Monday, June 29, 2009

Do the Mighty Always Fall?

I’m a big fan of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last. So when I received a copy of his newest book, How the Mighty Fall, I put my other reading aside and dug in.

Collins takes an interesting turn in his latest, research-based project. Rather than focusing on greatness, he examines why successful companies fall and how they might prevent or reverse a meltdown. He identifies five stages of decline that form a consistent pattern in these riches-to-rags stories. Interestingly, the first two stages (and even some of stage 3) occur when a company is still on the way up.

As with Collins’ other works, the lessons for churches are readily transferable. I’ve known far too many that are guilty of “grasping for salvation” (stage 4), thinking that all they need is the right leader or the latest fad program. And I wonder how many of today’s newsmakers might have entered stage 1, “hubris born of success.”

There’s one caveat to this recommendation. Even though How the Mighty Fall is based on the same type of in-depth analysis as Collins’ other books, this one is not as lengthy nor did I have as many “aha” moments. Collins explains in the preface that the project began as an article, but then “evolved into this small book.” The flip side is that it’s a quick read – only 123 pages plus appendices. My bottom line: it’s a worthwhile investment to learn (as the subtitle says) “why some companies never give in.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

God's Gift to ...

You’ve heard the expression, “He (or she) thinks he is God’s gift to ________.” When that is said, there’s always a derisive or antagonistic tone, as if the speaker is saying, “I can’t stand to be with him because he’s so arrogant.”

I’ve known some second chair leaders who feel that they are God’s gift to their churches. In fact, at times I’m guilty as charged. The truth is that the skills and demands of the second chair role give us plenty of reason to think this way. We’re often like the talented juggler who can keep many balls (or flaming torches) in the air without dropping a single one. Add to that a couple of church members who say, “I don’t know how we’d get along without you” and our egos can get super-charged pretty quickly.

As I read Romans 12:3 this week, I had a new insight into this phrase. We’re told to view ourselves with sober judgment, but the passage goes on to exhort us to use the gifts that God has given. Perhaps it’s OK to think of ourselves as “God’s gift” as long as we properly define the phrase. If God is the gift-giver, then that should remove the swagger from our step. We’re not doing great things; God is doing them through us. This also makes it His choice when and how those gifts are used. It should help us take our responsibilities – being good stewards of whatever we’re given – seriously and yet at the same take ourselves less seriously. So go out and serve today as God’s gift to your church.

Monday, June 01, 2009

What Axioms Guide Your Staff?

When Bill Hybels’ Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs came out, I debated whether to add it to my “must read” stack. On one hand, I’ve been enriched by everything I’ve consumed from Willow Creek. On the other hand, with 76 short chapters of pithy sayings, Axiom is not the type of book that I typically enjoy.

So once I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Hybels spoke to me in many of the chapters. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought copies for all of our pastoral and program staff, and made it the focus of a staff development day. We each read the book, and then came prepared to discuss which axioms we considered to be most applicable for our personal leadership development and which would most benefit our staff team collectively. It was a rich time of discussion, and I see it offering ongoing benefits.

Hybels accurately points out that axioms, when they are owned by a group, can become a powerful way to communicate and reinforce important values. I’m working on the axiom of “create your own finish lines” and “real-time coaching.” As a staff, we’re trying to adopt the axioms “excellence honors God and inspires people” and “vision: paint the picture passionately.”

I’ve also found it helpful to think about other important axioms for our church, both those that we currently practice and ones that we need to put in place. Currently I’m thinking about an axiom that might be expressed in the phrase “email doesn’t solve problems.” It might not be quite as profound as some of Hybels’ sayings, but it would sure make a difference in how we handle some “situations.” Pick up a copy of Axiom and as you read, make notes about the leadership concepts that will help you and your team go to the next level.