Why the Supporters of My Candidate’s Opponent Don’t Upset Me

I have found that the key to being an effective leader is learning to be a non-anxious presence. That means not letting your own anxiety affect your relationships while still staying emotionally connected. It’s easy to not let your anxiety interfere if you disconnect emotionally. It’s also easy to stay connected emotionally without keeping your anxiety in check…although others might not find it so pleasant.

The challenge is to behave in non-anxious ways WHILE staying connected emotionally.

I’m not going to tell you who I’m voting for. It’s not like I’m shy about it. I have a sign in my window. If you want to know you can drive by my house. But this post is about emotional process and emotional process functions independently of content.

As we say in family systems, it’s process not content. Pay attention to the emotional process, regardless of the subject matter,

So you don’t need to know my candidate for this to make sense. In fact, it’s easier to understand without knowing.

This presidential election is filled with a lot of emotion. The “unlikeable” rating for each major candidate is historical. People are really angry. They are emotional. I get angry at times.

Yet, the opponent’s supporters are my friends, neighbors and perhaps even relatives.

In the end, who someone votes for is not really going to bug me.

Here are five reasons why.

People Don’t Negotiate Closely Held Values

In many ways, this election is not about the candidates but about a pretty clear division in values in this country. About 40% of the country will support each candidate, regardless of who they are because their party represents a particular world view. And that world view is not likely to change. It’s the people in the middle who will decide who is president.

I don’t agree with the other 40%, but I’m not going to change their minds. So why would I waste my energy trying?

People Don’t Make Decisions Rationally

That’s right. Decisions are made in the limbic brain, which has no capacity for speech. We really do make “gut decisions” or “go with our heart.” Then we rationalize them with whatever reasons we can articulate.

We’re selective when we rationalize. We emphasize the positives and ignore or dismiss the negatives.

So when I think to myself that the opponent’s supporters are doing this, I remind myself that I’m doing the same.

It’s Not Worth the Energy

Family systems theory has a concept called leadership through self-differentiation. It is the ability to articulate one’s own goals and beliefs while staying non-anxious and emotionally connected. It’s all about working on our own responses to the system in a way that takes responsibility for our own condition.

It’s saying “I believe” or “I feel” rather than using the blaming “you” or the guilting “we.”

The blaming “you” tries to make others responsible for our condition.

The guilting “we,” as in “we should” or “we need to,” uses the pressure of togetherness to get others to change.

In either case, we use a lot of emotional energy trying to convince others that they’re wrong. And that emotional energy is often filled with anxiety.

Leadership through differentiation, on the other hand, reverses that. By being able to take emotional stands (“I believe”), it is the others who get anxious and who will try to change us.

It’s not that we don’t listen or are not willing to change our mind. Our task is to stay non-anxious while staying emotionally connected. That makes it easier to articulate what we believe and makes it easier to listen. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier than trying to change the minds of others.

Back to the election. What good will it do me to argue with those who support the opponent? The fact is, when you try to tell someone what to do or think, they usually dig in. So if I spend a lot of time or energy on it, I’m only hurting myself.

(This is different than working for your candidate. That’s more about trying to get those who agree with you to get out and vote).

I Trust the System

You think I’m crazy. Hear me out.

Our constitution was designed so that without a mandate, our political system doesn’t move very quickly. That’s why we have checks and balances.

Our country is divided. So nothing happens. If you’re frustrated with government and politicians not getting anything done, it’s mostly because that’s the way it was set up.

Sure…I’d like to see my agenda move forward more quickly, but 40% of the country is not a mandate.

I Trust in God

As a Christian, I believe in God’s promise to one day restore all things to their original condition. Evil, injustice, oppression and human suffering will be wiped out. We will be made whole and live in community with humankind and with God.

That’s what we are praying for in the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But we also believe that whenever love and grace win out over injustice, whenever we live in true community, whenever we truly live out what God intends, we see a glimpse of that fulfillment of all things. And others can see it, too.

So, if the election doesn’t go my way, I won’t be apoplectic. I may be disturbed for a bit. But God is in charge and that’s bigger than any candidate winning an election in a tiny blip in human history.

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Leaders Eat Last (and serve others first)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16 NRSV

In 1978, I went to work at a GM plant in the Midwest as a co-op student. It was my first real exposure to the industrial world and I learned a lot. When the Iranian oil crisis hit in 1979, auto sales plummeted and our plant went from three shifts to one. Because of union rules, the layoffs were determined by seniority. To avoid being laid off, one had to have 16 years seniority with GM. If you had 15 years or less with GM, you were out of a job.

That’s the way of the world.

There’s an order to things. A hierarchy that helps us to determine what is fair and what is not. We like things that way.

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard messes with our sense of fairness.

The idea that a person can work one hour, yet be paid the same as one who worked 12 hours isn’t right. It doesn’t make economic sense.

But God’s economy is different. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Scholars believe that Matthew included this parable to reach those in his church who were resentful of newcomers. We’re uncertain if it was a Jews (old) and Gentiles (new) thing or just long-timers and newcomers.

In any event, the long-timers had worked long and faithfully in the church, yet the newcomers were getting all the attention. We can hear them saying, “What about us? We’ve served this church for years, yet all you care about are the new people?”

And God’s response?

“I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (MT 20:14b-15)

A Christian leader gets this. God is generous and God wants to reach all people.  Even the least among us.

If convicted mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer can have a jailhouse conversion and go to heaven, then God is certainly a generous God.

If we understand Jesus and the upside-down Kingdom of God, we know this is the radical nature of God.

But how do we help others to understand? What if we have church people like Matthew’s who are feeling resentful of all our efforts to reach new people?

We model it.

Jesus modeled servant leadership and we can do the same.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:33-35 NRSV

Jesus makes a similar statement, but this time he is responding to his own disciples’ desire to be great. They are reflecting the way of the world, but their silence reveals they know better. Jesus spent three years on earth showing how to give one’s self away. He ultimately gave his life. But in so doing, he gave the gift of new life.

Here’s the thing. Jesus’ way works.

Simon Sinek, in his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other Don’t, documents how.

Sinek had noticed that some work teams trusted each other and were effective and most weren’t. He started compiling examples, one of which was the Marine Corps. It was there that he discovered the basic concept.

Officers eat last. They take care of their enlisted folks first because that’s what great leaders do. As Sinek writes in the book:

“The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.” (as cited in Goodreads)

Jesus teaches us the same lesson. Even after he had told the disciples that the last will be first, James and John still didn’t get it. They asked to have a special place in the Kingdom of God, one at Jesus’ right and the other at his left (MK 10:37).

42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

We hear the term servant leadership often. How many of us are willing to live it? How many of us will model it for the congregations we serve?

As a friend once told me, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

If we want to see change, if we want the longtimers to welcome the newcomers (I mean really welcome the newcomers), then we start by serving. By caring for the needs of all whom we serve, including (maybe especially) the longtimers.

Then we can lead.

Questions for Reflection:

How is a servant leader different than one who “lords it over” others?

When has your own self-interest interfered with your effectiveness as a leader?

How can you better serve those whom you lead?

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Three Leadership Lessons from the Japanese Rail System

The Bullet Train © Ben Salter from Wales-cc-by-2-0
The Bullet Train © Ben Salter from Wales-cc-by-2-0

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

I experienced something amazing in Japan. The trains run on time. I mean EXACTLY on time. I think I had heard this before, but to actually witness it was almost life-changing.

We were in Japan for 10 days and used the rail system six of those days. Most times we had at least one connection. I recall standing at one track and looking at the schedule. It had two trains scheduled to arrive TWO minutes apart. Sure enough, one trained arrived on-time. Took one minute to load, then left. The next minute, another train arrived.

I say this was almost life-changing because I kept asking myself, “How is this possible?” And if it is, “Why can’t we do this?”

So I figured there are some leadership lessons here. The Discovery Channel has a great three-minute video that explains how they do it. It’s not rocket science, but it IS instructive.

Here’s what I learned.

Experience Matters

The Japanese take this to the extreme. Train drivers spend their working life on one line. ONE line. They get to know their route so well that they can arrive on time without using a speedometer. When they are tested, they’re measured to the hundredth of a second.

I know that experience matters. The accumulation of knowledge and experience not only enables us to solve problems quickly, but it also forms the foundation upon which innovation occurs.

How does this apply to the church?

First, longer pastorates are important. How can a church get anywhere if the pastoral leader changes frequently? Certainly a seasoned pastor can bring experience into a particular church, but there is also value in having experience in that particular setting.

Second, experienced lay leadership matters. This is not the same as stuck lay leadership and does not mean that new leadership is not developed on an ongoing basis. What it does mean is there is institutional memory that avoids repeating the same mistakes and provides a basis for new initiatives.

Lifelong Learning is Essential

Japanese train drivers use simulators, just as pilots use flight simulators. Trains are not nearly as complicated as aircraft. Yet, drivers train on simulators periodically to prepare for emergencies and unforeseen circumstances.

There is no church simulator. But the idea is this: none of us ever “arrives” as a leader. We can always get better. There is always something to learn. Experience matters. But experience without ongoing learning is how we get stuck.

One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, puts it this way: none of us is fully baked.

Pay Attention to Detail

Preventive maintenance is essential to maintaining a rail system. Watch the video to see the attention to detail. Tracks are kept level using a robot-like machine that can level 200 meters of track in 30 minutes.

Every four years, the train truck, or bogie (essentially the chassis), is cleaned, completely disassembled and inspected. Parts are replaced, if necessary, and the bogie is reassembled.

Attention to detail is the difference between average or mediocre and excellent.

We were recently complimented on a Pecometh event. “You all always do things with such excellence.”

I like to think we do things that way, but the reality is that’s not always the case. I honestly feel like most of the time we are flying by the seats of our pants. That’s partly due to trying to do too much.

But we do strive for excellence. So I responded, “We are doing it for God. We ought to be excellent.”

The response: “It’s not always that way in the church.”

It’s a sad truth.

It seems that sometimes people think that because we are Christians or that we have good intentions that it doesn’t matter if we’re mediocre.

We know the opposite is true. If we believe in the goodness of God, then we ought to do the very best work possible in everything we do because it’s a reflection of God.

Whether it’s worship, outreach, small groups, stewardship or any other aspect of the church, attention to detail matters.

The point is that everything we do is supposed to reflect the glory of God. The church does not exist for its own benefit. If it does, it’s no longer salt. If it doesn’t strive for excellence, it’s no longer light.

My experience with the Japanese rail system was almost life-changing because it has inspired me to do better. To be salt and light. We’ll see how life-changing it really is.

Questions for reflection:

What experience do you have as a Christian leader that could add value in your ministry setting?

What experience or learning do you lack that could add increased value?

Where could attention to detail move your ministry from mediocre to good or even from good to great?

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What I Learned in Hiroshima-A Personal Pilgrimage

My family with the A-Bomb Dome in the background
My family with the A-Bomb Dome in the background

I am proud of my Japanese-American heritage.

My grandfather, Ichimatsu Kihara, emigrated to Seattle in the early 20th century. He and his brothers formed Main Fish Company, a seafood wholesaler. They had the first non-Anglo owned business on the Seattle waterfront. My mother was born in Seattle, but was sent with her mother and siblings to live in Hiroshima in 1933 as my grandfather guided Main Fish through the depression. My mother lived there until 1947.

My mother recently took my brother, sister and I, along with our spouses, on a pilgrimage of sorts to Japan. I had never been. It is a beautiful country with extremely gracious people. The most significant experience was visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum. I knew about the A-bomb, but the visit sparked feelings I didn’t know I had.

Here are my reflections.

The consequences of our decisions are often unforeseen.

In August 1945, the city of Hiroshima was creating fire breaks to prepare for bombing attacks. Most city buildings were made of wood, so fires created by an air raid could create massive damage. Fire breaks could limit the damage.

Most men were in the military. Women, and even older teenagers, worked in the

People saying a prayer at the memorial for children killed by the Hiroshima bomb
People saying a prayer at the memorial for children killed by the Hiroshima bomb

factories to support the war effort. Creating the fire breaks included work by school children, mostly 12 and 13 year-olds. Their job was to assist with clearing demolition debris. On August 6, 1945 there was a large demolition project scheduled requiring 8500 school children.

The project was less than 1000 meters from ground zero.

The fact that 2200 of those children survived seems miraculous. The force of the blast leveled everything within a mile and the ground temperature exceeded 3600 degrees farenheit for as long as three seconds.

Civilian casualties are a part of war. When President Harry Truman approved the use of the A-bomb, he knew that civilians would die. But he couldn’t possibly know that on the day the Enola Gay dropped the bomb, thousands more students than normal would be in harm’s way.

War is hell. Truman agonized over the decision to drop the bomb. When it comes down to it, he had to focus on military and political objectives. Even so, thousands of children died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The A-Bomb was a game-changer

It seems obvious to say, but we don’t realize how unthinkable such a weapon was at the time. Changes like this don’t happen often. But think 9/11. Prior to that day, one could not imagine a hijacker using a plane as a weapon of mass-destruction.

How did Japan respond to this paradigm shift? By developing Three Non-Nuclear Principles: to never possess, manufacture or allow the introduction of nuclear weapons into the nation.

Think about how counter-intuitive this was. Instead of trying to fight fire with fire, Japan responded with non-proliferation. This made (and makes) them extremely dependent on the US and extremely vulnerable to threats from North Korea and China. Yet, their prime minister declared as recently as last month that they would maintain these principles.

Jesus said when we are struck, to turn the other cheek. He also said to pray for our enemies. There is something redemptive about responding to violence with peace and prayer. The result is not death, but new life.

Nuclear weapons are a fact of life today. Most people hardly notice when North Korea conducts a nuclear test, which they’ve done twice in 2016 (once within the last month). Yet, Japan maintains its stance.

Events that create a paradigm shift require leaders to navigate uncharted territory. Nobody asks for this. But it’s true, nonetheless. And the path is often the one that seems least likely.

Forgiveness and Hope are powerful forces

My grandmother went back to the US in 1936. My mother and her siblings wanted to stay in Japan. When my grandparents heard about the bomb, they thought that all but my mom’s youngest sister were killed. It was the other way around.

By circumstance, perhaps providence, my mom was not in Hiroshima the day of the blast. The day before, she had gone to a friend’s in another town to get rice for her family. It was wartime and food was scarce, so when her friend told her there was rice, she went right away. She came back the next day, walking through the devastated city with a bag of rice on her shoulder.

My Mom at ground zero
My Mom at ground zero

Her youngest sister, Nobu, was 15. Normally she would take the train to work in the factory. That would have taken her out of the blast area. But she missed the train and had to take a streetcar which took her right through town. They never found her.

My mom recounts all of these events with sadness and occasional anger. But she always comes back to the fact that the bomb ended the war. She does not say that the end justifies the means. In typical Japanese fashion, she accepts what is for what is.

When you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial you get this sense. There is no bitterness. Only the resolve to build a new and better future.

I call this forgiveness and hope.

Some of our messes we create ourselves, but much of what we face we can’t control. Regardless, this idea that the past can’t be changed and we can only work toward a better future creates room for God to work.

When Jesus was crucified, the disciples were a mess. It was his appearance to them that gave them hope. And they went and changed the world.

I’ve heard my mother’s stories for most of my life. I’m grateful that we could visit Japan together with my siblings. It has brought my Japanese heritage and my Christian faith together.

Questions for reflection:

How do you respond when there are unforeseen consequences to a decision you’ve made?

What do you do when there is a paradigm shift?

How are you a messenger of forgiveness and hope?

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Why People Bug You (and Why They Shouldn’t)

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)

I’ve often said if the church didn’t have people it would be perfect. People mess things up all the time. So what does a Christian leader do about it?

Cut them some slack.

It’s helpful to understand the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).

We make the Fundamental Attribution Error when we attribute other people’s actions to their character or personality. Conversely, we explain our own actions in terms of situational factors.

When someone cuts you off in traffic, they’re a jerk.

When you cut someone off in traffic, you couldn’t help it. You were running late and you looked before you changed lanes. You just didn’t see the other car.

How about a church example? When someone misses a church meeting because they forgot, you decide they just don’t care about God’s work in the church. Or that they’re unorganized. Or that they have their priorities out of line. Or all three.

When you miss a meeting because you forgot, it’s because you had way too much going on. There was that project to finish, your aging mother called and talked for 30 minutes and then you got distracted by an article in the paper about how hover boards catch on fire. But you’re a good person and you care about God’s work.

What the FAE points out is that human behavior is largely influenced by situational factors.

We understand that for ourselves. But we don’t give others a break.

As Dan & Chip Heath state in their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, “What looks like a person problem is (often) a situation problem.”

They cite a 2002 study by Brian Wansink from Cornell University. Moviegoers were randomly given medium or large containers of free popcorn that was either fresh or stale. The result: container size was a direct influence on popcorn consumption. Moviegoers ate 45.3% more fresh popcorn when given larger containers. Even more surprising was that they ate 33.6% more stale popcorn (14 days old) when given larger containers.

Or, as the Heath brothers comment, those with larger buckets were transformed into “popcorn-gorging gluttons” as a result of their situation.

What if we took seriously the idea that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others, as Jesus says in Matthew 7:2?

Perhaps we would look at the situation of others to try to explain their behavior instead of being critical of their character or personality. Perhaps we would cut them some slack.

As I’ve mentored pastors over the years, my family systems training has taught me to ask one question when someone starts to act up in the church. “What’s going on in their personal life?” More often than not, when a Christian leader has come to me with a problem in the church it’s a situation problem, not a person a problem.

More importantly, when we start to look at how people behave in terms of the situation, we have a much greater opportunity to find ways to lead change.

What would you rather do, try to change people or try to change the situation?

For example, let’s say that you have families in church that come some of the time, but often miss church for several weeks at a time. Or the parents drop off their kids to Sunday School, but rarely come to church. The FAE would cause us to think that these parents are not committed to their own spiritual growth and/or to modeling a commitment to God for their children.

Understanding the FAE would cause us to dig deeper. To ask, “What are the situational factors that contribute to this lack of commitment?”

What we may find is that Sundays are one of the few days when they get a break. They’re tired and it’s a challenge to get kids ready for church, bring them to Sunday School, then stay for an hour of church. They may also have activities such as sports or the arts that they have to get to on Sunday afternoons. The bottom line: they’d like to be more committed but it’s a really hard.

Understanding this, some churches have decided to offer a worship service that runs concurrently with the Sunday School hour. All of a sudden, parents can come to church and worship without having to supervise their kids AND their kids are getting a Christian education. If the service is early enough, say no later than 10am, they can be on their way to Sunday afternoon activities without missing a beat. 

What we thought was a person problem was really a situation problem.

Understanding the Fundamental Attribution Error can help us to see things in ways that make us more effective leaders.

Reflection Questions:

How do you explain your behaviors in terms of situational factors?

How do you explain others’ behaviors in terms of character or personality?

What would it look like in the church if we looked at others’ behaviors as we do our own?

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Small Actions Can Lead to Big Change

Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later. 2 Divide your gifts among many, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. 3 When the clouds are heavy, the rains come down. When a tree falls, whether south or north, there it lies. 4 If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. 5 God’s ways are as hard to discern as the pathways of the wind, and as mysterious as a tiny baby being formed in a mother’s womb. 6 Be sure to stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow — perhaps they all will.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 NLT)

I try to avoid sports or military metaphors. It’s not that I don’t like them. Not everybody can relate. As far as I know, Jesus never used any (though Paul did). My post about adaptive leadership used a metaphor that I much prefer: wine.

Side note: Here was the conversation after my wife, Jodi, read that post:

“You didn’t tell them what to do.”

“Yes, I did. I told them to make lots off wine.”

“OK.”

So here’s the follow up. Jim Collins and Morten Hansen came up with a pretty good military metaphor in their book, Great by Choice.

Fire bullets, before cannonballs.

Bullets are low risk, low cost, low distraction efforts that help test the validity of a new initiative. It’s trying something out, without investing a lot of time, energy, resources or risk. You fire a bullet and see what happens. Then you adjust your aim.

Cannonballs are higher risk, business defining ventures. Uncalibrated cannonballs are high risk gambles. Calibrated cannonballs are calculated risks taken after rigorous testing (firing lots of bullets).

Collins and Hansen aren’t saying that you shouldn’t fire cannonballs. In fact, they say that organizational greatness depends on these types of large scale initiatives. But the great organizations go about it a certain way.

If you fire a bullet first, you use less “gunpowder” and you can test your aim. Gunpowder is time (or distraction) and money. For the church I would note that gunpowder also includes political capital. And we only have so much gunpowder.

So you fire a bullet, see what happens. Adjust your aim, fire another. Adjust again. At some point you have enough information to really go for it (fire a cannonball) or to look for another target. Notice this is not machine gun fire. That’s neither rigorous nor calibrated and uses nearly as much gunpowder as a cannonball.

So, ready, fire, aim works much better with bullets than cannonballs.

In Ecclesiastes the metaphor is agricultural, not military.

If you stand around observing the weather, waiting for the right time to plant, you’ll never do anything (vv3-4). You can spend a lot of time planning, but if you never act, nothing will happen. When you plant a crop, there are a lot of variables that determine the harvest: soil, weather, seed quality, weeds, etc. One thing is certain. If you don’t sow any seed, you won’t have any harvest.

So The Teacher tells us to diversify. Plant a variety of crops. Some may grow. Perhaps they will all grow. We don’t know. Using the bullet metaphor, conserving our gunpowder allows us to try more things…to diversify.

In the late 1990’s I was a pastor in Chesapeake City, MD. I had several people, including my daughter, approach me to say that we needed to start a youth center. It wasn’t my vision, but I’m no dummy. I could tell God was working on these folks.

We did three things that were low risk, low distraction and low cost:

• We formed a team to pray about it.
• We decided to go to the ecumenical association so that we could work with other local churches.
• We tried “something.”

That “something” was a Friday night coffee house in the Episcopal church fellowship hall. We did it once and it seemed well-received. So we did it again. And again. Each time we learned something.

We ultimately opened the Generation Station Youth Center, a ministry of the Chesapeake City Ecumenical Association, in the fall of 1999. The “Station’s” primary function is an after school program for at-risk kids. It has served hundreds of students over its 17 years.

All because we did “something.” God can use that. God rarely uses inaction.

Making a difference means we have to be willing to act. But doing it wisely is the difference between mediocre (or worse) and really making an impact. Try something. Test it out. Make an adjustment. Try it again. Make an adjustment or shut it down. You do this enough and you will see God do amazing things.

How is planning like standing around watching the weather?

What is the balance between planning and acting?

What little initiatives can you try, that could lead to something big?

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Christian Leaders Embrace the Adaptive Challenge

The biggest challenge for the church today may be figuring out how to adapt to a changing society. Some will say, “The gospel is the same now and as it always was.” Yes…but Paul also said, “I will be all things to all people so that I can save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)

Adapting to changing circumstances is not giving up your principles. It’s not selling out. It’s acknowledging that the situation has changed and so must our approach. Continue reading Christian Leaders Embrace the Adaptive Challenge

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