It’s Thursday, but Sunday’s Coming

The title of this post is a spin-off of S. M. Lockridge’s sermon “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” In that sermon, Pastor Lockridge is encouraging those who are discouraged by the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion to look forward to Sunday. Because on Sunday, everything is different. In this post, I also want to challenge you to look toward Sunday, but for a different reason. But, before looking forward, let’s look backward.

How was church yesterday? is a common Monday morning question among Christian friends who attend different churches. Typically, what is meant by this question relates to how much that particular individual enjoyed his or her morning at church. It may solicit an evaluation of the sermon, the music, the crowd size, the fellowship, or even the temperature in the building.

I want to look at the question from a different angle. How was church yesterday (or last Sunday) for the visitor who didn’t know anybody there? The new person in town who was invited by the highway billboard that promised “A welcoming and friendly atmosphere.” The lonely person who responded to the 30-second television advertisement with b-roll clips of people happily engaged with others as the soothing voice described the warm fellowship that happens at your church. The one who found your church on a Google search. A Google search done not so much out of interest, but desperation because of his/her life is caving in?

Regarding the experience of visitors many church consultants think in terms of convenience. Here’s a list of focus points provided by Jayson D. Bradley (sponsored by Pushpay):

  1. Signage
  2. Presentation software
  3. Giving software
  4. Service planning software
  5. A plan for capturing visitor’s contact information.

All of those certainly have value. However, that list has a glaring deficiency. What is missing? The personal touch from real people. And here, I don’t mean the happy people dressed in logo shirts standing next to the entrance. I mean regular members … the people who show up week after week, but aren’t on the Impressions Team. The regular people.

Let’s go back to that visitor’s experience at your church. Did that person feel the warmth that others describe as the normal experience at church? Did anyone express a genuine interest in that person? Or, did you pass them in the hallway as you raced to see your friends? This scene is all too common in churches today. Friends huddled together, fellowshipping with each other as visitors try to find their way in this new environment. Sometimes those visitors are committed Christians who are seeking a new church and basically know the lay of the land. In other cases, the new person may be uninitiated in all things church and are simply looking for God. If that person wanders into your church, what will they experience? Will they walk away saying, “No one was interested in me.”

It’s Thursday, but Sunday’s coming. Looking toward Sunday: How can you help visitors experience what the advertisements say they will find at church? People – even “uninteresting” people – are interesting … if you slow down and talk with them. Everybody has a story. Who – that you didn’t already know – did you initiate a meaningful conversation with in the last month?

This Sunday, will you commit to finding someone you don’t know and start a conversation with them? I don’t mean the “Hi! My name is Craig, it’s nice to have you today” then spin on my heels and walk-away conversation. I mean the conversation that attempts to know them in some meaningful way. The conversation that recognizes them as people, not as a cog in the evangelical church wheel.

You can’t have a conversation about Jesus unless … you have a conversation. #TalkToSomeoneThisSunday

The Little Things Matter

In certain of my courses I assign Bible memorization. The goal and requirement of these assignments is “word perfect.” In this context, “word perfect” means the words appear exactly as they do when you read them in a published Bible. Each mistake (e.g., missing word, additional word, wrong order) reduces the score by ten points, and five mistakes is the maximum allowed. If a student makes more than five mistakes, their score is a ZERO. Thus, the possible grades for this type of assignment are 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, or 0.

The above explanation seems fairly simple and straightforward, but students often offer push back. Sometimes they wonder why five mistakes is acceptable and six is not. My answer: Even five mistakes is not acceptable; word perfect is the goal. And, although six mistakes is only one more than five, there is a certain point at which the student simply didn’t get enough correct to warrant credit or demonstrate any level of mastery. And, five mistakes is where I draw the line. While feeling “unfair” to those who make more than five mistakes, the above system seems to offer a measure of grace while still expecting perfection; i.e., it allows some points for mediocre, even poor performance. Yet it still requires the student to produce something.

The most interesting push back, though, is from those scoring 90, which means they made only one mistake. Frequently, the complaint is, “It’s just one word.” I understand the point they are trying to make, but I’m not sure they understand the point they are actually making. To whit: “one word does not matter.” Granted, all mistakes are not equal. But since this is a training exercise and the goal is perfection, all mistakes are treated equally. One must also remember that this is God’s word the students are memorizing, so forgetting or adding one word can be critical.

On a trip to Israel in 1995, my flight boarded but was delayed. A fifteen minute delay turned into a three-hour delay, before the flight was finally rescheduled for the next day. As the captain made the announcement of the cancellation, I was standing in the doorway beside an Israeli man whose countenance dropped to the floor upon hearing the news. I tried to cheer him up by saying (in Hebrew), “Don’t worry, they will give us a nice halon.” His puzzled look, puzzled me. He didn’t say anything; he simply turned and walked away. We deplaned and were bused to the hotel the airline had provided for us. I didn’t think anything more of the oddness of my “conversation” with the Israeli man until I saw him at breakfast the next morning. Immediately upon seeing him, it occurred to me what I had said. What I intended to say was “They will give us a nice hotel” (malon). What I actually said was “They will give us a nice window.” No wonder he looked puzzled. Embarrassing, to say the least. Oh well, sometimes a mistake is simply a mistake and amounts to nothing … but a little awkwardness or humor. On the other hand …

I once read an evangelistic blog article that was making a good argument for trusting in Christ, until … “all you have to do is except Jesus.” What she meant was “accept,” which means to “consent” or “receive.” What she actually wrote, “except,” essentially means the opposite, “to exclude.” But, it’s just one word; in fact, it’s just two letters. However, those two letters can make all the difference … in eternity.

Good Leaders Communicate

I am amazed at how often leaders fail to communicate with their constituents, whether those constituents be volunteers or employees or customers. This is particularly astounding because communication in today’s world is so easy. And good communication definitely distinguishes good leaders from poor leaders.

Here, I’m speaking of flow of information … keeping everybody on the same page. Depending on the type of information and the type of organization, a variety of options exist, including social media, e-mail, regular mail, and even the old fashioned telephone call.

I’m reminded of the story of the couple celebrating their golden anniversary. After the party, the wife confessed a disappointment to her husband: “You don’t tell me you love me anymore.” Without missing a beat, the husband replied very dryly, “At our wedding, I told you I love you. When things change, I’ll let you know.”

Some leaders mistakenly follow that husband’s model. But beware: The old adage, “No news is good news,” is not usually the case in today’s world. People – clients, employees, volunteers, team members, etc. – want to know what is going on. And when they find themselves “outside the loop,” damage occurs. Sometimes trust is broken. Sometimes feelings are hurt. Every time, confidence is eroded.

I once was asked by a non-profit organization to  teach a portion of a leadership training program that was scheduled to occur semi-annually, but not on specific (i.e., predetermined) dates. I taught the first time, received good reviews, and waited for the calendar to advance. Time passed, and when the second session of the year came around, I was not informed of the start date of the program nor of the date of my portion of the training. When I happened to hear about the training program being in-progress,  I wondered why I had not been informed of the program’s start date, nor the timing of my portion.

Since he had recruited me to teach in the program, I asked the senior leader of the organization if I was teaching in the current program offering. He said he would have to check with the person directly in charge of the program (i.e., the junior leader) to find out. When the senior leader got back with me, he said that certain changes to the curriculum had been made and the portion I had taught had been eliminated from the program.

I understand that curriculum can be reevaluated and edited from time to time, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the person teaching the deleted material did a bad job. Change doesn’t always mean criticism or failure. But lack of communication in such situations certainly communicates criticism. Worse, it breaks trust. What do you think it did to my trust and confidence in these particular leaders when they failed to communicate to me that I was no longer teaching and why my participation changed? What do you think this failure to communicate did to my motivation to volunteer (time, energy, recruiting, and finances) with this organization?

On the for profit side of the coin, have you ever seen a successful company like Apple roll out a new product without letting their potential buyers know about it. Can you imagine the next iPhone rolling out without a media blitz? Can you imagine the next iPhone rolling out without the chairman of the iPhone division knowing about it? “Not possible,” you say?

I’ve heard from employees of other companies whose bosses told customers about a new product that the department leader didn’t know anything about. In fact the department leader found out about the new product when customers began to inquire with him about the product. His answer to the customer, “I don’t know anything about that,” not only gave a bad impression to the potential customer, it humiliated the employee and eroded his trust and confidence in his leader(s). That’s. Not. Good.

Leaders, please do yourself a favor: Keep your people informed. Alternatively, pull the rug out from under yourself as a leader.

 

 

 

Good Leaders Celebrate

Leaders who are interested in building a T.E.A.M. spirit, a true “we’re all in this together” spirit, celebrate victories and milestones. And here, I don’t mean their own victories and milestones; I mean the victories and milestones of their team members.

I’ve seen too many situations in which only the leader’s accomplishments are acknowledged and celebrated. That’s a poisonous atmosphere in terms of creating T.E.A.M. Often he/she will offer the humble, “I’m surprised that people noticed,” or “How did you know it’s my birthday?” type of response over the cake and congratulatory cards. But, over time it becomes apparent that only his/her birthday is recognized and celebrated in the office. Only the boss’s life milestones (e.g., birth of child/grandchild, new certification, article published, graduation or marriage of child/grandchild, new house, etc.) are publicized from the main office.

Team builders realize that the executives aren’t the only ones that have work and life milestones or accomplishments. Good leaders acknowledge the victories that are related to the job. Great leaders – T.E.A.M. builders – celebrate the non-work related milestones of their team members.

In this regard, being a great leader requires at least two things:

First, the ability to look beyond oneself. Perhaps that seems self-evident. However, not all people in leadership earned the title LEADER by building a coalescent team. In other words, they haven’t attracted people who happily follow. They are leaders by contract: “I’m the boss and you will follow my lead.” This is a toxic environment. Great leaders, look beyond themselves, see the team as larger than themselves, and recognize the members of the team.

Second, a great leader knows his/her charges well enough to know when they have life events, and acknowledge and celebrate those events. A card, a personal email, a company e-blast are easy, inexpensive ways a leader can celebrate with his/her team members. For larger milestones, a cake or small gathering of co-workers is appropriate.

I already hear the objections:

“Our company is too big. I can’t know all that kind of stuff about all the people who work here!” Okay, start by celebrating the victories of those directly under your charge, and expect them to do the same … until every last person on the flow chart is included and recognized. Make this part of the company or ministry or club DNA.

“I don’t have budget or time for this kind of stuff.” How much money or time does it take to send an email or dial an office extension and say, “Happy Birthday!”? A word of warning is particularly relevant here: Don’t simply go through the motions by doing something impersonal. You know, the faux-personal note. People know, or will soon know when the note isn’t genuine. Auto-pilot is a mistake.

I’ve seen instances where the leader had a stack of computer generated post cards and simply scribbled his/her name below a message of “encouragement” (probably prepared by someone else). The first time the person received that type of note, he/she was encouraged. The second time, thoughts of “wait a minute, this looks automated” started to creep in. The third time, the person was convinced the cards were robot-generated and all the previous good will was lost. After that, the cards went directly from the mailbox to the recycle bin.

I want to encourage leaders – in any context – to begin celebrating their team members’ accomplishments and milestones and see how much morale and T.E.A.M. spirit and unity improve. This will result in increased productivity.

Leadership and Competency

Good leaders enhance T.E.A.M. spirit by surrounding themselves with competent people. This is not to say that every member of the team is a “number one draft pick.” Rather, it is to say that leaders recruit people who have skills and a proven track record.

Competent people are encouraged and energized in the presence of other competent people. And this energy is transferred into the work environment and typically enhances output. An additional bonus is that competent people are more easily encouraged to volunteer for or hire into an organization that emphasizes competence and excellence. Notice that this principle is true for both non-profit and for-profit situations.

People who are competent in their field lose confidence in a leader, and thus the team spirit diminishes when incompetent people are regularly hired or recruited. And this is  particularly true when incompetent people are brought in (or promoted) as a favor to friends or cronies. In other words, nepotism will destroy team morale.

A clarifying word is in order here. I am not suggesting that no one should be given a chance to learn, therefore, beginners need not apply! However, the chance to learn starts not at the top, or even mid-level. It starts at the bottom, and for reasons of prospect not favoritism. As the prospect increases in knowledge, skill, and expertise, he/she should rise in responsibility and seniority.

When beginners are brought in this way and work their way up, veterans respect them and the leadership. This results in increased T.E.A.M. spirit.