Monday, August 31, 2009

Have It Your Way

Hold the pickles
Hold the lettuce
Special orders don’t upset us
All we ask is that you let us
Serve it your way.

In 1973 Burger King introduced the Have it Your Way campaign. It was a strategy to highlight Burger King’s flexibility against the rigidity of McDonalds.

And McDonalds has historically been more rigid. In fact there was a season in which you could win contests by memorizing the never changing ingredients that lead to a Big Mac Attack:

Two all beef patties
Special sauce
On a sesame seed bun.

No one would dream when ordering a Big Mac to ask the cashier to “hold the special sauce.”

Burger King has been successful with their strategy of flexibility. In 2008 they reported profits of $2.46 billion.

That makes them number two.

Number one still belongs to “rigid” McDonalds who in the same year had profits of $4.3 billion. Apparently, have it OUR way still works.

But that’s not to suggest that McDonalds rigidity means that the organization is unwilling to change. A visit to a 2009 McCafe bears little resemblance to the McDonalds my parents took me to as a kid (we had to cross three rivers to get there – Wando, Cooper and Ashley). McDonalds continues to embrace change to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers. The leaders at McDonalds clearly understand the signs of the times (to use a phrase that Jesus introduced) and have the courage to respond.

One of our pastors suggested to me that many churches serve a “Burger King population." Sometimes members (and those in our community) want church their way:

Hold the choir
Hold the guitar (guitere)
Hold classes and worship when we get there (thar)
All we ask is that you take care
To do church our way.

That hardly sounds like the sort of life and church that Jesus envisioned. But it is tempting.

Last night at our Vision Night on our elders suggested that in the face of Burger King expectations we could learn some lessons from McDonalds. It’s impossible to meet every individual’s custom needs but we must change in order to survive.

The good news is that we can do that and still maintain the quality of the hamburger!

More on how we do that later.

* As I finish this post I find myself 1) hungry and 2) thinking that 5 Guys has figured out a way to have it our way and their way – another reason why that’s my favorite chain burger place (narrowly ahead of In and Out and Smash Burger).

Friday, August 28, 2009


This summer, in an effort to continue to grow as a leader, I submitted myself to a 360 review followed by a series of conversations with an executive coach.

25 members of the Grace community (staff and lay leaders) surrounded me (360 degrees) and completed a survey on my leadership style and 13 of them were also interviewed.

It was a great learning and, in many ways, a very humbling experience.

There are aspects of leadership where I am doing better than I thought and areas needing improvement that I thought were going great.

Last night I invited everyone who participated in the review process to get together for dessert and to talk about what I learned and what I am still learning.

It was an exhausting and inspiring and affirming evening.

I was challenged with the things that I don’t do well – like always pay attention when someone is talking.

I was given permission to let go of unrealistic expectation – like needing to respond every time some one forwards a forward of a forwarded email.

I was encouraged to focus my time and energy so that I only do those things that only I can do – most notably to focus on vision and message preparation.

It was a great evening and I came away honored that people would give up a couple of hours on a Thursday evening to help me become a better leader.

I also came away even more convinced that leadership requires this sort of listening to feedback. (Quick Caveat: You have to trust the heart and wisdom of whoever is offering the feedback – some critics need to be ignored)

Receiving honest feedback can be uncomfortable but as Seth Godin notes in Tribes (I wonder how long I’m going to keep quoting Tribes):

If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.

I’ve always been intrigued by a episode in 2 Samuel 16

King David is making his way to Bahurim and a member of Saul’s family, Shimei, comes out and starts pelting David and his officials with stones and insults, referring to David as a “man of blood” and telling him to “get lost!”

One of David’s officials, Abishai, offers to cut the head off of this “dead dog” (Shimei).

David shows restraint and even suggests that perhaps God is speaking through Shimei’s “feedback.”

Feedback isn’t always easy to receive, even when it’s through a formal 360 review, it can make you uncomfortable. But good leaders learn to listen and if they listen closely enough can become great leaders.

Who are you inviting to surround you and speak into your leadership?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Crossing the Rubicon

A few weeks ago I discovered ABC’s new Sunday night show Defying Gravity. I was attracted by both the sci-fi aspect (it’s all about space travel) that appeals to my inner-geek and by the title (which is my favorite song from Wicked).

Last week’s episode was titled Crossing the Rubicon. I remembered vaguely the historical context of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon as an act of war against Rome but was unaware that the phrase has become an expression of reaching a point of no return.

It got me thinking about the Rubicon’s we cross and why our crossings are so important in leadership.

Every leader since Moses (and I suspect before) knows that somewhere along the journey people want to turn back and return to the “pots of meat in Egypt.” It happens when the journey becomes difficult, the challenges uncomfortable and sacrifices are even required. The voices of critics grow louder, grumbling increases and it’s tempting to listen.

In Tribes Seth Godin writes:

Remarkable visions and genuine insight are always met with resistance. And when you start to make progress, your efforts are met with even more resistance.

Which Elphaba discovered when she decided to defy gravity. And it’s tempting to turn back.

Once you cross the Rubicon there’s no turning back – and maybe that’s why we hesitate to fully commit.

Again, Godin writes:

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.

The future lies on the other side of the Rubicon – it’s time to cross over.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vision Night

Once a year we hold a Vision Night for the leadership of Grace. It’s an opportunity for me to share where we’ve been in the past year and where I believe God is calling us in the year to come. It’s also a chance to engage in dialogue with our wider leadership community. My favorite part of the evening is time spent in Q&A.

Vision Night 2009 is this Sunday and in preparation I received a great question:

“Why should we sign on for your vision of the future?”

The “asker” went on to express concerns about attendance and certain leadership decisions. I responded to those and will share my response with everyone Sunday evening.

But the question is a great one and so I thought I should also post my answer.

“Why should we sign on for your vision of the future?”

First of all because we have been blessed with leaders of great wisdom and high integrity.

Grace is a Presbyterian church. That simply means that our lay leaders (elders) work in partnership with staff leadership (this model of government is what attracts me to the Presbyterian Church). I am continually humbled by God’s gift of the women and men that He calls into leadership here. Not only are they bright and creative thinkers they are leaders who demonstrate the upmost integrity in all that they do.

The bottom line is that I trust them.

I trust them to ask the hard questions.
I trust them to debate difficult issues.
I trust them to seek what is God’s best – to lead in ways that please God not people.
I trust them to pray for God’s guidance.

I’d only sign on for a vision of the future with leaders I trust and I trust our leaders.

Secondly, and most importantly, it’s not my vision and really it’s not our leadership’s vision, it’s God’s vision for the future.

Last Friday the Grace staff spent a “retreat day” committing to practicing what the Lord requires of us:

“To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

I can’t promise increased attendance or giving and I can’t guarantee programs and services that please everyone – the New Testament would actually warn that trying to please anyone other that God is dangerous.

I can promise that we will faithfully and humbly seek to do justice and demonstrate kindness as we follow Jesus’ command to love the Lord our God with all that we have and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I am confident in His promise that if we will get these things right the rest will fall into place.

I would encourage anyone that wants to be a part of a vision to introduce west Houston to Jesus Christ in word and in deed to sign on to what promises to be a great adventure.

To the glory of God!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Arguing with Fools

About a year ago I woke up to the truth that I spend too much time and energy debating with foolish people. I sat down and read through the book of Proverbs to see what advice I might find about arguing with fools. What I found was pretty convicting.

Maybe the best analogy is in Proverbs 17: 12

Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs
than a fool in his folly.

If you spent anytime backpacking you know the danger of getting between Mama Bear and her babies. Apparently fools are equally dangerous.

And maybe on some level I like the danger.

Twice today I found myself confronted with fools in their folly and both times I engaged the “bear.”

There’s a part of me that convinces myself, “I’m their (the fools) pastor. It’s my responsibility to listen to them no matter how foolish their perspective or arguments may be. And perhaps there’s a part of me that believes if I will keep speaking wisdom the “light bulb will suddenly go off” and they will understand and even better agree with me.

Proverbs 26: 4 suggests otherwise:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, 

or you will be like him yourself.

Again and again the wisdom of Proverbs tells me to stay away from foolish people.

He who walks with the wise grows wise, 

but a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

Stay away from a foolish man, 

for you will not find knowledge on his lips.

Proverbs 14:7

Do not speak to a fool, 

for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.

Proverbs 23:9

To be fair, I didn’t seek out either of the fools I debated today. According to Proverbs 20:3 I won’t have to.

It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, 

but every fool is quick to quarrel.

Regularly I am discovering the one of the challenges of leadership, especially leading by grace is managing how much time I spend arguing with fools who are quick to quarrel.

I suspect that its going to be a lifelong challenge since according to Proverbs 26: 11

As a dog returns to its vomit, 

so a fool repeats his folly.

Friday, August 14, 2009

These are the days

We got back late last night (early this morning) from helping Kelli and Jennifer get settled into the senior and sophomore years at Auburn and South Carolina. Jamie starts her senior year of high school on Sunday, all reminders that summer is over and a new school (and church program) year has begun and I am excited to get going again .

I also realized this morning that the date on my last blog post is July 15. It’s also time to write again.

While we were in Columbia with Jennifer we had the joy of reconnecting with friends from Clemson, Jill and Wayne Rogers. Wayne and I were classmates in grad school for architecture at Clemson and together we studied and traveled and shared life and made a lot of memories. Wayne continues practice architiecture (check out his work at ) but unfortunately our ministry travels meant that we hadn’t seen each other for about 15 years. Spending time together was one of the highlights of the past week as over breakfast we brought up many of those memories made years ago.

As we were driving back to Houston yesterday I was listening to a song by the country music duo Sugarland with a great line:

We're making moments that we won't forget
And feeling ones that haven't happened yet
Don't be afraid
We can't forget these are the days

Years ago making memories with Wayne and Jill we never stopped to consider that one day we’d be sitting around over breakfast reflecting on “those days.” I don’t suspect our daughters are heading into this year of school aware that the memories they will make in the coming months will one day be their “those days.” And even as I write this words I’m not sure I fully appreciate that this year at Grace we will make memories that we won’t forget.

These really are the days.

So the challenge is to live in such a way as to make the most of them and to create the sort of memories we will want to look back on one day.

It reminds me of another line in a song by the Indigo Girls

we must love while these moments are still called today

That’s actually God’s idea.

Psalm 118 tells us that God's love endures forever, and declares that today is the day the LORD has made so let us "rejoice and be glad in it."

Hebrews 3: 13 urges us to

encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today,

Today, tomorrow, this week and the program year we are entering, these are the days.

So let’s rejoice and be glad.
Let’s make the most of every opportunity to encourage one another.

As Jesus suggested in John 3; let’s make the most of the day before night comes.

These are the days and I look forward to one day sitting with friends at breakfast sharing the memories we will never forget.