Christmas and the ‘Customer’

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As a church, we’re about to hit our busiest time of the year. Over the next four weeks, here at Grace, we’ll see hundreds of guests walk through the doors. Though it might seem unspiritual to say it, the chance of them returning is connected to their experience.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book, Triggers, describes the power of encounter with a simple diagram as follows:

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Goldsmith uses this diagram to describe his own encounters with flight crew. We might translate this for churches as follows:

  • actively positive – big smile, warm welcome, genuinely pleased to welcome a visitor, will go out of their way to help. These people should be ‘customer facing’ – welcome, stewards, refreshments, platform etc.
  • passively positive – will hand out a service sheet with a smile – pleasant, but not necessarily winning.
  • passively negative – think passive aggressive . . . the person who doesn’t say hello to the visitor who sits next to them, or who tuts at noisy children, or who greets the inquirer with a minimal answer and a forced smile. Not always easy to describe, but we all have a pretty sensitive radar to the passive aggressive.
  • actively negative – the sort of person that identifies a visitor, then scolds them for sitting or standing in the wrong place, for lingering with their coffee, for generally being present, in the way, and an inconvenience. These people should be advised to sit at home and watch Songs of Praise (only joking, sort of)!

The other little nugget of insight from Goldsmith was that his airline crew were all working for the same company, same hours, same pay, same job, same training – yet could be quite different. Goldsmith suggests (off the back of some further research) that the determining factor was not external environment but the internal mood and disposition of the person. In other words we can all take responsibility and actively choose to be warm and welcoming. And if we’re not, we can’t blame someone, or something else for what is ultimately our problem.

So what can you do this Christmas to help visitors feel welcome?

  • A warm welcome at the door – someone to greet, ideally who they will see on the platform (leader or speaker) – big smile, warm handshake, genuine enthusiasm
  • Friendly stewards – sensitive, keen to help – whether in the car-park or in the building
  • clear signs and directions – what will happen, where do we find things – have people around who can help answer questions
  • Speaking in such a way as to acknowledge and welcome visitors (many of us are not as good at this as we think we are – think about pitch, tone, language)
  • Quality refreshments – nothing says ‘we’ll tolerate you, but we don’t like you’ like instant coffee and soggy biscuits
  • A gift pack for visitors with info about the church and a small gift to thank them for coming
  • A ‘connect’ team who are especially tasked with looking out for visitors after the service, and answering any questions

Now of course we want people to encounter Christ in his Word, and of course we want the whole church to be welcoming, but it seems to me, genuinely welcoming churches don’t take this for granted – they are proactive and intentional about offering a superb welcome. A lady visited our church recently. She’d visited another church the week before who had told her that her wheelchair was making the place look untidy. She didn’t go back. I suspect that church didn’t intend to be unfriendly, but this sort of thing is more likely to happen when the expectation of welcome is implied, rather than pursued. So don’t be defensive or overly pious about this. Take responsibility, take action, and go out of your way to be actively positive.

Some notes on stewardship

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I had the privilege of attending the Stewardship conference yesterday in London town. If you’re not already aware of Stewardship they’re a great organisation that seeks to inspire greater generosity and to make giving easier. There were a whole host of great presentations and I thought I’d share some of the things I’d learned (or been reminded of):

  • Generous giving springs from gratitude and delight in the abundant generosity of God, who though rich became poor for us – 2 Cor 8:9.
  • Generous giving is an act of worship – a blessing, not a curse.
  • Giving is a theological statement, and our bank statement is a theological document – it tells us who Theo is!
  • You can take it with you – 1 Tim 6:19.
  • We will each have to give an account to Jesus for what we’ve done with that which he has entrusted to us – Matt 25:19.
  • All of it (not just 10%) belongs to God.
  • The widow’s mite is not just about how much is given, but about how much is withheld.
  • People give to concrete and tangible things – so make it clear why the money is needed, and where it’s going.
  • Make it manageable – For the price of 2 coffees per week you might be able, together with others, to fund a new staff worker (eg. £5 per week = £20 per month = £240 per annum x 100 giving persons/units = £24k pa).
  • Make a budget that is proactive not reactive.
  • Younger generations give in ways that are different to their parents – think digital. 16% of charitable giving happens online – and this is growing at a rate of ~10% per year. 14% of online giving done through mobile devices. Think about things like justgiving.net, PayPal, etc etc.
  • We need to encourage our children to be generous – who knows which of them may be the philanthropists of the next generation
  • Find a way to encourage people to do an annual review of their giving.
  • Make it easy to give – offer multiple channels.
  • 80% of your giving probably comes from 20% of your people, and 10% probably comes from 2-3 individuals. That means you have some with the gift of giving who are glad to be asked for help. You also have those who could give but haven’t – you need to find some mechanism of finding them and asking (with all the necessary left hand/right hand caveats).
  • New people can make the biggest difference. 10 new standing orders will probably generate more than 100 people raising their existing standing order by 5-10% (obvs not an either-or, but a helpful reminder to encourage new members to get on board early on).

There was plenty of other food for thought and I’d encourage you to check out their website – stewardship.org.uk. Please do share other thoughts and ideas on how we can respond more generously to God’s grace, and better resource God’s work.

10 Ideas for Communication that Connects

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For those of us that spend a fair chunk of time communicating with others, we want to believe that our communication is really connecting – that people are genuinely listening and being helped by what we’re trying to say. So here’s few ideas on the sort of communication that I think connects.

  1. Curiosity – does this talk raise a question that I really want to know the answer to?
  2. Empathy – does this person understand me, my struggle, pressures and worries?
  3. Excitement – does this talk present a vision of what could be that makes my heart beat faster?
  4. Conviction – does this person convey the sort of passion that demonstrates why their idea is more than just advice.
  5. Imagination – does this talk capture my imagination of a possible future?
  6. Beauty – does this talk capture my sense of wonder and love for something/someone?
  7. Inspiration – does this talk make me want to take action?
  8. Humour – does this talk make me laugh (and cry)?
  9. Practicality – does this talk tell me how and what to do next?
  10. Variety – does this talk touch more than one of the above criteria?

What’s missing? What might you add? Anything you’d change here? Let’s keep the conversation and learning going.

Two Brilliant Books on Leadership

Here’s a plug for the two best books on leadership I’ve read in absolutely ages.

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First we have 5 Gears by Steve Cockram and Jeremie Kubicek. They identify 5 gears we tend to operate in as follows:

  1. first gear – me time, on my own, doing my own thing to rest or recharge
  2. second gear – family or close friends time, when we want to be present to invest in those nearest and dearest to us
  3. third gear – social time in which we catch up and connect with people in all sorts of contexts
  4. fourth gear – task mode in which we have to get stuff done
  5. fifth gear – focus mode in which we think about the bigger picture – working on the business, not just in the business as the E-Myth would put it

The reality is each person will find some gears more natural than others. What we need to do is a) recognise our own strengths and weaknesses here; b) consider how others around us work and serve/help them with this stuff. For example I love 4th gear, and am less good in 3rd. But I know I work with some people who thrive in 3rd gear. I need to get better at driving in 3rd if I’m not to portray a task-driven lack of care or concern for people. Similarly I can see 1st as not that important, but actually we all need to make space to recharge if we’re to stay sane and healthy. Great book (my favourite of these two) – much food for thought.

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Second, we have 5 Voices by the same. Similar format, so here goes:

  1. Pioneer voice – leader visionary, big ideas, lots of energy – may tend to steam-roller people
  2. Connecter voice – great with people, especially bringing in others to help get things done
  3. Creative voice – abstract ideas, perfectionist – may get frustrated with less than perfection
  4. Guardian voice – concerned to protect the past, nervous of the future – the kind of person who likes to frown in meetings, rub their chin, and then pout water on everyone’s bonfire – but their intent is good – they really do want what’s best, they’re just more conservative than the pioneer
  5. Nurturer voice – primarily concerned with outcomes of actions on people – how will people be affected by this new hair-brained scheme. Again, sometimes overly nervous of change, but with all the right intentions

They talk about voices, it’s more about personalities. But, as above, worth thinking about which of these you gravitate to (we’re all a mix), and how those you work with function.

Both of these books are really about understanding – self and others – in a bid to be more fruitful and more caring. Highly recommended!

Shame Interuppted

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Guest review by James Midwinter

Shame is a quiet killer.
That’s the title to Ed Welch’s opening chapter in ‘Shame Interrupted,’ and it’s a powerful insight into the painful but often hidden world of shame.
And I say the “world” of shame, because as Ed helpfully shows us – shame is everywhere: “Look under anger, fear, even guilt, and you will find a root of shame.”  Shame isn’t the same as guilt: “Guilt can be hidden; [whereas] shame feels like it is always exposed.”  And it’s the combination of both truths – the pervasive nature of shame, and the fact that it’s rarely discussed – that makes Ed’s book so necessary and helpful.
Ed’s style of writing uses lots of case studies and personal appeals throughout that winsomely connect with fellow shame-strugglers.  He introduces us to the idea of “shame theology” that spans redemptive history, but without assuming that the reader is familiar with lots of theological categories or vocabulary.  To guide us through this shame theology, ‘Shame Interrupted’ is split into four sections.
Shame uncovered
Conscious that few people have spent much time thinking carefully about shame before, Ed begins by uncovering shame in some of the innumerable ways it can be found.  His working definition of “shame” is insightful in its breadth: “You are disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses.”
Ed helpfully distinguishes guilt and shame: “Guilt lives in the courtroom, where you stand alone before the judge.  Shame lives in the community, though the community can feel like a courtroom.”  Although the two concepts are closely related, when carefully distinguished, shame is broader and its synonyms (nakedness, dishonour, disgrace, defilement etc.) appear in the Bible ~10 times more than references to guilt.  As a young pastor, I was particularly challenged by this.  There are depths to our sin-problem that lie deeper than our guilt.  And in seeking to bring the all-sufficient hope and comfort of the Gospel to bear in people’s lives, it’s important that we recognise the work that needs to be done after we’ve addressed the question of guilt.  “We might speak about forgiveness and no condemnation, yet shame is unmoved by such things.  When a judge says, ‘Not guilty,’ and you still feel like scum, the verdict doesn’t bring much help or hope.”
After briefly scanning the history of “shame,” Ed unpacks his “trinity of shame” – nakedness, rejection, and contamination – which shape the structure of the rest of the book.
Shame, before Christ

Ed charts how shame was unleashed at Eden, and explains how God established the categories of clean and unclean, holy and common.  He then introduces the concept of hope, with God covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness, and then Isaiah’s vision of being touched and cleansed by God.
Shame, honour and Jesus

Understandably, Ed helpfully dedicates a third of ‘Shame Interrupted’ to the various ways in which Jesus willingly embraced shame from the moment of His conception until His death.  There’s a lot of pastoral gold here, and the section on Jesus experiencing abandonment, betrayal, and denial in the run-up to His crucifixion is particularly powerful.
Similarly helpful is Ed’s explanation of Jesus touching the “untouchables”, and his analysis of the Sermon on the Mount and the way we can interpret the whole sermon through a shame-paradigm (although not in a way that seeks to exhaustively re-define the event!).
Throughout this section, Ed begins to build the idea that the solution to shame is to turn our focus towards the God who has endured the greatest shame for us, and who now chooses to draw near to and touch us – with contagiously-holy hands that change us.  His unpacking of Jesus’ commission of the disciples at the lakeside is particularly encouraging.  Individual Christians and churches (particularly those in a different cultural context to Ed’s) will need to work through Ed’s exhortation to “go public” with our shame struggles, but discussing the broader topic itself would be a helpful exercise in itself.
Honour, after Jesus

In the final section, Ed focuses very practically on how the indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives Christians power to overcome a struggle with shame.  He highlights the importance and value of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in regularly encouraging us in our battle with shame.  And his brief treatment of Paul’s theology of shame is helpful, particularly as he unpacks some of the different elements to shame (whether from our own sin/the sins of others/our weakness, and whether it’s before God or the world).
Conclusion
If you struggle with shame, or know someone who does, this book will be a great blessing to you.  For those who would like to take their study of this pastoral battle further, Ed lists seven books in the Acknowledgements that have significantly shaped his understanding of shame and would stretch your understanding of the subject further.
“Please hear this final barrage of hope.  The remnants of shame still cling to us, but they are losing their grip.  We still fail.  In our relationships, we can be rejected, ignored, and discarded.  We can be betrayed by our spouses.  We are the targets of anger, which is almost always demeaning.  But we are growing.  Our interest in how we treat others is threatening to overtake our concern about how others treat us.  We are learning where to turn when shame comes knocking.  We are learning to turn to the one who adopts outcasts and never minimises our pain.  That simple act honours God and undercuts shame’s strategy of turning us inward.”

John Owen on Effectual Atonement

I normally try and shy away from tackling tricky topics in something as short as a blog article, but . . . a) we just talked about this with our guided reading group so its fresh in my mind; b) these notes are really to help me put my thinking somewhere; c) Owen is just very good, and is simply the best case to engage with as far as I can see.

So I’m not claiming that what follows is the last word, and would request respectful engagement – this ain’t a hill I’m going to die on. That said, here, in a few hundred words is a few hundred pages of Owen from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. 

  • Either Christ’s death pays for the elect or it pays for all.
  • If it’s the latter then why do some end up in hell? Is that double-payment?
  • No, says the Arminian – the benefits of Christ’s death are conditional.
  • Ok, so what’s the condition?
  • Answer: Belief
  • Interesting, says Owen . . . so . . .
    • Why belief? Is unbelief a sin? (implied answer is yes) So why should that particular sin be a hurdle to the saving benefits of Christ’s death? Why doesn’t Jesus’ death cover my unbelief?
    • Second, is belief not one of the benefits of Christ’s saving death, rather than a condition for reception of said saving benefits (cf. Eph 1:3)
    • Third, if we concede that faith itself is a blessing received as a fruit of Christ’s death is that faith received absolutely or conditionally. And if there’s a condition upon reception is that condition met absolutely or conditionally (etc etc etc!)
  • Conclusion: as unpalatable as it might seem, it is better to recognise that in God’s sovereignty the Redeemer is sent to redeem not the entire world, but his own bride.

Now, I’m very happy to hear arguments to the contrary, provided they’re put with the grace befitting the Christian. Anything else will be removed!

5 Levels of Leadership

Here’s an outstanding talk on leadership by John Maxwell

He outlines five levels of leadership as follows:

Level 1 – position (right) – people follow you because you have a title and they have to!
Level 2 – permission (relationships) – people follow you because you’ve invested in relationship and they want to. Level 2 leaders good at listening, observing, learning. They have a servant attitude – love to serve. Relationships are foundational because leadership is influence.
Level 3 – production (results) – at this level not only do people follow you because they want to, and because they like you, but you’re seeing results.
Level 4 – people-development (reproduce) – here people are not just getting results but are growing in their role. People development is linked to recruitment, positioning, and equipping (best way to equip is do it, do it with someone, they do it while you’re with them, they do it, they teach it – all five steps key).
Level 5 – pinnacle (respect) – comes from long-term success that gains the respect of others.
A highly recommended talk – well worth 30 mins with your lunch or coffee.

The Three Gods of Death

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Dennis Olson’s little commentary on Deuteronomy, entitled Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses, contains some wonderfully insightful gems. Here’s one he picks out in Deuteronomy 7-10. Following hard on the heels of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 (‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’), the author presents some of the other ‘gods’ that might threaten Israel’s allegiance to YHWH:

  • Militarism – “You may say in your heart, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ . . . remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah” (Deut 7:17-18)
  • Materialism – “You may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut 8:17-18)
  • Moralism – “Do not say in your heart, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’ . . . Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness.” (Deut 9:4-7)

Many commentators note that Deuteronomy 6-11 is an exposition of the first commandment given in Deuteronomy 5. The big threat to the people of God is spiritual amnesia, hence the repeated call to ‘remember.’ And the temptation when they forget God is to trust instead in might, wealth, or their own righteousness. These instructions, given to a community some three millennia ago, seem strikingly relevant today. The danger of forgetting God’s care, provision, and mercy is always there. Further, our temptation to find our security or well-being in some sort of pursuit of power/position, standard of living, or self-righteousness is not difficult to spot. The antidote is simply to remember the grace and mercy of God. The regular provision for that can be see in the instruction of Deuteronomy 12, but that’s a subject for another time.

The Mystery of Mankind

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Here’s an interesting book tracing scientific development since the publication of the human genome in 2001. It was thought that this discovery would explain the wide variety in form and attributes of the millions of species on the planet. In fact it raised a lot more questions about things we don’t yet understand. This book well illustrates the phrase, ‘The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.’ Examples abound through the book, but here’s a quote from the closing pages:

“Might further scientific investigation vindicate Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection as the explanation for the infinite beauty and diversity of the natural world? Might biologists at some time in the future penetrate the impenetrable Double Helix to reveal how the genes of a snowdrop determine its delicate form and colour, so readily distinguishable from those of a tulip or any other form of life, or find in the 2 per cent of the genome that separate us from our primate cousins those random genetic mutations that gave rise to the non-material mind, and confirm as ‘mere illusion’ our perception of ourselves as free autonomous beings? The answer to all these questions must be ‘no’. We are not just a mystery to ourselves, but our existence as the sole witness of the splendours of the universe is its central mystery.”

I don’t profess to understand much of the science – a lot of it is way over my  head. But I did enjoy the sense of wonder at the beautiful mystery of our world.

How Google Works

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Here’s a few notes from the book How Google Works. In outline the book discusses the importance of organizational culture, strategy, hiring, innovation, and communication. There’s lots of nuggets in there, but it all feels a bit higgledy-piggledy, so hence the reason why I’ll pick out a few bits and bobs instead of attempting a fuller summary. You can decide for yourself whether you want to buy it and find our more:

Here’s some good thoughts on hiring:

  • Hire people who are better than you
  • Hire people who add value to your culture
  • Hire people who will get things done
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic and self-motivated
  • Hire people who work well with others
  • Hire people who are ethical and communicate openly
  • Don’t hire people who only think about problems
  • Don’t hire people who just want a job
  • Don’t hire people who prefer to work alone
  • Don’t hire people who only live to work
  • Don’t hire people who are political or manipulative
  • Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate and don’t settle for anything less.

Here’s some good thoughts on meetings:

  • Meetings should have a single decision-maker/owner
  • Meetings should have a clear focus or purpose
  • Meetings should have an actionable outcome
  • Meetings are not like government agencies – they should be easy to kill
  • Meetings should be manageable in size
  • Meetings should begin and end on time
  • Meetings should be ‘attended’ – i.e. no multi-tasking, multi-screening etc.

And here are a few other nice quotes:

“The tailwind of Google’s marketing and PR engine and brand wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome a headwind of mediocrity”

“Offices should be designed to maximize energy and interactions, not for isolation and status”

“no amount of strategy can substitute for talent . . . What is the single most important thing you do at work? Hiring.”

“The world’s best athletes need coaches, and you don’t?”