Don’t Lose The War!

You probably have heard the expression- “don’t win the battle and lose the war”. I think this result happens more than we want to admit. And when we lose the war, it can really hurt and cause pain. You forget to look beyond the immediate to see the long term consequences.

coffee cup

There has been a discussion recently on the effectiveness of the War on Poverty started in the Johnson administration fifty years ago. Despite the efforts to wipe out poverty, the overall statistics have not changed much- still about 15% of the population in the US are still at the poverty level. Regardless of the discouraging statistics, I know that there are also real success stories of how government assistance has pulled families up and allowed them to prosper. Yet, there has been a great and unexpected consequence that is far more damaging than the monetary pain.

The assistance has lead to real damage to the family structure in the inner city.

Kathy and I have been working in inner city ministries for many years and we have witnessed this first hand. We see single mothers with large families- sometimes 6 and 8 children. On the street they call this “getting papers” which is getting assistance based on supporting children. This assistance has promoted children born to homes without fathers, families or resources. With the available assistance, the mothers receive more money if they have more children. We see houses loaded with kids. However, in my own neighborhood it is rare to see a home with more than two children. It’s completely backwards. And these inner city kids have a very, very tough future. And the dependency grows and self-perpetuates.

With the assistance, men and families are essentially let off the hook. They feel little responsibility for the support of the children. “Let the government take care of them.” Other programs lead to the ability to distance yourself from family responsibility. Social Security disability is another example. In the past, when a family member became disabled, the family would rally around this person, help them and support them. Now, we let the government take care of them.

So what’s the message in all this? Should we be callous and cruel? Should we freeze-up in our decision making due to unintended consequences? Here is what I think can be learned:

Good ideas are not always good! There are great pragmatic ideas that are not practical or have unintended consequences. Don’t let the “good” sounding option cloud your rational decision making. Consider all sides, think of the future and any potential and unintended consequences. Like the description above, the consequences can actually be more damaging than the immediate problem. If you have a fight in the bread line and someone gets badly hurt then the hunger would have been a lesser problem- right?

Don’t be afraid to make changes along the way! We see programs go on and on that are not really effective. Why is this? I think part of this is a result of dependency but even larger is the fact that someone has their name on it. You have to admit that it’s not working. You have to admit that it’s broken. Sometimes its just pride or politics. Have the courage to admit that it’s not working and fix it!

Nothing has to last forever! If the concept has run it’s course then let it die. Yes, it will be painful to let it go. We tend to get attached to things. They become part of our identity. Be objective and evaluate and let it die if it is no longer effective.

The truth hurts! It can be difficult to deliver the bad news. When a project goes astray and you have bad things happen, the party is over! Many of us do not like to be the voice of reason. We want to stay on the sunny side of life. Let someone else be the bearer of bad news. In order to be a good steward of limited resources you have a responsibility to evaluate things for efficiency. Do the right thing and tell the truth- even if it hurts!

Leaders are empowered to make decisions and we must be objective and consider all of the consequences. I hurt for our friends downtown. They are struggling in many ways due to faulty unintended results and an unwillingness to make tough changes. The human cost of this is staggering. We continue to dig a hole that only gets deeper. Don’t do it! Consider all the consequences for your decisions and be willing to make the tough changes when necessary.

Win the war- people are counting on you!

Have you been the victim of unintended consequences? Have you seen the pain that results from the aftermath? Click on Leave a Comment and tell me your story!

Copyright © 2014. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

Opposites Day

When my kids were young they would often play a game called Opposites Day.  During this particular day, whatever they said was actually the opposite of what is true.  This was really just a way of trying to catch the other sibling- kind of a trap.  Really just a kid’s game.  But I think that in actuality, it is more than just a game.

Morning 003

This past Saturday I headed downtown to a ministry where Kathy and I have been serving for the past five or so years.  We get up early each Saturday and pick up surplus baked goods and head downtown to distribute food to the needy.  I can attest that it is tough some Saturdays to head downtown.  Yes, sleep and comfort are issues, but the work can be frustrating and unnerving.  We see some moments that make the whole thing question what you are doing.  The need is overwhelming and you can’t be unaffected by palpable feeling of hopelessness that hangs in the air.   We have also seen some pretty ugly situations.  Tension from actions viewed as unfair.  Deep neighborhood wounds.  Indescribable family dysfunction.  Crazy stories of pain that you struggle to untangle in your mind.  One thing is for sure.  You can’t keep score here.  It will drive you crazy.  You simply give and let God take care of the rest.

Amidst all of this, is the heart.  We have made great friends and have had the privilege of living our lives with them.  Each week we share and get updates.  Victories and failures.  We have seen it all.  Stories of success and stories of death.  Sometimes the reality is just too much to carry.  We try to help but we are not in it.  No matter how we try to step into their shoes we are not really with them.  We try to get there, but cultures and lives are so different that the gap really can’t be crossed.  So we meet in the middle each Saturday.  A circle between two circles and we do what we can.  Anything more is just cultural arrogance.  The two crazy assumptions are that we can truly understand what is going in the tough areas of the city while they can understand what it’s like to have a servant’s heart in suburban America.

This Saturday, I was leading a walk that we take each week through the neighborhood.  We carry bags of groceries and hand them out as the Lord leads us and we pray for the families and the neighborhood.  The groceries have always been the minor item.  When we approach folks in the neighborhood and start conversation and ask if they would like prayer, they will open up and share what’s going on in their lives.  This has lead to relationships as we return each week and visit with the same folks regularly.  This Saturday, I suggested that we visit a lady named Vera who lives on the outskirts of our walk, yet is always a treat.  Vera is a grandmother and takes care of her family although she has very modest means.  We knocked on her door and waited.  After a few minutes, she came out and her face lit up in delight.  We hadn’t made it to her house in a while, probably several months.  She quickly caught us up on what was happening with her and her family.  She pains for her family and their struggles.  You can feel her pain as she describes her family update.  Yet, she refuses to stay there.  She immediately turns the story to the day- this day.  She thanks the Lord for the blessing that this day brings.  She is thankful that we have visited her.  She radiates real love.  It makes you tingle.  Not the polite kind of stuff.  The deep love of the Father.

Vera loves to pray.  We generally pray as we make our way through the neighborhood but at Vera’s house we want her to pray.  So she offers and we smile and nod yes.  Vera breaks into a powerful prayer- thankful and a prayer of a grateful heart and worship.  None of this is the I want- I need kind of prayer.  This was a celebration of life.  Then she shares something new.  Vera breaks into song and sings a portion of her prayer to her Father.  The Spirit is thick.  He is here.  She finishes her prayer and a bird begins to sing.  Vera shares that God loves music.   I agree with her, sharing that even the birds sing to Him.

So what happened?  It was Opposites Day!  We set out to help bless others and instead we were blessed.  We left Vera and we all were visibly uplifted.  This is what we needed.  A refill.  A reminder that He is always there and He is always faithful.  The Bible says that he sings over us.  He knows every hair on your head.

Thank you for the song of our lives.  Thank you for the birds singing each morning.  Thank you for Vera and her heart for her Father and her family.

Remember to sing today.  No matter how hard it is.  It’s Opposites Day!

Have you ever had an Opposites Day?  Please click on comments and tell your story!              

Living the Adventure

Last Sunday night, my wife and I went to a party at a friends house.  It was a cool night, at least by North Florida standards.  The house had a great outdoor patio with brick walls and garden areas.  In one corner of the patio was a firepit that turned out to be a very popular spot.  I settled into a comfortable couch next to the fire- I knew I wasn’t moving.  The only distraction was that the fire was a bit smoky.  I knew my jacket would need a wash when I got home.  I was comfortable and drifted away in conversations about books, travel and the restaurant business.

251718_10150211920973346_781763345_6974925_1075206_n

After about an hour, my friend Ron joined us.  Ron was just beaming.  Ron is generally a positive and upbeat guy but today he was particularly aglow. 

“Ron you look great”, I commented.  He proceeded to update me on what he was up to.  He told me that he was painting (artist) again and that he was really enjoying it.  Ron told me that he has been waking up each morning and having coffee with Jesus before he starts his day.  He also told me that he was feeling good physically.  Ron and I often trade bad back stories as we both suffer from back pain from time to time.  Normal type chit-chat until he made this statement: 

“Joe, everyday I wake up and I look for an adventure each day.” 

He proceeded to tell me about a clerk that he friended who has children and is struggling to make ends meet and how he has been helping her and encouraging her.  He shared stories of how he has been buying the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff and giving away copies to friends and folks that he meets along the way during his adventures.  All along, I couldn’t help but see the delight in his face. 

Ron could easily stay secluded in his world.  Ron is semi-retired and lives by himself.  He could be lonely and bored.  But Ron chooses the adventure.  Ron knows that the world is built on relationships and service.  Ron is not afraid to make the introductions- he has seen how it works!  Ron is not satisfied to stay inside of himself.  He seeks the adventure.  And it has made all the difference.

So how can you live the adventure life?  Here are a few ideas:

Dump the Routine:  Look at ways that you can do things differently.  We are such creatures of habit and efficiency.  Yet, do you want to live an efficient life or a life of fullness and adventure?  Mess with your schedule a bit.  Leave early for work and relax a bit when you get there.  Try new restaurants, new music, new places.  Get out of the rut!  When you change things up you will see opportunities for new relationships, skills and service.

Slow Down:  When you are always in a hurry the world is travelling at the same speed.  Slow down and give yourself time to really see what is going on around you.  I guarantee you will be surprised.  I am often the worst offender of this.  I am so tuned in to speed and efficiency that it really hurts to slow down sometimes.  Yet, I know I have to.  When I am operating at warp speed, I am missing- not gaining.  Tunnel vision will not allow you to see the opportunities to enjoy life and serve others that are all around you.

Be Observant:  By learning to be observant, you will also begin to see opportunities for fun and learning.  You must learn to really look deeper.  Additionally, there are often clues that identify the need for service to others.  It could be a simple frown or some tattered clothing that gives you a glimpse of the trouble that exists.  These clues can be subtle and the ability to see within someone often takes some practice.  You will not always get it right and you may be rejected.  As you hone your skills, you will get better and you will begin to see the impact of careful observation on your life.

Take a Risk:  Adventure and risk go hand in hand, right?  We understand risk in terms of jumping out of a plane, yet we generally don’t get the connection between adventure, risk and relationships.  In order to be allowed into a persons life, someone has take the first step which involves risk.  Simple small talk will provide only the superficial- to get deeper you need to be prepared to ask the risky questions.  Yes, you may get rejected.  However, when the time is right, they will let you in.  And when they do it is beautiful– even if the story is messy.  Now you can serve.  Now you can make a difference.  Now your day has adventure!

Are you tired and bored?  You don’t need an expensive vacation to add adventure in your life.  The world is happening all around you.  Are you going to slow down, change things up, and look for opportunities to make a difference?  Living the adventure.  It’s waiting for you!  

What are some ways that you have found that have added excitement into your life?  Are you ready for some new excitement?  Click on comments and let me know what you think!

Light the Path

I believe that there is a desire to make a difference in the world that is woven into us at birth.  To make your mark- to put a “dent in the universe”.  Your choice is to either follow these desires and dreams or suppress them and give up.  The choice to give up is easy when you think it’s impossible.  Our job as leaders is to illuminate the path.  Model doing the impossible or the uncomfortable.  This is a story about lighting the path.

Light for my path

I was sitting beside a small fire on NewYears eve enjoying the company of some good friends and some outrageously large oysters.  Sitting at the fire was a girl named Rebecca who is the daughter of some good friends from church.  Rebecca was home for the holidays and was sharing some ministry stories that occurred while she was away at college in North Carolina.  Rebecca was able to seek out and find an inner-city ministry near her campus where she served on weekends.  She also shared that she had located a street church where service takes place outside in the yard of an abandoned church.  She shared some amazing stories of how she was able to serve and develop relationships with the poor in the community near her campus and also serve a church that tragically lost it’s pastor and continues because of a great effort by the surviving family.  She was beaming as she shared several truly amazing stories of restoration and God’s infinite grace.  This was my highlight of the evening.
 
While she was sharing, I began to connect the dots.  Rebecca had served throughout her high school years nearly every Saturday at an inner-city street ministry that we have at our church.  Rebecca was a regular.  She made a strong connection with the folks in the neighborhood.  When she left for college I was regularly asked where she was.  See- Rebecca made an impact!  Not by giving out surplus food, but through her amazing smile and her way of being genuinely interested in their lives.  Rebecca went deeper.  Yes- Rebecca is special- but there is more.
 
As I considered her impact, it occurred to me that the beginning of the trail actually started with her parents willingness to serve.  If her parents hadn’t modeled this behavior, it is very unlikely that Rebecca would be serving the poor in North Carolina.  It can be a tough decision to take your child downtown to serve in a dangerous neighborhood.  You can easily talk yourself out of it.  Also, to model the behavior, you actually have to get out of bed early each Saturday and drive to the ministry.  I have experienced this one first hand.  Your pillow is a hard thing to give up on the only day each week that you have to sleep in!  Yet, over both of these, they were faithful.  And their faithfulness was rewarded with a daughter that truly “gets it”.
 
Many folks work hard their entire lives trying to make that “dent in the universe”.  They store up money and build empires.  They seek to get their name on a building somewhere.  They work really hard to make their children wealthy, comfortable and self-sufficient.
 
All of these are fleeting.  Wealth will eventually be lost or squandered away.  Buildings will eventually crumble and fall.  And the pursuit of comfort and independence ends unfullfilled.

The secret is often right next to you.  You have to choose to light the path for others.  You can show them how to truly influence lives.  And when you do, it’s contagious.  They will continue on modeling for others and then the multiplication factor kicks in.
 
This is how you can truly change the world!  So, what is your plan?  Will you continue to build an empire based on things that will eventually crumble or will you invest in things that will march on for generations.  Maybe a quick look at your planner might reveal where your heart truly is?  It starts with taking a risk and putting yourself out there.  Are you ready?  Can you break the power of your pillow and the pursuit of comfort to light the path for others? 

What are some easy things that you have done that you have seen repeated by others?  Is success and comfort what your children really need?  Click on comments and let me know what you think!

Empty Cathedrals

I have been watching a mega church construction project while commuting to and from work.  This is a really impressive project- super big building and giant size parking lot.  It really looks like a high school campus more than a church project.  I have heard that it cost 10 million dollars, which I think would be a great price for the facility based on the scale of the project.

Worship Service- Western Zambia 2009

Observing this project has led me to reflect on church construction and the costs associated with building a campus that is bigger and better than the church down the road.  Is bigger really better?  Is it really a wise use of resources to purchase and own a church building?

The purpose of the church building is ministry.  There is no use in the residual value of the investment to build a church.  When the church reaches the end of its effectiveness, they are generally sold at a giant discount and are used for other purposes.  I remember seeing a church in a city that was converted to a nightclub!  I recently saw a church in a magazine that was converted to a residence.  I have heard of isolated instances of reuse through purchasing by another church, however, this seems to be very limited.

There is some amazing architecture in church buildings.  The cathedrals of Europe are examples of this.  If the purpose is to provide really amazing architectural wonders- then go ahead and build them big.  However the cathedrals of Europe are largely empty on Sunday.  Ministry is not happening there.  Just tours to view the amazing buildings and huge costs for maintenance and restoration.

So- why can’t the church rent?  There is typically plenty of existing retail or office buildings that could be rented and remodeled to accomplish the needs of a church.  You may not have the impressive expansive sanctuaries and rows of classrooms but an old retail store or office building can be a practical and efficient alternative.  So, comfort or ministry? 

The costs to build and maintain a church campus is huge.   These costs limit the flexibility of how the church can use its resources.  The more efficient that you are in your facilities costs, the more available funds that you will have to minister to the needs of the community.  The costs to build and own a church often strangles a church budget and severely limits ministry resources.    

The Israelites lived in tents and they were able to move when the Lord moved.  Most churches go through cycles of growth and effectiveness, and yet they are tied to a fixed facility and location.  If a church is renting and struggling to be effective in their particular community and they feel that the Lord has opened the doors to move- they can move.  They are not tied to a permanent location.  When you leave, the building can be easily converted to another use and will not become another empty cathedral.

So I say- it is right for the church to rent!  I also believe that the Lord will provide a building Owner that will bless the church with a favorable rental terms.  Concentrate the resources of the church to reach the lost and minister to the poor. 

The temple is the old covenant.  The veil has been torn.  You have been commanded to go.  Let’s pour our resources into advancing His kingdom for His glory!

 “Every year in the United States, we spend more than $10 billion on church buildings.  In America alone, the amount of real estate owned by institutional churches is worth over $230 billion.  We have money and possessions, and we are building temples everywhere.  Empires, really.  Kingdoms.  We call them houses of worship.  But at the core, aren’t they too often outdated models of religion that wrongfully define worship according to a place and wastefully consume our time and money when God has called us to be a people who spend our lives for the sake of His glory among the needy outside the gates?”  Radical by David Platt.  

Do you agree or do you think that I am full of you know what?  Let me know by clicking on comment below!