Jesus taught such that we attract people of all nationalities and conditions? The first evangelist we read of who went outside the Jewish community with the gospel first went to the people group Jews hated the most. After converting many, he proceeded to explain the scriptures and convert a black man who was ceremonially unclean since he could not procreate (the Ethiopian eunuch).

What are we doing?

It’s A Book of Cool Stories

March 15, 2018

Stories, I said.

Stories? He replied.

I was explaining about beginning the study of the Book of Acts of the Apostles. I told the man who was somewhat new to study that it is a book of cool stories.

Like the married couple who decided to lie to their friends in the church, to the leaders, and to God. They wanted to look good to the people, but they were greedy and wanted to keep some of the money back for themselves.

They lied to God. He struck them dead on the spot.

There is drama for you.

Or three quick stories about Philip–an important guy we otherwise never hear about. In one, he has a conversation with a Samaritan town. In another he discusses Scripture and Jesus with a black man who is sexually incomplete. Not your typical Jewish stories. Many were healed, converted, baptized.

Lots of stories about Paul. Intrigue, danger, escape. Friends, hope, lives changed.

How does our story fit?

Turning Expectations Into Gratitude

March 14, 2018

We ran to the Christmas Tree early Christmas morning expecting a wealth of toys.

Now trained, we continue to be trained through ceaseless advertisements and commercial messages. Even within TV shows and movies are subtle and not-so-subtle messages from advertisers.

We marry. As Andy Stanley has been walking us through he current series of message he explains how we bring a box of expectations into relationship. We expect our spouse to fulfill those expectations. It’s Christmas all over again.

I’m in a hotel room for the fifth straight week (only three on business, though). Sometimes my expectation is free WiFi and a mediocre cup of coffee!

Perhaps we would live a better life if we exchanged our expectations for gratitude.

Instead of the disappointment of not getting what we expected at Christmas, gratitude for what we did received–plus for a family with whom to celebrate.

Instead of frustration about a spouse and shock of discovering that they also brought a box of expectations that we are supposed to fulfill, gratitude at having a relationship at all. Some of us don’t deserve what we got. Be grateful.

Instead of a world where politics seems insane and people are angry all the time, gratitude that it is God’s world and for people who are helpful and kind and loving.

Ah, gratitude for that great cup of coffee–well, not exactly great, but it is coffee. And it’s 5:30 am, and I’m meeting people at 7 to go to a 7:15 meeting. And I’m grateful for that coffee!

Extending Love In Everyday Situations

March 13, 2018

“And then I felt his hand going up my dress. When I brushed it away and said ‘No’, he wrote a big ‘0’ in the place for a tip.” –A server interviewed by The New York Times

The life of a server in a restaurant or bar involves dealing with all manner of people from nice to aloof to rude to threatening. Restaurant owners in the US have discovered that they don’t have to pay them, either. Maybe they give $2.00 per hour. It is expected that customers pay the servers through their tips.

Remember when the recommended amount was 15% for good service? Then 20%? Now restaurant owners are suggesting 25%.

Traveling to other countries is a challenge. In some no tipping is customary. I was just in The Netherlands. I looked up online what was customary and how it is usually given.

The State of New York is considering legislation mandating a minimum wage for servers to help the situation. So, The New York Times sent a reporter to interview servers. Hence the quote at the beginning.

The challenge for women is how to be friendly, maybe a little flirty, in order to get people to tip without encouraging bad behaviour. It’s a fine line in many instances. You never know that men with a couple of “adult beverages” will do.

Therefore the commandments given to help us live a good life. Treat others with respect as we expect to be treated.

Women can be boorish, demanding, and cheap, I suppose. But some men go way too far into threatening behaviour.

Going out for a good time and a good meal doesn’t give us a license to forget our instructions on how to live. A smile, a kind word, and, yes, an appropriate tip, can make someone’s day.

Do Not Over Think

March 12, 2018

“Do not overthink. Call the simple fouls.” Advice to soccer referees preparing for the new season.

OK, this is odd advice coming from the guy whose basic life orientation is to think and analyze. But maybe it’s why I have liked the challenge of refereeing soccer for the past 30 years. When you focus on each challenge in a match, you don’t have time to think too much. It’s feel for the flow of the game, the reactions of the players, and what serves justice.

Do not overthink.

My morning reading in Romans. “The commandments…are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

When Jesus gave this command the Pharisees, those overachievers in thinking too much, started questioning. “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus responded with a story whose hero was member of a despised race of people–sort of like an illegal immigrant. In other words, everyone is our neighbor–even those we despise personally.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.

Consider this when deciding what to do with your money.

Consider this with every person you come into contact with.

Consider this with your politics.

Consider this within your church and groups.

How do I live each moment as if Jesus and Paul actually meant for me to live this way? In the flow of the moment; without overthinking it?

Judging and Accepting

March 9, 2018

My friend from India upon hearing about my growing up in an all-white community within an almost all-white area asked about when I first met an African-American person in college, “How did you react? Was it curiosity? Was it with a feeling of repulsion? Or fear?”

I replied, “No, pretty much just like any human. I notice things about people, but I didn’t notice anything in particular about black people.”

But, I had to admit, that when I meet a very tattooed and pierced person today that I need to quickly step back in my mind and have an attitude adjustment. Then, when I talk with them, I almost always find a very nice person within.

I was listening to John Ortberg recently. He was talking about judging. He challenged us to find one place in the New Testament were Jesus judged people. As Ortberg put it, “Jesus connected with people, not corrected them.”

The challenge for us is–can we change our judging attitude into an attitude of acceptance?

Accept people; don’t judge people. Perhaps my new motto.

Have Christians Lost Personal Moral Responsibility

March 8, 2018

Just like perhaps 1,000 generations of humans before me, I am sitting above the beach staring across the Pacific Ocean pondering the greatness of God and the vastness of his creation.

I’m visiting a friend who always sparks deep spiritual discussions. Lots of thinking and re-thinking.

On the plane out to California, I went over my notes from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. He discussed a 19th Century philosopher who surveyed the culture of Europe at the time and perceived that because of the Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace through faith, they had forgotten the moral imperative to live like Jesus said.

The perception of the European Church at the time was that church leaders willing took money from rich people and told poor people that they would get their reward in heaven after they died. Salvation by faith–but no moral works until then.

Both Nietzsche and Marx may not have known, but they could have said that the overemphasis on one chapter of Romans wiped out the instructions of the four gospels plus the writing of James.

My friend was asking about Christianity. I told him it was two things.

First, there is the resurrection of Jesus. Without that, then we’d just be a Jewish sect.

Second, there is (to use a church word) repentance. That means that we are to stop living the life we have been living and turn around and live a life with-God, filled with the Spirit.

You cannot read the entire New Testament and believe that everything ends with the profession of faith. Indeed, everything begins with it. From that point on, we participate in eternal life because of the way we live. That, my friends, is the moral responsibility that Nietzsche thought we had lost.

It is time that we stop, look around, and see where we stand. Has our life stopped at faith? Or, has it begun in earnest because of the faith?

Am I an Evangelical

March 7, 2018

I’ve noticed a shift in terminology using the word evangelical in news accounts of groups of Christian believers. Then I heard a speaker from Sunday talk about what it means to be an evangelical. Except he didn’t explain. He just mentioned he had studied it.

I thought it was a term rooted in the New Testament referring to spreading the “good news”, euangelium or evangelium.

I thought, how about doing a little research before writing this post.

Well, some time later after a deep dive into Wikipedia and other sources…I have no clue. The term sort of started in the 16th century. Then was adapted in 1731. Then again in the 1800s.

In the 1970s, I joined a loosely organized group, Evangelicals for Social Action–a group that said “What if Jesus really meant what he said?”

I still like that attitude.

Evangelical seems to be a rebranding of the older term “fundamentalist” these days, most often referring to those with a conservative political bias. That leaves me out.

The Good News is that Jesus lived, died, and resurrected. It is also that we follow Jesus as a disciple follows a master. We try to do what he said and live like he lived.

I think I will just give up on whatever the meaning du jour is and just be a follower of Jesus. Sounds simpler. Maybe he really did mean what he said and meant for us to live that life!