Monday, March 30, 2009

On Beyond Zebra

I’ve always been a huge fan of Theodor Geisel, who is better known as Dr. Seuss. I loved reading his stories to our daughters when they were young – there is something simply joyful that stirs inside me when I read aloud a sentence like:

Barber baby bubbles and a bumblebee.
Four fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-feffer-feff.

Go ahead and read that aloud a few times – I’ll bet it makes you smile.

There's great meter, there's tons of alliteration and the alliteration is not only at the beginnings of words, but inside them, too.

What a genius with words and what an imagination to create a fifer-feffer-feff (with four fluffy feathers).

As a kid (and still as an adult) I found the illustrations in Dr. Seuss’ books to be as captivating as the alliteration. Just imagine a world filled with people like the Fuddnudler Brothers (Bipper, Bud, Skipper, Jipper, Jeffrey, Jud, Horatio, Horace, Hendrix, Hud, Dinwoodie, Dinty, Dud, Fitsimmon, Frederick, Fud, Slinky, Stinkey, Stuart, Stud, & Lud), a Wumbus, a Yekko, a Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz a Zatz-it and a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz.

A friend of mine, Kim Engelmann, used the title of one of Dr. Seuss’ books, “On Beyond Zebra” as the springboard for a fantastic sermon. The book begins with this great explanation:

In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends.
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!
My alphabet starts with this letter called YUZZ
It’s the letter I use to spell Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz
You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found
Once you go beyond Z and start poking around!…
So, on beyond Z! It’s high time you were shown
That you really don’t know all there is to be known.”

I’m convinced Jesus used the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven to give us a glimpse “on beyond Zebra” – a glimpse into a Kingdom where the first are last and wedding banquet tables are seated with everyone – maybe even a fifer-feffer-feff!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blogger Block

Lately I’ve been struggling with “blogger’s block” and haven’t posted a recent update to this blogso I invited friends to offer blog ideas to help me break the block.

I’m not as sure about the suggestions of “Buddhist symbolism in the Bible,” “Aimee Semple McPherson bigger than Charlie Chaplin?”or “Mohammed as a fallback position” but they did inspire some creative conversation.

Still seeking ideas, over lunch I asked some of the Grace staff what they did this morning. I learned that for this, a typical, Thursday they:

Filmed a video of two guys in sombreros
Danced the funky chicken
Wore rabbit ears and
Learned the difference between Schulmerich and Malmark hand bells.

They also sang for a Gathering, taught Bible studies and processed payroll – but they really did wear rabbit ears and dance the funky chicken in the pursuit of ministry (I’m not sure if they wore the rabbit ears while dancing or not).

It was a great reminder that our laborers in the vineyard are engaged in a wide variety of tasks – each in their own way loving God, loving our neighbors and advancing the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Knocking Over Ant Hills

This afternoon I slipped out of the office about an hour early to take advantage of a sunny day after a long rainy weekend and to catch up on some much needed yard work. I reasoned that I could write this blog and work on the weekend message after the sun went down – I could only mow the lawn while the sun was shining.

So for a few hours I edged and mowed and did a little weeding (some of my best “thinking time” comes while engaged in these tasks). Then after a quick trip to Home Depot I spread some mulch and fertilized the lawn. Over the last few years I’ve come to appreciate the benefit of using fertilizer that contains something for fire ant control. Preventing fire ants in Houston takes some work and I’ve found that treating the entire yard is a great first step.

Still there are times that in spite of my best efforts I end up with a fire ant mound and then the only option is to knock over the ant hill.

When ant hills get knocked over the result is always a swarm of activity (the ants go crazy) and sometimes you even get a few bites – but if you want a nice lawn (and one that is free of fire ants) you have to be willing to knock over an occasional ant hill.

It’s a good analogy for leadership, especially in the church. Sometimes there are “ant hills” that simply have to be knocked over. They almost always come with a flurry of swarming “ants” and even a few “bites.” So it’s often tempting to leave the “ants” alone and avoid the activity and the bites – but left alone they only grow and can ultimately take over.

To paraphrase Craig Groeschel:

If we aren’t willing to endure a few bites then we run the risk of letting certain “ant hills” hold God's mission for the church hostage.

What are the “ant hills” you are facing in leadership? How are they holding you hostage? Isn’t it worth enduring the swarm of activity and a few bites for the overall health of the organization?

What would happen if you knocked the ant hill over?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lessons from a Sports Banquet

Last night we attended the Winter Sports Banquet for our high school junior – who played on the 28 -8 Lady Mustang Basketball Team.

Sports banquets are long events (extreme understatement). Each and every coach recaps the season and then gives out a varying number of awards. There are the expected MVP, Most Improved and Hustle Awards but also a few I’ve never heard of until last night. Probably the most unusual award given last night was presented to a member of the Varsity Cheer Squad – the Cheer Heart Princess Award (I’m still not sure exactly what that means – but the winner was very excited). The length of the presenters makes the Oscars seem brief – again it was a long evening.

But there were some real highlights and my favorite were words spoken by a senior on the Boys Varsity Soccer Team.

After the Soccer Coach, Coach Ade (pronounced awwdee), had given out the player awards this senior player stepped forward to present their coach with an award as a expression of their thanks. He began by saying:

On various club teams and in high school I’ve now played for Coach Ade for seven years. During those years there are been seasons when we’ve won almost everything and seasons when we’ve won hardly anything.

Then he finished:

I’d rather play for Coach Ade and lose than to win with any other coach.

What an amazing testimony to a coach’s leadership and what a sobering thought when I consider my own.

Yesterday I had “blown up” a bit at senior staff over a variety of small issues (and a few not so small) that I had allowed to build for too long. It wasn’t exactly leadership at its very best – I definitely still make mistakes.

Listening to this “footballer” describe his coach I doubted if anyone on my team would be saying the same yesterday evening.

Great leadership is forged in losing seasons.

Today I’ve been reflecting on how I lead when we are winning and how I lead when we are losing (and thinking of re-reading Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season).

I love it when people actually respond to a post so here’s a quick question:

What lessons have you learned during a losing season?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Measuring Success

Years ago a friend of mine suggested that success in ministry is best measured by:

The language we use
The people we honor and
The stories we tell.

Language, people and stories don’t fit as neatly into tables and graphs as giving or attendance numbers but they are so much better indicators of when God is on the move.

Yesterday Grace was filled with language, people and stories.

A few years ago words like “Tree House,” “Backyard” or “Word Up” had no special meaning around Grace. Today they are an integral part of our vocabulary and more importantly a deeply integral part of how we are reaching kids and parents. Our Children’s Ministry Team was visited yesterday morning by a member of the reThink Group. I am so proud of our Children’s Team for catching the attention of one of the leaders in innovative ministry and even more proud of the ways they are reaching kids each and every week.

In our 11:00 Sanctuary service we honored (as we commissioned) a new group of Stephen Ministers. These ministers made a huge commitment to prepare themselves to love neighbors as a part of our care giving strategy. They are well deserving of our respect and honor and the care they provide is essential to our vision.

Our Director of Missions, Melissa Brown, began to share a little of the stories her team gathered on their recent trip to Kenya. God is most defiantly on the move in Africa and what a privilege we have to be a small part of that movement.

The language we use, the people we honor, the stories we tell… yesterday was a great “success” by all accounts!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Upside down oval patio tables

I was walking around campus yesterday with a few members of our staff and we decided to check out our “secret courtyard” – the one just west of the library that hardly anyone uses. It really is a shame that it’s not easily accessible – it’s really a great space, especially during weather seasons such as we are enjoying this week.

It was obvious (as we picked up furniture scattered by the wind) that no one had been in the courtyard in awhile (or at least that no one had bothered to set the chair back upright). In doing so I noticed an oval tile patio table (that used to sit in glass breezeway adjacent to our nursery) was lying upside down in a bed of ivy.

Chris French and I picked up the table to set it upright and back on the patio (it’s a really heavy table and it took both of us). We discovered that the table had been upside down in the bed long enough to completely kill the ivy beneath. It left behind a perfectly oval shaped brown spot in the bed (not exactly casual excellence at its best).

A couple of thoughts come to mind:

The courtyard really is off the beaten path and I suspect hardly anyone knew there was a table upside down in the ivy – and hardly anyone will notice the large dead spot. It makes me wonder what parts of my life and ministry do I not regularly “visit” and “inspect.”

I wonder what is dying simply because I’m not paying attention or making a careful examination.

As out of the way as the courtyard is, it’s not THAT out of the way. To completely kill the ivy the table must have been there for months. That means people walked right by and either a) didn’t notice, b) noticed and didn’t care or c) noticed and thought it was someone else’s responsibility.

Again it makes me wonder what parts of my life and ministry am I “walking by and overlooking.” Just because I am not paying attention or taking action (pretending there’s no problem or imagining it’s not mine) doesn’t stop the “ivy” from dying.

Things die – ivy, ministry, life – when they are left unexamined or with obstacles, like upside down oval patio tables, in the middle of the garden.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Air Intake Hose

Last night our daughter Jennifer called from college to let me know that her car had broken down. She was on her way back to the dorm from services at Midtown church and was able to pull into the McDonald’s parking lot at Gervais and Huger (pronounced Jer-vay and You-gee).

We talked through her options on the phone and then she called roadside assistance.

It turned out to be a fairly simple fix – the air intake hose had come loose.

Lately I am constantly looking for leadership lessons everywhere and found a few in Jennifer’s brief adventure.

Engines won’t run without oxygen. I am the least mechanically inclined person I know, but even I know that a combustible engine requires oxygen for the combustion – after that it’s something about little explosions driving pistons (that’s where I get lost). Leaders require oxygen too – so do churches. When I become disconnected to the things that give me life (family, rest, creative outlets, God’s Word, and increasingly prayer) I won’t run either.

Dad’s feel helpless when they are 15 hours away. The time waiting between phone calls last night was excruciating. What I wanted to do was to drive over to the McDonald’s parking lot and help Jennifer solve the problem. A lot can be accomplished over the phone (or via email, Facebook or twitter) but there are moments when personal proximity is essential. Lately, I’m trying to be more intentional about spending one-on-one time with the leaders I lead. There is simply no substitute for being present.

Experts can recognize what needs to be done. I ran through every scenario my limited automotive knowledge could imagine. My imagination quickly ran to a totaled engine and a major repair bill. It took an expert to fix the problem. I am blessed to be surrounded by experts in communication, worship, children, youth, education and many more. Good leadership is trusting that they often recognize what needs to be done before I do.

Great leadership is staying out of the way while they do it!