How Church Can Change One Pivot At A Time

Recently, I’ve really been enjoying the Pivot series from Fast Company.
It’s a series highlighting companies that have successfully used a vision implementation tool called

Every organization needs strong vision. I happen to lead a church, which is an organization, and is not an exception. Tony Morgan wrote an article for churchleaders.com that makes this a clear example for why some churches are absolutely stuck. I agree with him on this. If you are unclear on your vision then, you are stuck.

I have wrestled with vision.
I have wrestled to articulate it.
I have wrestled with how to understand it once articulated.

In a church, the mission is so clear: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.

That’s the mission.

It’s really that simple. The mission of the church is to teach the Gospel to the world as we encounter it.

How we do that? That’s vision. How do you articulate it?
How do you practice the vision, you articulate? That’s the difficult part.
And that’s where the Pivot is so crucial.

There are many a staff member, board member who want the vision nail down in ink and stone before agreeing to embark upon a new journey. That’s great. It’s responsible. It’s prudent. It’s one HUGE reason why the vision won’t succeed.

Vision demands a mechanism that allows for change: subtle adjustments that redirect, refocus and reengage. That’s the Pivot.
Here are Four challenges to an organization that embraces vision with plenty of Pivot.

1. Vision that embraces the Pivot has to be flexible.
A Pivot isn’t a do-ever, it’s a correction.
It’s like playing piano, hitting the wrong key, starting a measure back and hitting the right key.
Sometimes you don’t know the wrong note until you hit it.
Flexible tune.
Flexible keys.
Flexible fingers.

2. Vision that embraces the Pivot has to be patient.
A Pivot can’t happen on command.
It’s a response to failure, drag and missing the proposed target.
It takes time to realize that a Pivot is what’s needed.
Right about the time people are getting upset, that’s a Pivot opportunity.

3. Vision that embraces the Pivot has to have an ‘active’ vocabulary.
When change happens, sometimes it’s hard to describe what’s happening.
And why it’s happening.
Leaders ought to be able to say “It’s a Pivot!”
And then use active language to describe what the Pivot will accomplish.
Then, they must be able to paint the Pivot with inspiring adjectives and verbs.

4. Vision that embraces the Pivot requires humility.
The Pivot is self defined by change, response to missing the mark.
You wouldn’t be pivoting is you had hit the target with your first try.
The truth is: No one does.
Success is a product of change and re-adjustments.
Humility enables an organization to embrace change without embracing defeat.

this is what success looks like

I wrote about this earlier in a post called “Vision Like A Torpedo

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How To Lead Change Like A Seagull

This post will not be about A Flock Of Seagulls.

Only one gull.

As the new pastor of an historic church, a lot of my work involves integrating change into a pre-existing system that didn’t need me to get where it is today. Be that as it may, it’s my call to move us forward, take risks, and what that means is…Change.

SeagullNot to be confused with “NEW” and “IMPROVED,” change is natural for a system, a family system in the case of a church. People grow and change every day; cells divide and multiply, hairs gray, babies are born, people pass away, new music becomes the vogue, old music becomes intolerable…and that’s just one Sunday!

So how do you lead change when it feels like your flying straight into the wind?

Like a seagull.

Recently, my family went to our favorite Malibu Beach spot. While I was staring at the great expanse of God’s creation, I saw a great illustration of how moving forward into the wind is possible.

Seagull anotherSeagulls don’t fly directly into the wind, they fly forward, but at an angle, using the wind (resistance) and move forward in slow deliberate strides. Watching them, it looks like any second they’re going to tumble backwards about 100 miles per hour. Leadership can make you feel like all you’re doing is moving backwards the harder you try to push forward. When vision means change, resistance can will pop up like a mighty tempest. Flying straight into that, more than likely, is not the best means to gain ground.

When you’re going against the grain, forward progress made slowly or in some small amount is good forward progress.

So what does flying at angle look like?

1) Let people know what you are thinking
If you have time, let the people whom change will affect know it’s coming and most importantly, why it’s coming. Resistance decreases as listening to and understanding others increases. Try and paint a picture that your people can see. Seeing things helps us feel more confident in what is coming. Listen to concerns and criticisms. Ask yourself, “Is there any truth in that criticism?” Think about who is saying it and why they might be being critical. Is it fear and panic? Is it wisdom and experience?

2) Have lots of conversations
Making space for questions is crucial. Have you thought of what potential questions will come up? Why might those questions be the ones people ask? Have you thought about how you will answer? Think about how to make change without communicating that things are changing because everyone has been doing it wrong. To make change effectively, you need to win people over to it. Try to make each conversation an opportunity to invite someone over to the “change team.”

3) Trust yourself
If you are in a position to make change, chances are, it’s because someone brought you on to do just that. You have the Vision, you have the support…you have to find the confidence to do what you are supposed to do. To do that, you have to trust yourself. Create space for thinking and reflection. Create space to writing and stepping outside of the box, Whatever you have to do to get more and more clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you are going to lead it.

How might you explain the change to a 2nd grader? To an Alien from Nexus 7? To you favorite sports star in an elevator? To the kindergarten bully? How would you draw it? How would you sing it?

Think on these things until Wednesday where I’ll finish this post with a word picture from the wise Don Riddell: Vision Like A Torpedo.

Please drop me a comment!

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Change Your Story, Change Your Mood

I started to read Jonathan Gottschall’s The StoryTelling Animal, because I’m interested in Story. How do we live story? How does story create and uncreate moments in our lives that add meaning and satisfaction? What elements of my life can be identified as central to the development of story? And, possibly most important, how do I change my story? The StoryTelling Animal is a book about the science of story. I’m enjoying it and have already put the trove of knowledge to use.

I shall share.

Really?

Yes, really.

Take a look at this excerpt from his chapter on Fiction and the Brain:

Our responses to fiction are now being studied at a neuronal level. When we see something scary or sexy or dangerous in a film, our brains light up as though that thing were happening to us, not just to a cinematic figment. For example, in a Dartmouth brain lab, people watched scenes from the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly while their brains were scanned by a functional MRI (fMRI) machine. The scientists, led by Anne Krendl, discovered that viewers’ brains “caught” whatever emotions were being enacted on the screen. When Eastwood was angry, the viewers’ brains looked angry, too. When the scene was sad, the viewers’ brains also looked sad.

What this paragraph says, essentially, is that we absorb the mood of a story as if we were experiencing it first hand. What does this mean? It means that environment matters. How we perceive our environment matters.

Yestereday, Rebecca and I went to see the movie, The Avengers, finally. I noticed during the opening sequence that I was anxious as in, “Hey, the building has blown up and is crumbling all around me. I could possibly be suffocated by falling rocks, IF my Humvee doesn’t overturn first, that is.” I happened to noticed that I was feeling anxious, which was silly because I was sitting in the regal first class velvet of the movie theater double wide seats. I stopped a moment to think…”Wow! That research is correct. I am an anxiety sponge.” Once I realized that I was soaking in the tension, I began to relax.

It would appear the researchers are correct on this mark:

They suggest that when we experience fiction, our neurons are firing much as they would if we were actually faced with Sophie’s choice or if we were taking a relaxing shower and a killer suddenly tore down the curtain.

That’s what makes story so essential to our lives. We can experience things without actually experiencing them. Which is why I understand what it feels like to SMASH! It’s also why it’s important to recognize the story we are in and whose story we are in.

How do you feel right now as you read this?

Are you in an anxious story? Are you taking in someone else’s story as if it were your own? Can you recognize the narrative you are responding to? What is your story right now? Are you in an action adventure? A Tragi-Comedy? A boring indie?

Take a look at these questions:

1. What story am I currently living in, responding to?
2. Whose story is it (this is always important to recognize)?
3. If it were a book or a movie, what character would I be?
4. What is my story right now?
5. What character do I need to be (HINT: main character…it’s your story)?
6. What shift do I need to make to the plot in order to get to the ending that I want?
7. How can I make one small change that will push me in that direction?

Suggestions:

1. Watch a movie that you not only love, but loves you back! (Groundhog Day, anyone?)
2. Play music that is guaranteed to give you the happy buzz. Turn off the Depeche Mode…now…do it.
3. Sneak an earphone, if the music around you is a bummer…and you can get away with it.
4. Use the phone a friend option.
5. Get into the sunlight.

The more you change your story, research suggests, the more you can change your mood. In fact, it would appear that as you live a better story in your own life today, you might just improve the world around you.

Good Luck!

Resources of note:

Jonathan Gottschall, The StoryTelling Animal
Donald Miller, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

A new book I haven’t read, but really admire the author:
Rhett Smith, The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?

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Remember when RHCP and U2 were cool?

Last Tuesday, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released I’m With You, their brand new studio album. It’s taken a while for the band to wrap a new record…and that’s cool. I find the new CD (what do you call it when you listen to it on iTunes?) more enjoyable every time I hear it. There aren’t any stand out hits and they all kind of sound alike, apart from certain disco flavored tracks, but that’s pretty much what the Chili’s do. They consistently put out an album’s worth of eponymous Chili Pepper sounding songs. You can enjoy the first single, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie [PG-13]” while you read on.

Interestingly, right after its release, I came across this article: The Red Hot Chili Peppers: America’s U2? I figured that it would be a good thing to be compared to U2, but alas…it is not so, apparently. You can read the article for yourself, but the gist of it is along the lines of “Remember when the Red Hot Chili Peppers were cool, like, back when I first heard them? Like, back when I was rebelling against the Orwellian regime my parents had set up after they took control from their Machiavellian mom and dad? Man, why’d they have to go and change and ruin a good thing?”

From time to time, I hear this complaint against bands, artists and creatives. At the heart, the core of the statement is, “Why couldn’t they stay the same? Why did they have to grow?” Um…hopefully that’s what we all do [Eph 4:14]. It concerns me when I read an article by a “grown up” who is upset because their favorite band has “grown up.” It brings questions to mind, like, “when will you grow up?” The desire to control the creative environment around us, the need to keep the past in a box, is an unhealthy one. Think about it: to insist that everything around you stay the same for your comfort/need/preference/neurosis…what would Dr Phil say?

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were great in the 80′s! I remember when they’d come on stage dressed in…a sock. As in…that’s all they had on and it wasn’t on their foot. When I was in high school, that was hysterical and relevant and rebellious and clever. It’s none of those things now, though. If I saw a bunch of forty year old men with stockings dangling from the junk drawer, I don’t know…it just doesn’t feel right. But they grew up. They were great in the 90′s…I think they’re still great (although One Hot Moment is under considerable question) The band couldn’t stay in the box. [The fact that this article puts U2 in the same 'back when they were cool' category is something that I can't even begin to address.]

We all put people and things and bands and churches and family into boxes like this; disappointed that they have changed and grown for better or worse. Isaac Asimov (and Heraclitus) wrote:

The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.

Here are some questions for your reflection:
Who have you put in a box?
Where in your life are you disappointed because something or someone hasn’t ‘stayed the same’?
Where in your life are you stuck in a box that someone else has put you in? Is it comfortable?

Bonus section
So…what does it mean that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow [Heb 13:8]?

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