Monday, August 31, 2015

The Five Pound Note Theory

When I was about nine years old, we took a family vacation to visit my Scottish grandparents in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The wonderful "foreignness" of how Scotland was, compared to the "ordinariness" of my life in Boise, Idaho made such an imprint on my bourgeoning young soul.  The bakeries filled with sausage rolls, cherry-red double decker busses, televisions that were still powered by vacuum tubes, baths that had to be filled with kettles of hot water from the stove, have remained with me through these many years.  And yet, it was a lesson that my grandfather taught me that is the topic of my blog post this morning.

Each morning our family would have breakfast in the sunroom just off the kitchen.  The chairs that flanked the breakfast table were all rickety, creaky, fragile things from the turn of the century.  My brother, who was just four at the time, sat on the most squeaky of them.  Every tiny move that my brother made, caused the chair to squeak.  The relative austerity of the personality of my Scottish grandparents, mixed with the regular interruption of a squeak on his chair, was more temptation than my brother could bear.  And so my brother squeaked.  Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.  "Please stop that Jamie," said my mother.  Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak went Jamie.  "Jamie, that is not polite," said Dad.  Squeak, squeak, squeak.  It went on for some time, annoying the entire family to no end.  Then, my Scottish grandpa made a developmental breakthrough, that is the subject of this week's blogpost.

In a broad Scottish accent, my grandfather said, "Whoever squeaks their chair next will receive a Five Pound Note (equivalent to a 10 dollar bill)."  There was all of a sudden an uneasy silence in the room.  What was grandpa saying?  Was this some kind of trick?  Was this reverse psychology?  About thirty seconds passed, before Jamie, made another squeak, then, grandpa handed over a Five Pound Note and said, "Congratulations, young man!"  And here's the incredible thing.  The squeaking stopped for the rest of the morning.  Without the tempting fun of doing something that he shouldn't do, Jamie must have decided that squeaking his chair wasn't so much fun anymore.

All of these many years later, I have utilized this same technique to varying effects and levels of success in many different settings.  I have used it so much that I have come up with a name for this psychological technique.  I call it;

The Five Pound Note Theory

The theory goes something like this.  Most aberrant human behavior occurs because of the relative pleasure that is derived from doing something that is socially unacceptable.  When the social un-acceptability of that behavior changes, the pleasure disappears, and the aberrant behavior loses it's ultimate power and temptation.

Often in my years of ministry, I have seen kids who grew up in relatively sheltered homes, begin to go through times in rebellion in their teenage years.  This often takes the form of nose piercings, and hair color change (red mohawks, purple mullets).  Whenever I see a kid go through one of these changes, and knowing the parents were appalled at the rebellious behavior, I have sometimes said to a kid, "Wow, I like that orange hair, you might want to go with more magenta next time though, I think it would work better for you."  With a deep level of shock, I have sometimes found that that kid decided that, now that the social acceptability of that rebellion no longer existed, that it wasn't so much fun to color their hair, and so they went back to normal hair color.

Not long ago, I had a man in my office who was contemplating getting a divorce, and having an extramarital affair.  This man was convinced that when he told a pastor about his plan, that I would be utterly appalled and repulsed by this plan and that I would scold this individual scathingly.  Of course, I would never condone or encourage or think positively about such a course of action in a person's life.  Extramarital affairs are very destructive experiences for couples, families and communities.  However, I was convinced that this man was actually searching for someone to be upset with his planned action, which in turn would propel him to the very action that he was thinking of doing.  So, after he told me about his plan to leave his wife, I said, "Well, sounds like you have thought through this plan quite clearly, and have thought through all of the implications.  Yes, I think you are correct, getting a divorce sounds like the right thing to do."  Startled, the man said, "What? what do you mean, how could you say such a thing."  The man began a course, not long after that, of recommitting to his marriage, and deserting his very destructive plan for his life.

Through the centuries, the Christian church has fallen into many, many traps regarding the decrying of a certain behavior or "sin" and finding that that approach has only created more of a desire to engage in that behavior.  In a sense, Christians have created a level of social unacceptability that creates a pleasure center for aberrant behavior.  If Christians would, on the other hand, be less focussed on creating these social boundaries, and more focussed on loving the individual at hand, they might find it easier to guide people into healthy decisions about their lives.

Now, don't get me wrong.  There is such thing as right and wrong.  Sin exists, and is not something that should be lifted up.  The Bible is clear about what areas of life are healthy and what are not.  The church should stand, in the midst of a world that is lost and in chaos, for Biblical values, and Christ centered living.  However, in the approach to the world, we might find that we get further down the road of healthy living, and righteous behavior, if we employed with a little more frequency and a little more thoughtfulness;

The Five Pound Note Theory

All For Now,


Monday, August 24, 2015

It's All Pioneer Ministry

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow pastors in a rural valley glenn in Central Colorado.  The valley, just outside of Salida, had been settled sometime in the mid-eighteen hundreds by farmers and gold prospectors.  Stone ruins of the ancient settlements could still be seen poking out of the tall wild grass.  The original settlement was long gone.  But if you listened close enough, you could still hear the yoked oxen grunting as they plowed boulder strewn fields in the heat of the day.  You could still hear the metronomic stamping of a hammer down on an anvil in a barn where horse-shoes were being made. These were true Pioneers who lived here just a few generations ago.  They worked land that had never been worked, created a settlement where no settlement had ever been before, they eked out of nothing an existence that in some measure, still exists.

I have been thinking lately that all ministry these days is Pioneer Ministry

It's All Pioneer Ministry

I have a friend who is leading a large church in the ECO denomination (Evangelical Covenant Order).  When he talks about the challenges of his call setting, he speaks of the loneliness of decisions that have to be made, and the sheer magnitude of work involved in each day at the church.  It's on his shoulders, and it will succeed or fail because of his work and providence alone.  In many ways, he's totally on his own.  It's Pioneer Ministry.

My father is now an interim pastor in a small church outside of Sacramento with the EPC denomination (Evangelical Presbyterian Church).  Ironically, it is actually called, "Pioneer Presbyterian Church".  Each day my Dad goes to work and thinks about how to get some momentum in this once vital church.  He is trying to build a new settlement where there is no church settlement.  He's on his own.  It's Pioneer Ministry.

Another friend is a youth pastor in a nearby, neighboring church.  His youth program is thriving, but his support networks are very thin.  His senior pastor is away on extended leave, and his Presbytery within the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church, USA), is without an Executive Presbyter.  He's on his own. It's a Pioneer Ministry.

I am now one year into my third New Church Development at Mission Street Church within the PC (USA).  It's hard work.  My muscles are still aching on Monday morning from the heavy lifting that I did at 4:30AM yesterday of speaker systems, folding tables and musical instruments.  We meet in a movie theater because we don't have a building yet.  It's often lonely work.  There's very little support from the Presbytery, although there are masses of committee meetings to attend on a weekly basis.  I'm on my own.  It's Pioneer Ministry.

But here's the thing.  I just left a very large church in the ECO denomination (by some estimates, the 10th largest Presbyterian Church in the country).  But it was also lonely, hard work.  The denominational support was scant, if all but non-existent.  Each morning when I went to work it was like hitching up a set of oxen to a yoke and a hoe and plowing a field.  Large boulders, that would impede ministry growth, would often be in the way of a good harvest, and these would have to be removed in the heat of the day.  It was Pioneer Ministry.

What am I getting at.  Simply this.  If you decide to do ministry in this day and age, if you decide to serve God's people in an effective and dynamic way, you will be doing Pioneer Ministry.  It doesn't matter what denomination you are a member of, or what size of church you lead, you will pretty much be on your own.  There will occasionally be a pastor who sits beside you and lends an ear to your particular problem or challenge, but you are on your own.

It's All Pioneer Ministry.

But there is a beauty in being a Pioneer.  To be able to start something somewhere where no ministry has ever taken place before is a powerful experience.  When you read the Bible about other Pioneer Ministers like the Apostle Paul, or the disciples, you can actually say that you can relate to their struggles.  Paul was on his own in Asia Minor, and so are you.

I LOVE Pioneer Ministry.  I want to underline this, I LOVE PIONEER MINISTRY.  Pioneer Ministry makes me so excited, even writing this blog post, I get a happy feeling.  And as I look back, the biggest mistakes I have actually made in my ministry were to rely on denominational or other structures that were in place that gave a false sense of assurance or support.  It's better to hoe your own hoe, row your own canoe (to mix a metaphor).

And I'll tell you what, when you are sitting in the rocking chair on the front porch of your church equivalent to a small log cabin at the end of a hard day of work, with a corn cob pipe in your mouth, and you look out on the field and see what the oxen of the Holy Spirit and you were able to do together in the heat of the day, you feel a deep sense of pride and honor.  Instead of the sound of horse shoes being stamped out in your ear, you can hear a strong but steady voice from the Holy Spirit in your ear, saying - "Well done! Carry On!"

Be a Pioneer!  Build something that people generations from now will remember and appreciate.

All For Now,

Monday, August 17, 2015

Game of Big Bird

Maybe you heard the news this past week.  Sesame Street, the children's television program that quite literally raised an entire generation of young Americans, and was the leading edge in bridging the racial and cultural divide in this country's inner cities, is moving to HBO.  That's right, Grover, Big Bird, Kermit, Bert and Ernie and The Grouch will all be teaming up with other HBO specials like, "Game of Thrones" "True Detective" and "Veep".  What once was a public program (Public Broadcasting Service) is now a totally private entity (Private Broadcasting Service).  I'm pretty sure that moaning and groaning sound is Jim Henson, the founder of The Muppet Show and the inventor of many of the characters on Sesame Street, rolling in his grave.

Sesame Street's top executive, Jeffrey Dunn, cited several important reasons why this corporate move occurred.  First, he said, kids today are not watching television in the same way that they were in previous generations.  Most kids watch, "On Demand" programming, rather than tuning in at a specific time and place to watch a television program.  Many of these "On Demand" options are actually pay per view purchases (As a father of a three year old, I can attest to this.  Just last month, my daughter Sheena put around $100 worth of programming purchases on her Kindle - by herself.  We called and contested the charges, and had them overturned).  Also, and most importantly, PBS is not raising the kind of money that they used to from the general public in putting quality programming on the air.  People are watching television content in different ways than they used to, and people aren't giving to non-profits as they have in days of old.

This corporate merger certainly poses some interesting concepts in Sesame Street's programing future.  Here are some possibilities.  Instead of "Game of Thrones", it could be "Game of Big Bird". And there are many other options:

Ernie and Bert and James Gandolfini in "The Muppets and Sopranos"
Kermit and Vince Vaughn in "True Kid Detective"
Mr. Hooper could be Julia Luis Dreyfus' new Vice President in "Veep Veep, Here Comes the Bus"
"This episode of Sesame Street is sponsored by three letters....HBO"

Setting aside the endless puns and programming possibilities surrounding the merger of Sesame Street and HBO, I actually think that this corporate decision has great portent for all non-profits today, including churches.

All Non-Profits and Churches Are Facing Funding Challenges
It is not just non-profit programs like Sesame Street that are seeing a decline in funding, so are all non-profits and churches.  When I compare the per capita giving by members of the church today, verses almost two decades ago when I began my ministry, the decrease is sizable and noticeable.  People are just giving less than they used to.  The public sense of responsibility to individually support non-profits and churches simply doesn't exist the way it used to.

On Demand Religious Content Will Replace Regular Church Attendance
In the same way that parents don't sit their kids down to a regular dose of Sesame Street on television at the same time each weekday, people are less likely to think of church as a regular occurrence in the weekly schedule.  As a new Church Development, we have been amazed at the number of people around the world who are tuning in to watch one of our worship videos, instead of attending our church on a Sunday morning.  Just this weekend we had several new countries join our video audience (India, Ireland, and Albania).

Larger Sponsorship Will Be An Important Component of Non-profit Assistance
The main reason that Sesame Street moved to HBO is because of the huge bank roll that they provide the television show going forward.  Most churches I know today also rely on both individual gifts from members of a church as well as the outside support and sponsorship of generous benefactors and donors.  Mission Street Church, simply put, would not be where it is today without the generous help of many incredible benefactors.

Of course, the change in viewers habits and funding sources does pose some interesting questions for the future of Sesame Street.  What about households in America that cannot afford cable, or "On Demand" programming?  What about the content of the show that was committed to bringing multiculturalism to young people's lives - will that come to an end?  HBO is mostly about entertainment, not education, will Sesame Street become pure entertainment or will it continue to educate?  Is this the end of PBS as we know it?

No one knows the answers to these questions for sure.  For now, it is safe to say that the end of the once famous song on Sesame Street, "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street" might have a new answer...."just turn right on....Wall Street".

All For Now,

Monday, August 10, 2015

"You're Fired" vs. "Got Fired"

This past weekend, I had the great joy of visiting old friends in Colorado Springs as well as catching a fish (only seven inches long) on a wonderful fly-fishing trip to the Arkansas river.  So, I did not get a chance to watch the GOP debates on Thursday evening.  However, after watching the post debate coverage, it would seem that two candidates captured all of the headlines.  They were the:

"You're Fired" vs. the "Got Fired" candidate.

The "You're Fired" candidate is of course Donald Trump, who made it a catch phrase and moniker of his reality show, "The Apprentice."  With more than an ounce of self-satisfaction, not to mention self-aggrandizement, at the end of every show, Trump would sit around the board room table and look into the eyes of one of his contestants and, while pointing an index finger in their general direction, say, "You're Fired."  And with that, the once-and future contestant, now deflowered of any self-respect,  would ride the elevator downward, get into a limo and drive away.

The "Got Fired" candidate is Carly Fiorina.  Once the CEO of Hewlett Packard, Fiorina was fired by an intransigent, antiquated and outmoded board of directors who, in the middle of an attempt to transform the company, got cold feet, and fired their nationally famous CEO.  In Fiorina's words, "I was fired in a boardroom brawl.  And you know why?  Because I challenged the status quo.  It is what leaders must do.  And when you challenge the status quo, when you lead, you make enemies.  It's why so few people lead."  Fiorina followed up by comparing herself to other leading CEOs and business innovators in American history; "Oprah, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Michael Bloomberg were also fired, so I think that puts me in pretty good company."

Here's my question for the morning: On the basis of these two criterion (realizing there are many other candidates to choose from, and the race is a long way from being over) which candidate of these two - the "You're Fired" or "Got Fired" - candidate would make the best President of the United States?

First the "You're Fired" approach:
Recognizing at the outset that Donald Trump was an actor on a television show and not an actual CEO in the television show, determining which employees should remain a part of an organization and which should not is a very difficult task.  For me, as head of staff, these are hands down the hardest decisions to make.  I have literally lain awake for weeks on end before making a difficult decision to terminate the position of an employee that has worked for churches that I have led.  Whatever the reason, or cause, it is a very painful process.

And yet, such decisions have to be made in any organization.  For financial reasons, cause, or some other reason of integrity diminishment, a healthy organization must have leaders that are willing to make tough decisions that are not fun or easy to make.

Second the "Got Fired" approach:
Again, there are a lot of reasons why people lose their jobs.  But finding out that your position has been terminated is never a fun experience.  In Florin's case, it was about standing up to a backward group of leaders who were in many ways driving their organization into oblivion, that caused her termination.  Hewlett Packard, once the vanguard of change and innovation, has existed as the caboose of technology and computer development for at least the past decade.  "Change or die," Fiorina told the board.  The board chose death, and that, as Robert Frost has said, "made all the difference."  Hewlett Packard stock, as of this morning, is on a Niagara Falls death-trajectory downward since January of this year.

I have experienced the challenge of terminating the employment of other employees as well as being terminated in my life.  Both of them where excruciating experiences.  However, in my experience, the fortitude that it takes to "Get Fired", and then carry your head high, with a measure of grace, strength  and inner metal is the tougher of the two experiences.

And so, hands down, if the choice for president was between the "You're Fired" or the "Got Fired" candidate, I would choose the "Got Fired" candidate.

What about you?

All For Now,