This is the thing. Learning can be hard. Why? Because most of the time, it means we are either admitting we don't know something or that we are held views that were previously wrong. This is tough considering we live in an age where admitting you were wrong (either to others or yourself) can be a risky and vulnerable thing. Yet, despite this, true leadership calls for the "growing pains" of learning. Are you actively feeling this pain?
I am the son of a pastor. I grew up in the church and while I don't believe in the same way as I did as a kid in Sunday School, I still have a connection for many of those in faith communities trying to make a difference. Despite the growing polarization of secular and religious circles, I do feel it is still very much important to include faith based organizations in the discussion and execution of plans and strategies to make positive impact in the communities we live in. I would go so far as to say that unless we include them, we WON'T realize the impact we are looking to have as a country.
I believe this so much that I started a consulting firm last year (www.panvisio.org) which helps churches along with servicing traditional nonprofit and educational institutions in maximizing strategy through software. As you can imagine, however, helping churches at a strategic level can pose some challenges that other organizations might not have to be bothered with. What is it exactly? One word. Theology.
Without a doubt, what you believe at a theological level, will have a direct impact in how you engage with church management at a practical level. Just as there are different "flavors" of Christianity as described in this incredible documentary called "American Jesus"
there are different "philosophies of ministry". Essentially, what is the basis, or the "why", behind how church leaders go about fulfilling spiritual needs as well as operational needs of the church?
Often times what I find is that pastors and their respective leadership teams don’t have a clear and concrete understanding of the operational/management side of things. Sure, they are well versed in the spiritual disciplines department (praise and worship, preaching, bible study, prayer groups, church retreats/conferences, etc.) but not so much in the area of church management and operations (book keeping, membership management/tracking, IT, time management, project management, fundraising campaigns, and yes, even email). So based on my experience in being a pastor's son, being a part of 2 church splits, 2 church start-ups, and 7 missions trips, helping my dad with sharing a sermon, and leading various youth and discipleship groups myself back in the day, I found some patterns of thinking that need to change in order for struggling churches to shift from just surviving to alive and thriving. This list is by no means exhaustive. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Realize that spiritual disciplines cannot make up for organizational development for your church. Period.
In other words, you cannot "pray" your way into church growth and financial sustainability. You need to adopt the principals and best practices for running a nonprofit and small business. There is nothing that can replace this . In fact, this is where many of the mega-churches shine. Like them or not, they get this down to a science (find out the possible reason why here). The truth is mega-churches don't just plop out of the sky as if God is setting up headquarters at various parts of our country. They grow over time. Some do so ethically, others not so much. It is important to note that many mega churches get a bad rap, and thus, by association methods they use get a bad rap too. Don't fall for this trap. Just like you can use a hammer as a tool to put a nail in the wall for a picture frame, you can also use a hammer and put a hole in the wall because of bad aim. It all comes down to HOW you use the tools and with what intention.
A moment of honesty here, many mega churches will have you believe it is the "favor" found from being faithful that has led to their "mega" status (and money). This is very much so misleading. I spoke to a pastor of a large church in southern New Jersey and he shared the importance of organizational structure and efficiency. He sends his Executive Pastors (aka VP of Operations who may SOMETIMES preach or lead a ministry from time to time) to conferences that address aspects of MANAGING a church at an operational level (see #3). This ensures he gets to focus on quality preaching and leading his core team as suppose to doing it all and running himself thin.
2. Stop incorrectly assuming counter-intuitive decisions are hallmarks of faith.
Yes, many astounding acts of faith do seem odd at first glance (Abraham was seriously going to kill his own son? Seriously?) but many of these accounts are not meant to be taken literally nor a license to apply bad decision making. These were snap shots of their lives. Don’t turn every decision into a major faith and obedience crossroad. Be smart and take measured steps in growing your church. Don't let that inner dialogue based on vague emotional impressions be confused with "radical obedience". For example, if you are struggling to pay the light bill for the church building and the thought crossed your mind for a second to donate ALL the offering to a guest speaker because you interpreted it as a message from God-STOP. If you are to be "fishers' of men" don't blow your funds to the point where you can't even afford bait. Think it through and don't turn that into "test to trust God with the light bill" lesson. That's being a poor steward with the little that you have. Speaking of being a good steward.
3. Being strategic with time and resources (aka being a faithful steward) isn't "acting in the flesh" and a sign that you are not trusting God.
Some associate planning with "legalism" or being too systematic. I say it is maximizing your talents and resources. If you take the account in Noah literally, then I am pretty sure he had to adamant about the measurements used to build the ark. Trust me, he wasn't trying to cut corners or dilly-dally on deadlines. You have to understand you are building something too. When the flood of noise and distractions come against you and your members, you will be glad you had some form of compass (strategic plan) to help you navigate the waters.
Still, others don't like getting "strategic" when it comes an organization that is directly tied to a form of spirituality. I think those who who have a problem with this have concerns that are misplaced. If anything having a thorough strategic plan can be considered one of the highest acts of spirituality and gratitude that you can do as a pastor. Think about it. To care enough to think through the small and big details says that you understand that none of what you are doing belongs to you. People often associate stewardship with money. That is just one aspect. Being strategic is being a steward of time, resources, and the people you lead. Of course there will always be bumps in the road that may have you change gears, but all in all you will be better prepared for them as the result of having a plan to begin with.
4. Stop spending hours of wasted time debating (at the price of relationships even) theological issues that have absolutely NO bearing in the real world.
People are hungry and hurting probably within a half mile radius of your church. I am pretty sure they don't care about how much of the Left Behind series is based on sound doctrine. Debate about how to best meet needs there and save it for seminary classes or bible study. Keep the pulpit open for #5.
5. Contextualize biblical teachings/concepts for the culture/environment you are in.
Getting to know the history of biblical times and the meanings of the Hebrew/Greek texts are cool and all, but unless you make it relevant to the general congregation, you risk missing the opportunity to compel visitors and nominal members to invite others to your service. I'm not saying stop altogether. I'm saying have balance.
6. Create space for a diversity of views and opinions through dialogue instead of a monologue from the pulpit.
There is always this risk of sharing "the stage" to radicals but trust me, you will win more hearts over than you will push away by showing you are not afraid of diving into topics that may be controversial or otherwise cause a divide. It shows it is okay to be vulnerable and not have all the right answers. Plus, by taking the lead on such topics you get a jump on framing the conversation. It also allows you to be more relevant and appeal more to a younger crowd who are hungry for this cross section of social issues and how a church can respond. An extension of this is #7.
7. Get involved in active, organized, and systematic social justice. Like, right now.
No, you cannot pray away, preach away, praise away, interpretative dance away things like poverty or the prison industrial complex. They are great ways to bring awareness, but I think it is safe to say that while media is just starting to give issues like institutionalized racism a little more time on the airwaves, we've known about them in our communities for many decades. It's time to act in an organized way. Here is a great podcast about ways churches can get involved in social justice as a church. Skip ahead a bit to jump to it. I know many who are reading this may not take this one into consideration, but if you are a church that has a majority membership base that is older than 50, this is probably one of the quickest ways to infuse attendance with a younger generation. Now more than ever, young people are looking to find spirituality that is mindful and meaningful. www.Sojo.net is a good place to start.
8. Stop equating how much time you invest in church activities with being emotionally healthy human being.
No family is perfect, but sometimes a false sense of confidence is derived from families (especially those with special titles within the church) who use how much they know about the Bible as a cloak to cover the damaged and broken relationships they have with one another. It is not a one for one trade off. Eventually these things come to the light and members quickly lose respect for those in leadership (that is if they even have respect currently). You need a team that is talented AND emotionally healthy enough to tackle problems head on. There is a great book and church program that I think EVERY church can use titled, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that deals with this).
9. EVERYTHING regarding church management doesn't have to be considered through an "uber-Jesus evangelical" worldview.
For example, if you need to build a website for your church, you don't have to get books by authors who put a biblical slant on website building (e.g What Would Jesus Build? 10 Commandments For Building a Church Website) Not everything has to be Christianized. If you do, I have to ask is your car Christian? Is your primary healthcare doctor Christian? Are the mints that you buy Christian? Wait, don't answer that last one.
I don't want to go on a rant here (okay, I kinda do) but hiding behind a Christian bubble and replacing every segment of your life with Christian alternatives (and encouraging your members to do so) is like having a kid and wanting them to be placed in a bubble for fear they might get sick from all the germs out there. Nice intention, just a little extreme. What you end up really doing is stunting their immune system and overall health. Doing the same thing and qualifying your search to only Christian sources when looking for resources and help for your church will stunt your efforts in finding growth. Trust me when I say this: many churches are dying a slow and painful death just because of this very reason. Don't be afraid to go a public speaking class or a toastmasters meetup http://www.toastmasters.org/ to work on your preaching skills. Send some of your leadership team to a conference or workshop on project management. No, it is not a sin to get better at your gift intentionally and no, "God isn't allergic to excellence" as one friend has shared with me once. Last but not least…
10. Not accounting for human behavior and the craziness of life when it comes to helping others follow through.
When working with others, we must "busy proof" instructions and bake in systems that enable individuals to follow through more effectively. We cannot assign a project and expect them to magically know exactly what we mean about the details. You have to literally lay out the steps, talk about expectations on quality, establish check ins, and be proactive about outcomes to see things through. This takes time and energy but it is essential in not giving those you serve leftovers. Think about it this way: If you knew, literally, Jesus in the flesh was coming to your summer vacation bible school, I am pretty sure you would be a little more active in starting sooner and ensuring everything was in order. One more quick point about this, your leadership has to be trained so that when you delegate something, you don't have to have the same level of hand holding as you would a general member.
Below is a list of recommended books and readings. I would caution that some tend to "Christianize" some secular, or should I say, agnostic, business practices (or otherwise common sense). Regardless, they are great books to help pastors and leadership teams find blind spots and overcome limiting patterns of thinking.
What do you do when you know you have something of worth to share, but have a hard time helping others see the value? Is it them? Is it you? Is it the way you are explaining it? Why don't they get it? Why is it that others can speak and everyone would hang on every word while others are so easily dismissed? Did you have something stuck in your teeth? What is it?
We all have some challenges with influence in some form or fashion. Sometimes it is on an innocent debate like quantifying the top 10 Denzel Washington movies of all time.
Other times, it is something more serious (like your influencing the hiring manager that they should hire you). Your ability to influence others depends on many factors. I just wanted to take a quick look and make some observations regarding building and finding influence in regards to image and the cultural associations and biases connected to it.
Though I haven't seen hard evidence for this I think it is safe to say some people just have IT. That IT factor. They have the look and the sound. They just have this personality that warrants a lot of social credibility and influence. Let's not front and pretend this doesn't play a significant role in even our social circles. There are some things you will tolerate with some friends and other things you wouldn't. You meet someone for the first time and your gut immediately gives you this "sense" or impression of that person. What is the basis for the gut feeling or impression?
I think a huge chunk of it is unconscious bias. Even Google has admitted to the fact that this plays a role in the lack of diverse hiring practices there (a typical example of is when Joe gets the job despite the fact Jose has the background that makes him a better fit).
No one is free from this bias. I often wonder how much of our daily interactions are based our very compelling (yet sometimes unreliable) feeling that we say is "our gut reaction". And how much weight should we put on this "truthiness" (the sense of truth we get from our guts as suppose to facts, a word coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005).
To be fair, I do think at some level it's an evolutionary thing. I mean, we make snap judgement all the time due to our internal survival mechanism. Constantly on auto pilot, this thing is running in the background sizing up the environment for some type of threat. For some, unfortunately, this dependency on associating absolute truth or meaning to this buggy system of unconscious bias is EXTREMELY dangerous. Case in point, many of the African American males who are targeted by police. That stats on this stuff is mind blowing. If you don't know, this just doesn't magically begin in the criminal justice system. It can be even be found in education.
So, needless to say, if you are white and well off you are more likely to get a pass or leg up for several things ranging from
1. Asking for some change for bus fair
2. Getting the interview and
3. Jail sentences just to name a few.
I think the associations we make regarding the sound of an individuals voice is just as much as a marker for us when associating social credibilty as their image or looks. I actually have a pet theory that there is a weird correlation that goes unnoticed between how someone looks vs how they sound as it relates to social influence. Like, if you have "the look" of someone who, on average (other things equal), is of an assumed higher social influence (e.g. relatively attractive, well dressed in a affluent neighborhood, etc.), then you get to have some wiggle room in the sound of your voice (e.g. No one is going to mess with a huge NFL linebacker even if his voice sounds a little lady like).
A great historical example is of Abraham Lincoln. He was a great (and tall) leader but known to have a higher pitch voice which some found slightly odd. I'm sure we've had an experience where we saw someone and were jolted by how they spoke. I'm sure at some level we make split second assumptions about their personality, possible interests and even education levels as the result. If someone has a really ridiculous laugh some may think the general assumption is that they are, perhaps, less intelligent, less attractive, or less...whatever cultural associations you have developed based on your scope of experience. (For some reason I think of that episode of friends where Chandler Bing, played by Matthew Perry is dating Janice Litman, played by Maggie Wheeler).
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if we were to listen to a British accent at a conference in America, there are some who would put more weight and validity on what that person is saying. Why? Because there is this deeply rooted yet subtle acceptance of this idea that the sound of a person's voice, not just looks, have varying degrees of influence/credibility associated to it.
Don't get me started on how your physical demeanor and mannerism plays a role in how you are perceived. That is probably another blog entry, but I just want to say this and I'll leave it here: This is why some people get so defensive, especially in minority circles (of which I am included in case you didn't know by now). Because the bar for social credibility is a bit higher for us compared to our lighter skin comrades there are certain levels of social proof to fulfill in every day environments that are just given when it comes to someone else (often times of a lighter skin tone).
Sometimes you can feel individuals culturally "sizing you up" and conducting a micro social-class audit on you when it comes to how they want to engage. Is this everyone? Of course not. But this is a reality that many of us of color face day to day. Because the very nature of unconscious bias is, well, unconscious, it is EXTREMELY difficult to have a healthy dialogue around it. We are left with school assemblies, college workshops, maybe a diversity class made mandatory as common core and that is it. In my experience, many of these attempts to educate others in these settings are done poorly where more than half of the audience checks out and writes it off as a "kumbaya" moment. Other than that we are left with random blogs, facebook rants, and youtube videos that tackle the subject but would rarely be viewed and consumed by those who need it most because, again, it is an unconscious bias. If you don't know you don't know about these topics you won't be compelled to watch it let alone be open to the fact that you may have to realign your views and values.
This is especially true when we consider skin color AND clothes. It is interesting to note how one race can have crazy undone hair with a disheveled look be considered "hipster" but someone else who may be a darker skin tone wear the same type of clothes be considered impoverished or "of the ghetto". (Wait, there is one thing people of color could do to instantly change that! The thick black framed glasses!)
So those business speakers who give advice to students are essentially right when they say, 'You are your brand". In fact, I've used this same mental framing when speaking to students about how they should hold themselves in social settings, more specifically academic settings. But it is a shame when you have to to take it this far in modern America today.
So if I had to give some advice to a young person of color in regards to increasing their odds at gaining more social influence and credibility, I would say start with your appearance. You would have to align your image with the impression and general associations you want to leave on the average stranger you meet in public. Of course, this is always hit or miss since these kinds of associations (e.g. wearing a business suit) can give different impressions on different individuals based on their experience (scum of the earth banker vs. young professional).
Of course you can say screw it and not play that game. I know I can do more with leveraging my appearance better when navigating the power institutions in society but there are many of us who don't really care for it and would rather much make up for it in other categories, like the ones listed below.
Of course, in some careers this is perfectly fine, if not expected. We all remember seeing those brilliant professors who didn't iron their shirt with different color socks on and always fumbling around with papers (remember that physical demeanor thing? If you always look lost or losing something, people take the liberty to associate that with a lack of competence). Yet, how do professors still have so much influence and social credibility despite this clear violation? It is simple, they hit the credential/experience categories off the charts, that is why. Perhaps at a later time I will tackle those categories of social credibility and influence at a later post.
In the meantime, just remember this: if you ever decide to pass out in public, make sure you are wearing a suit.
Other Categories of Social Credibility/Influence.
So I haven't been active on my website because I've been busy working on a consulting firm that I am trying to build up over at www.PanVisio.org. After a lot of soul searching I felt that it was time that I leveraged my website to be more than just a "sales" page for my speaking engagements. I want it to be a platform where I share my thoughts and opinions on the various solutions that I am discovering for finding various problems, either in life (e.g. getting fit) or in business (getting financially sustainable).
Thankfully, in the course of my research, which pretty much is consuming an ungodly amount of books, blogs, podcasts, youtube interviews, and online learning communities (aka membership sites like this one and this one), I found that it is much more enjoyable to build relationships than trying to sell to a random customer. So, I decided to become a little bit more vulnerable and shed this "corporate persona" so that I can slowly but surely, build a base of people who I resonate with. This way, when it comes time to share something I have to offer, they would have a level of trust and respect for me to actually consider a purchase as suppose to giving the side eye, or worse, the "Oh wow, sounds great, I'll get back to you on that" ::walking backwards slowly with their index fingers firing at me::
So this is what this website is all about: Building relationships with those who want to make a difference and a decent income and the journey along the way. Join me won't you?
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I had the great pleasure to speak to the amazing incoming freshmen males from Teaneck High School. What made this visit even more important to me was that it came on the Monday after the George Zimmerman verdict. While much of the conversation on the verdict has subsided in mainstream media, many refuse to let the issue die out. Probably one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is this: are we letting it die out?
Remember now how it felt when you found out. Where were you? How did you feel? I know for me, I was so angry I couldn't fall asleep. Although I am still disturbed by the verdict, I decided to transmute this anger into a positive channel. I gained new mentees that day at Teaneck and I am excited for their individual and collective journey of growth and development. We can only gain hope for tomorrow when we choose to be agents of change today. Words are not enough. We must take action...large or small, political or inter-personal.
I spoke at a middle school recently. While many would see a challenge in trying to reach this age group, I saw an opportunity. I just had to figure out how I can keep them engaged without sacrificing the importance and gravity of the message. After being mindful of the audience I appreciated this very universal trait we all have: no matter your age...we all know "real recognizes real". So while I made sure it was fun and engaging, I also was blatantly honest. I did not sugar coat the issue they face. Students everywhere (but especially inner city students) must pass two schools. One school is traditional academia. The other is the School of Hard Knocks. This school is the one where we painfully become aware that life is not fair. It is the school that tells us that we do not all come from the same "starting point" in life. It was this school that I made known is also important. If we don't name it and intentionally meet young people where they are then we will miss the opportunity for them to become real and open up with us. We cannot afford this to happen. They must be emotionally disarmed from fear before we can intellectually arm them for success. Below is a thank you message from one of their hard working guidance counselors. Thank you "Randi" for the honor to speak with your wonderful students!
Students at Centenary College 2012!
Needless to say, times have changed since the days of the civil rights era. What has not changed is the need for young people to be involved in the political process. What many do not realize is much of the actions that sparked the high profile court cases and protests stemmed from young people taking action. I had a blast sharing their stories and encouraging the students of THE ALLIANCE, EOP, H.O.L.A. of the unique opportunity they have to write their own chapter in the history books.But first, let's give them something to write about. The following three services can greatly increase your impact if used resourcefully. Check them out and feel free to share with me how you end up using them!
1. Jersey Cares-Find a cause and get PASSIONATE!
Jersey Cares, a nonprofit organization, established in 1993, recruits and engages volunteers in rewarding, effective efforts that address community-identified needs. We partner with local nonprofits to identify needs and implement volunteer projects to meet these needs. We provide individuals, families, corporate employees and community groups with a wide variety of volunteer opportunities that range from tutoring children to painting new murals in schools.
2. The Citizens Campaign-Practice your IMPACT!
Through live events and online classes The Citizens Campaign has educated thousands of New Jerseyans in how to navigate the power structure of government and to exercise leadership beginning with their own hometowns. The Citizens Campaign educates citizens how to get results through 5 powerful nonelected leadership positions, as citizen legislators, political navigators, citizen journalists, political party committee people, and appointed officials.
3. Meetup.com- Get connected with others who care!
Meetup is the world's largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 9,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.
Meetup's mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.
RA Training at Dominican College 2012
Having the pleasure of speaking to the Resident Assistants at Dominican College really brought me back to life as a resident student during undergrad. The great times bonding with friends and forming those relationships helped make my experience that much more special. This makes sense since studies show that students who live on campus will have a higher chance at graduating. It also positively effects an "increase in aesthetic, cultural and intellectual values” (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005, p. 421).
Residence Life Assistants are essentially on the front lines of community development in the dormitories. Invest in these strategically placed leaders, and you can transform your campus culture. Thanks for having me Dominican College!
Today I had the pleasure of helping students from Montclair State University and Bloomfield College understand the edge you can have when thinking like a CEO of your company called SELF!
Here are some of the tools and resources you can use in being the best performing "CEO" in the Fall Semester.
Google Drive: An online office suite (like Microsoft Office) that is FREE and handles the storage and management of your files! Save a paper here, and you and almost guaranteeing you never will lose a paper...its ONLINE!
Make sure to check out the other tools that Google provides that can really help you keep organized, like Calendar and Google Tasks.
For an awesome to do manager, check out Producteev.com. They have a great and easy to use layout that nicely integrates with your email. Keeping up with your tasks are a breeze with Producteev.com.
At the end of the day, the CEO gets results. Whatever system you use, make sure you are actively making progress towards your "company goals" and mission statement. Good luck Class of 2016!
As promised, here are the screencasts of the free and easy to use software I mentioned. They are broken up into two parts. As always, feel free to shoot me an email at lopez.joed(at)gmail.com.
Below is a list of the programs (some not mentioned in the video) and links to their sites. Again, it was a pleasure sharing with you all! Hope to see you sometime soon!
Click the link below and enjoy the show!
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