Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Godliness doesn't just happen to you ...

The best Personal Trainers I have observed as a Personal Trainer myself are those who train their clients to train themselves.

I say that because, at some point, the work of training a client comes to an end. If at that time the client hasn't learned how to continue with their training on their own, their fitness (and perhaps even their health) will very quickly regress. The training needs to last a lifetime, although working with any specific trainer is usually for just a period of time.

While the client may continue their training by working out with friends or participating in classes or group training, at some point the client needs to have the knowledge and skills to maintain their fitness gains, as well as continue to pursue and achieve ongoing fitness goals for their seasons of life. Over time, a client may return for periods of training, or training for specific needs, sports, activities or events, but ultimately the client needs to be able to become a capable trainer for him/herself. That includes being able to push and motivate themselves to do what they need to do, instead of always having someone to push them through their goals.

As I have observed people trying to build their fitness and improve or regain their health, it has often reminded me of a greater training scripture calls us to. The Apostle Paul described it this way in 1 Timothy 4:7-9:

"Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives' tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. 'Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.' This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it."

We are all used to some kind of training. We're trained to walk and to talk, to read and to write; we're trained in school subjects and a variety of sports; and we're trained for careers, as well as for hobbies and interests. Training is a common part of life.

But what are you doing to actually "train" yourself to be godly?

Just as walking into a gym doesn't make you fit, walking into a church building or praying "the sinner's prayer" doesn't make you godly. It requires training.

Is godliness both a priority and a goal for you? Do you have a spiritual training regimen to train yourself in godliness? What are you doing to stay spiritually fit and grow in godliness?


Monday, August 30, 2010

Enduring life's fail whale ...

I love the honesty of Twitter when it is at its least functional.

If you're a user of Twitter, you've likely experienced those occasions when the website is so overwhelmed it posts its "fail whale" along with the statement: "Twitter is over capacity." The statement is honest and to the point, the site is experiencing more demand than it can handle.

These are the common growth pains of sites such as Twitter. As they "grow," they sometimes experience more demand than capacity. But as they endure through these situations, they respond by building their capacity to meet the needs of those they serve.

Sometimes, life can be like a bad day for Twitter.

Sometimes, we can be pulled in so many directions, or have so many demands or distractions placed on us that we can become overwhelmed. Sometimes we can feel like the best we can do is say, "I'm over capacity."

James speaks directly to this situation in James 1:2-4, "2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

Our capacity to endure what life throws our way grows through experiences that push our limits ... precisely the kind of experiences most of us don't enjoy! But exactly the kind of experiences we all need.

How is God growing you by allowing your faith to be tested? Are you viewing these situations as opportunities for your endurance to grow? What do you do when you feel like you're over capacity?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When being grateful isn't enough ...

Sometimes being grateful isn't enough.

You likely have experienced a situation where someone has done something of such significance for you there wasn't an adequate means of showing appreciation, and all you could do was say thanks. In moments like that, a simple yet gracious "thank you" is sufficient, and usually received as such.

But when it comes to responding appropriately to Jesus Christ, being grateful isn't enough.

It's not enough to simply say "thanks" to Jesus, then go your own way in life.

He made your life. He sustains your life. He purchased your life by the sacrifice of His own so that you may have eternal life. So He owns your life. For all that, and more, being grateful isn't enough. Luke 9:24-25 records the words of Jesus as He directly addresses what is the appropriate response from us toward Him, "24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?"

Jesus gets very specific about how we should respond to Him in verse 23: "
Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me'."

Notice Jesus doesn't make vague suggestions or toss out recommendations for responding to Him. He states clearly and directly what we must do in order to be one of His followers. After what He has done for us, it is no longer acceptable to continue on with life "as usual." And regardless of how heartfelt it might be, a "thank you" isn't enough.

We can never repay Jesus for what He has done, and continues to do, for us. But we can respond appropriately with our lives. Are you responding according to the clear direction Jesus has given, or are you trying to get by with a thank you?


Saturday, August 14, 2010

A simple way to improve work performance or relationships ...

Personal performance and productivity can be enhanced --- sometimes dramatically --- by putting to use a simple skill anyone can apply to whatever they do.

That simple skill which is consistently overlooked is anticipation.

Let me give you just one example of how applying anticipation can make a significant difference in what you do or within your relationships.

A few years ago, I served as Area Director in Hawaii for a national company. Upon my arrival, I was met by a team of frustrated administrative personnel who struggled with daily operations and who were burning out in their jobs. A simple factor was at the heart of their daily stress: a lack of anticipation.

The customer service reps (CSRs) who handled all of the incoming requests from referral sources, and who scheduled all of the field employees, faced challenges that occurred routinely, even daily. Yet they reacted with a high level of stress and frustration every time they faced these recurring events.

By teaching the administrative personnel to apply anticipation to their work, they were able to prepare for these recurring challenges, which resulted in better outcomes, greater productivity, improved performance, and much less stress.

For example, a CSR could anticipate they would have at least one field staff member call out sick on a scheduled assignment. By anticipating this, the CSR could make sure they had a few field staff available on-call to meet any staffing needs due to call-outs. By doing this, the service provided to our clients was seamless since the CSR didn't have to scramble at the last minute to find a field staffer to fill in for the employee who called out sick.

Not only can anticipation be applied to the tasks of our work, but also to our relationships as well. We can anticipate certain known needs or desires of the people who are consistently a part of our lives. By anticipating these things, we can prepare ourselves with responses that best meet the situation.

Anticipation can be something we do simply, by taking time at the start or end of a day to prepare ourselves for work. Or we can make time to look more deeply at the relationships, work, and activities of our lives and, through anticipation, build better attitudes and actions to bring to each of these areas.

The quality and level of anticipation we bring to what we do, and to our relationships, directly impacts our personal performance, productivity, stress levels, and the actual outcomes of our work and interactions. Yet it's something we often give little attention to. However, look at the possibilities:
  • If you developed a list of the things you could anticipate about your job, how could you use that information to develop better attitudes and actions to apply to those situations when they occur?
  • If you developed a list of the things you could anticipate about your spouse or children, how could you use that information to enhance your relationships?
  • If you wanted to learn to surf, what difficulties could you anticipate, and thus prepare for? If you wanted to write a novel, what challenges could you anticipate and prepare for? For the various things you want to accomplish, what can you first anticipate, and then how can you use that information to generate desired outcomes?
How do you apply the concept of anticipation to what you do and who you interact with? How could you improve your work or relationships by better anticipating the demands placed on you in any aspect of life?


Friday, August 13, 2010

To accomplish more, you have to require more ...

Having too low a standard is a primary reason why many church leaders have a problem recruiting church members to serve in various positions within the church.

It's often believed the problem is that people are too busy and can't be asked to do too much. While it's true a lot of people are busy, even the busiest make time to do what they believe in, and are willing to commit to the degree they can provide quality service.

Let me give you just one case history.

Several years ago I was asked to help a small church that was stagnating. It's Christian education ministry was in death throes. The leadership begged and pleaded for people to serve for one week at a time, which meant they spent most of their time and energy trying to plug holes. That meant the quality of the ministry was terrible. The non-paid leaders were nearly burned out.

When I met with the ministry and church leaders, they told me something you don't often hear, but would turn out to be pivotal for turning things around. They said: "We're burned out, and we need help now. Things have to change now. We don't want you to take months getting to know everyone and doing something slowly, we have to change things now."

I loved that! With a burning desire to really do something, we were able to launch a complete, new Christian education program within 45 days of our meeting.

Key to turning things around was developing a higher set of expectations for everyone involved in the Christian education ministry of the church. The beginning point was to get the membership to agree to what the mission of that ministry was, and in order for us to accomplish our objectives we had to be committed to what it would take, and be willing to truly invest in and commit to building a quality program that made disciples.

In the past, someone was recruited for an open position, then thrown to the wolves. They didn't receive any training, guidance, or support for the work they were asked to do. There was no direction, no goals, no objectives. It was all about not drowning. Then the person was left in the position until they burned out or quit. No wonder they couldn't recruit anyone to serve!

In the new program, anyone serving in a position had to make a one year commitment. That new standard was pivotal to the success of the new program. At first, the leaders thought I was crazy. How could we ask people to serve for a year when they couldn't recruit people to serve for a week? Here's how:
  • It was obvious to everyone that a piecemeal approach didn't work. By building agreement to that, it was clear that a commitment was needed to build something that would achieve the mission of the ministry.
  • Then, we eliminated the "fear elements." In the past, people were put into a position and then left there until they burned out or quit. We changed that. I made a promise that before the end of their year of service, I personally would sit down privately with each person serving in the Christian education ministry and would offer them three options, 1) they could renew their commitment for another year, 2) they could step out of their current position to serve in another area in the church, or 3) they could take a break. I promised them that, regardless of the choice they made, there would not be any false guilt heaped upon them, or any effort to change their decision. In fact, we would ONLY thank them for their service, and shortly after the renewal evaluations were done, we would host a banquet in honor of all those serving in that area of ministry (which we did annually, something everyone in the Christian education ministry looked forward to and appreciated).
  • Before anyone could serve in the Christian education ministry, they would be required to go through a training program so they could actually be adequately equipped to do the work they were being recruited to do. Additionally, they would be fully supplied with the best curriculum and materials available to help them be successful (that actually required writing a custom two-year curriculums for one of the areas of ministry).
  • Throughout the year, they would be fully supported by the leaders of the ministry and the church. Additionally, we would have trained substitutes available to relieve them for vacation, illness, emergencies, or for a valid reason why they would need to temporarily be away from their position during their year of commitment.
By putting all of these things into place, we were able to fill every position, as well as recruit and train substitutes. The outcome was that, during the five years I worked with this church, we maintained a very high level of retention among those serving in this ministry. Perhaps two or three people annually would choose to transition to another area of service (which kept them actively serving) and only occasionally did someone say they were taking a year off. Along with a high retention rate, more people were interested in serving because of the whole opportunity for service we had built.

The key to so few saying they wanted a break was changing the entire environment of service. Instead of serving being seen as something you were "thrown into" without being equipped, guided, supported or appreciated, church members now had an opportunity to be equipped for service and fully supported while being a part of a team that was dedicated to making a real, quality impact in the lives of those they served. This resulted in a enthusiasm for ministering to others that led to significant spiritual and numerical growth in the church.

The turn-around from stagnation to consistent, healthy growth in the life of this church hinged on asking more of people rather than less. By implementing a higher standard, people became enthused about being a part of something of quality that actually achieved results. However, while raising the standard of commitment was crucial, what had to be included with that was a commitment to train and support workers, as well as a genuine expression of appreciation for the hard work they provided.

Are you asking too little of the people in your church? Are you making excuses for having low standards and expectations? What kind of commitment would the people in your local church need to reach in order to take your church to the next level of growth? How can you challenge your church to that level of service?


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A leadership myth ...

A problem with the addiction to "leadership" from many of today's leaders is that much of what is bandied around as "leadership wisdom" is little more than platitudes common to social media and calendars.

Here's one common thought you see passed as a leadership insight: that good leaders are not managers.

Nothing could be more inaccurate!

Successful leadership requires good management skill. Leadership is more than being a thought leader. It's more than developing a vision, pointing in a direction, and then leaving all the work to the followers.

To turn a vision into a reality, a leader must have reliable management skills in order to guide change, growth and progress. As a leader, you have people and processes that have to be managed.

Consider the shepherd of biblical days, the very character from which biblical leadership is often drawn from. A shepherd spends far more time managing a flock than leading it. Keeping his flock safe, well fed and watered, and in the right pastures is more a work of management than leadership.

Unfortunately, many who consider themselves leadership "gurus" speak condescendingly of those managers who are often the ones with their sleeves rolled up really making things happen.

Good management skills are not something to be shunned or ashamed of, but rather, something to be honed and applied as part of the work that a good leader does.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life as a parrot ...

By the time the young woman was done talking, I was tempted to offer her a cracker. Beneath the outer facade, she must have been a parrot!

That's because after talking nearly non-stop for an hour or so, there was very little she had said that came from herself. Much of what she had to say was something she had heard others say, and she did a fine job of repeating all the common "Christian" phrases and platitudes you often hear people say. Yet it was obvious that with the slightest challenge to her statements, she would not be able to explain or defend much of what she had said.

She was living the life of a parrot.

One of the biggest problems the church faces today is that many Christians live their lives based on what they think the Bible says, rather than what it actually says. Instead of studying the Word and learning it themselves, they rely on what pastors, elders, Sunday school teachers or small group leaders tell them. They listen to well-known Christian speakers and adopt what they say for what they believe. Then they repeat what they've been told without a personal understanding of the content, they just know it sounds good and came from a leader, so it should be true.

Many leaders make the same mistake. They listen to their favorite speakers and "parrot" what they hear and read. Much of what comes from leaders today originated from some other leader who actually did the work of studying, learning, and developing an understanding which they then share with others who parrot their work.

The result is parrots being led by parrots.

The problem with that is there's no understanding or wisdom that comes from being a parrot. You might have a stock answer for many situations, but not a core of knowledge from which you have developed values you're committed to. When put to the test, you can't explain what you thought you believe because there's no roots to your statements, only the words of someone else you've listened to.

In order to avoid being a parrot, you have to "own" your own knowledge. You have to do the study that develops a personal, internal understanding from a knowledge base which you can use to assess the world around you and make wise decisions. Otherwise, you will overly rely on what others tell you or what you hear as your source for knowledge and values.

Have you built your beliefs and values from personal study that has created a knowledge base from which you draw on for understanding? Or are you basing life largely on what you have been told by others? Could you explain what you believe, and why you believe it?


Monday, August 9, 2010

What to do with some of your best ideas ...

Do you want to develop a creative and innovative team?

Do you want to develop a productive team?

Do you want to develop a loyal team?

Then share some of your best ideas with your team members in such a way they think they came up with the ideas on their own, then praise them for their accomplishment!

Leaders usually gain their positions not simply for their capacity to achieve operationally, but for being thought leaders in their area of work. Leaders become leaders because they have had the better ideas that have achieved more success than others. Because of this, the temptation for leaders is to keep every great idea as being their own "brain child" so they can receive all the reward for themselves. The result of such a leadership approach is to pit yourself against your own team members.

Instead of doing that, you will spark greater creativity and innovation from your team members by leading them to the edges of great ideas so they can see possibilities and then run with them. This helps your team members to stretch their own thinking and experience a sense of creativity and innovation that will likely teach them how to expand their thinking and motivate them to push their own level of creativity and innovation.

The goal of a leader isn't to constantly outshine his or her team members, but to use their gifts, talents, skills and experience to create opportunities for their team members to succeed and grow.

Leaders who are stingy with ideas will develop teams who work against them rather than teams that are working in unison with them. Additionally, you'll be earning the loyalty of your teammates when they see your direct contribution to their success.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Get this right and you can affect outcomes ...

One of the most overlooked yet pivotal elements to outcomes of almost anything we pursue is the vital element of timing.

If you get into the stock market at the wrong time, you'll suffer for it. But if you invest at the right time, you could be richly rewarded.

If you press the yellow light and wind up running a red light instead, you could face a ticket or worse.

If you go into your bosses' office to ask for that raise right after he gets yelled at by his boss, you may regret bringing up the subject. If you mention it after snagging a new client, you could soon find yourself in a new tax bracket.

And if you've ever cried from laughing so hard at a talented comedian, you know how vital timing is to telling a funny story or a great joke.

In all of these --- and so many other instances in life --- timing is vital to achieving the result we want. What that often means is that we do what is necessary on our part to achieve the results we're striving for, but we wait on the full execution until just the right time.

The same is true with God.

God is the master of timing. Look closely at what Paul wrote about God's timing in Galatians 4:4-5, "4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children."

At just the right time in human history --- not a moment before, or a second too slow --- God sent His Son into this world to execute His plan of salvation for us.

Too often we think God isn't listening to our prayers, that He may not even care because we don't see Him acting now. Just because God doesn't act according to our idea of "good timing" doesn't mean He hasn't heard, doesn't care, or isn't active in our lives. Often, He's waiting for just the right time in order to bring about what's best for us rather than something far less beneficial now.

God isn't hung up on an inferior concept of expediency. His timing is perfect.

So if you really want God's best for your life, wait for it ... wait for it ...


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How patience trumps power ...

Have you ever thought about what you might do if you could change anything with, literally, a wiggle of your nose?

It wouldn't have to be something huge. You could just wiggle your nose and the house would be clean. Just wiggle your nose and the laundry would be done and put away. Just wiggle your nose and dinner would be cooked, on the table, and the kitchen already cleaned. Or just wiggle your nose and the yard is mowed. Or the shopping is done.

Just wiggle your nose and you're successful at work. Or better yet, just wiggle your nose and you have a big bank account so you don't have to work. Just wiggle your nose and ...

Samantha Stephens could make anything happen by wiggling her nose. Well, at least her character on the TV sitcom "Bewitched" could. That was one of the shows in my early childhood we weren't allowed to watch much of since my dad didn't like the idea of some of the characters being witches.

What seemed to confuse me at the time was how Samantha's husband, Darrin, didn't want Samantha to do anything by magic. He tried (and often failed) to insist that his wife not bring any magic into their home. As a kid, that never made sense to me. If all you had to do was wiggle your nose and you could do just about anything, why wouldn't you develop your nose-wiggling skills?

Because Proverbs 16:32a says this: "Better to be patient than powerful ..."

If all we had to do is wiggle our noses to accomplish most things, or have almost anything we desire, we would have a lot of worldly things and very little character.

When we have the power to produce without effort, we eliminate experience that molds and shapes our character. When we have to forge outcomes from circumstances and work our way to positive results, our character is shaped by the challenges we have to endure.

In other words, having to exercise patience shapes us into better people than if we simply had the power to make things happen with the wiggle of a nose.

How is the need for exercising patience an opportunity for you to grow? How has applying patience in the circumstances of your life made you a better person? What do you need to apply greater patience to in your life today?