Category Archives: Leadership/Management

I.T. vs Users – Part 2
(Value & Trust vs. Scope & Process)

Yesterday I wrote a description of I.T. from one perspective and a description of computer technology users from another. Today I started writing a list of practical disciplines for end users and technology pros to hopefully gain a better understanding of each other. As I started crafting the list I quickly realized that there is way too much information about these disciplines to cram into one post. Therefore, I have decided to explore these disciplines in several posts over the next few weeks. For today, I am simply going to explore the differences between Value and Trust versus Scope and Process. I will then provide some disciplines that computer users and I.T. pros can use to better understand each other and avoid unnecessary drama when it comes to leveraging technology to help organizations move forward.

The Discipline of Choosing Value and Trust over Scope and Process.

As I have written before,  I acknowledge that there will always be a healthy tension that exists in the process of leveraging technology to solve problems and help people. Computer technology users don’t always know what they want. Technology often fails to meet our expectations and technology professionals aren’t always effective at adding value. I believe that practicing the discipline of choosing value and trust over scope and process is a key discipline that can help technology professionals improve customer satisfaction without losing their own minds. Description This discipline comes right out of the Agile Manifesto. Many technology pros have been trained to approach the process of providing technology solutions using predictive methodologies. These methodologies typically place scope as the highest priority of an initiative or project. As an alternative to predictive methodologies,  I would agree with Agile principles which state that defining value is more beneficial than defining scope when it comes to leveraging technology to solve problems and help people. Therefore, the number one question the technology pro should always ask themselves throughout any process of designing, planning, transitioning, maintaining and/or improving any given technology solution is, How can I add value and build trust? Sure, it is necessary to have clear definitions of scope and process.  Appropriately developed Statements of Work and/or Product Backlogs are just part of doing business in technology. However, defined processes and specifications should serve to move organizations forward. They should serve to add clarity and promote excellence. Too often the opposite occurs. Too often technologists push so hard for definitions that they lose sight of adding value. Too often they end up fighting so hard to keep the scope of a technical project in check that they miss the mark completely and trust is broken.

A Note To Technology Professionals

The technology pro must remember that the customer/end user could not care less about Scope. They don’t care about “best practices” or any other project management buzzword floating around out there. All they care about is figuring out how the technology solution you are proposing will add value to their lives. All they care about is finding solutions they can trust to help them accomplish what they perceive they need to get done when they perceive they need to get it done. They may have defined something 3 months ago during a discovery or analysis process. Now that they see the solution in front of them they realize that they defined Y, but they really need X. They are not trying to drive anyone crazy. They were just not as clear as they thought they were on the appropriate solution to their technology needs. There are numerous empirical models for helping Technology professionals manage these kinds of changes flexibly and effectively, (e.g. Lean Six Sigma, ITILv3, Agile Project Management). If you are a technology professional, I do recommend that you look at these methodologies in greater detail. However, for the purposes of this post, elevating the disciplines of value and trust to the forefront of all technology initiatives is a good place for the technology professional to start.

A Note To End Users

As technologists push toward adding value to the people they serve and as they strive toward building trust with the people they serve, end users would do well to take some steps toward engaging in scope and process development. I submit that Value and Trust are more important than scope and process. However, a basic understanding of technical tactics as they relate to scope and process can help you as the end user ensure that you will gain value and trust from the technical solution you are paying for. For instance, lets say that a technical lead for a given project decides to employ an Agile method for software development like Agile Scrum to implement a software solution. The selected method is well known for being value driven and flexible to end user needs. However, the process still requires involvement and discipline to gain an optimum return on investment. Therefore, the technical lead  decides to hold a couple training classes in order to bring everyone up to speed on the methods that will be employed to deliver the solution. In this case the end user would do well to engage in the classes and learn how the process works. Flexibility and value driven problem solving should not be void of discipline and good management practices. Learning how some of these practices work and accepting them as catalysts balanced by appropriate controls can add value. Additionally, I have gone to end users and asked them to prioritize various tasks and/or features according to the value those tasks and/or features offer. In some situations the user answered with the statement, “I need them all.” I can’t think of one time when I have come across a situation where all of the individual feature requests of an I.T. service or solution needed to be fulfilled in one shot in order to add value.

Practicing the Discipline of Value and Trust

A Tip for Technology Professionals

I have found the following question helpful in developing the discipline of Value and Trust. How is this ________________ adding value and trust for my customer? I find that applying this question to meetings, tasks, documents, etc. on a daily/hourly basis to be very helpful in keeping value and trust at the forefront of technology projects. For example, we have all been in those meetings where blood pressure rises over misunderstood specifications. We have all been in those meetings where tempers flair because both technology and business divisions can’t agree on the tactics for improving a process. Problems are never solved through ongoing organizational stalemates and impasses. I find that asking questions like, “Help me understand the value you are trying achieve through this process?” can be very helpful in working through impasses toward a mutually agreeable compromise. Perhaps it is necessary to re-evaluate our priorities on a given project. I find in most cases, when the end user has had a chance to step away from the minute details of a proposed solution and reiterate the value they are trying to achieve through the solution they are requesting, the important details related to scope of their request fall into place. Another example Another application for the “How is this ________ adding value?” question is in meeting planning. Most of us are trained to have agenda meetings in order to ensure that the meetings make good use of our valuable time. I would say that before even an agenda is planned, that the meeting planner is crystal clear on the value that the meeting will add to the objectives of the project, organization, etc. For example, Agile Scrum defines daily 15 minute stand-up meetings with a standing agenda: What did you do yesterday?, What did you do today? What are your current blocks? The agenda for the meeting is not very exciting. However, the predictable 15 minute time-box discipline, the opportunity to check progress, and the opportunity to articulate blocks in progress provide a tremendous amount of value in terms of communication and productivity.

A Tip For End Users

As an end user you too can also think in terms of value when you are participating in  technology projects and solutions. Let’s use Microsoft Word as an example. There are easily over 1200 features in MS Word from Spell Check to Word Art. At any given time you might use a fraction of those features to gain value for your organization. If we bog down technology solution providers with engineering a solution to every possible solution we can think of at the time, we risk losing sight of the value we are trying to add through the solution.  Like the old cliche goes, “Every time we say yes to one thing, we say no to another.” In this case, I am not even talking about an organization’s inability to say no when they need to say no. In this case, I am talking about all hollow yes’s and half baked deliverables that get passed off as solutions all because end users and I.T. providers don’t take the time to work out, prioritize and focus on solutions that are most valuable to the organization. For instance, here is a good example of well formed user story as it relates to a church operational function: As a family life pastor I need to have an accurate email list of family members so that I can send family life news to people on a monthly basis who are not deceased.  Why is this user story such a good example? 1. It defines the role of the primary user who is looking to gain value from the solution. 2. It defines a clear description of the primary value of the list…”to email living recipients.” 3. It defines the primary value of the “data quality” of the list. Data quality is a very broad topic  when comes to information technology. It is the kind of topic that can expand quickly into an exhaustive list of requirements that is so long, the original requested value never gets fulfilled. Thus, we end up having perfectly standardized  and geocoded mailing addresses, but we are still sending email to dead people.

Conclusion

Whether you are an End User or you are an I.T. Professional, your common ground is Value and Trust. When it is all said and done, everything we do in Information Technology is about people. The challenge of working with people is messy. Often we try to escape the untidy effort of working through difficult solutions with people by implementing over-engineered processes. Practicing disciplines that continuously clarify value and reinforce trust ultimately helps keep our focus where it belongs…on helping people.

Epilogue – (Where does Trust fit in to all of this?)

Come to think of it, I did not elaborate on trust very much in this post. The reality is that trust is at the center of value. It is impossible to add value if there is no trust in the solution, the people who deliver the solution or the people who use the solution. In terms of I.T. services, trust is built on consistent patterns of adding value to an organization. Value and Trust are both topics that have enough depth to stand on their own. I chose to couple Value and Trust in this post because I have observed how closely linked the two topics are when it comes to successful I.T. service delivery.

Godly Compassion and Justice

Best I can remember, I have always had sensitivity for people in need and I have always been open to people from all different walks of life. When I was growing up I would see the problems in the world and I would hurt inside when I would see how people treated each other and how we treated our planet. I guess you can say that I was one of those bleeding hearts. Back a few years ago I learned that in all my compassion and all my “feelings” for people in need, I was only seeing half the picture when it comes to doing something about it.  I learned that God does view the world with compassion. But he also views it with justice. If you study God’s compassion and justice in the Bible, you would be hard pressed to find any situation where God separates the two. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that there is a Godly compassion and justice that goes beyond the finite view of compassion and justice that we might see in the social systems of our world.

On the Justice Journey Bus, 2005

To open my mind and my heart, on His compassion and  justice, God brought amazing new mentors and friends into my life, and he brought me throughnewexperiences. One example of this was in the Summer of 2005 when 25 leaders from Willow Creek Community Church, a predominantly White church, and 25 leaders from Salem Baptist Church, a predominantly African American church all loaded a bus to go on the a journey called the Justice Journey…We traveled through many of the routes

Selma Alabama, 1965 after the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

and locations where Martin Luther King traveled with the Freedom Riders in the 1960s.

God opened eyes and transformed hearts on that journey that ended with leaders from both of our churches walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama. We walked arm and arm together in peace. Just 40 years before this event, that same act ended in tremendous bloodshed and pain.  On that journey I forged some deep friendships, gained a deep admiration for so many heroes who sacrificed and even died for the cause of Godly justice and I learned from some amazing Godly people.

People like Dr. John Perkins, who accompanied us on that Journey, taught me that Go

Selma Alabama, 2005 after a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

dly justice looks to make things right when one person blocks another person’s access to the blessings God intends for everyone. He pointed me to Isaiah 58:6-7 and Isaiah 58:10 :

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to turn away from your own flesh andblood?   Isaiah 58:6-7

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  Isaiah 58:10”

Since then, my family and I continue to travel on this Justice Journey. I truly believe that living out a personal mission of justice is a critical part of God’s great commission as illustrated in Matthew 28:19-20. For me a mission like this adds power, definition and credibility to the words of Jesus when he says in John 14:12, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…

I once heard Gary Haugen, president of the international Justice Mission speak on this, I was inspired by how he illustrated God’s plan when he said,

“How are people oppressed by injustice in our world supposed to believe that God is good. In fact if you think about this question…What is God’s plan for making it believable. That he is good, for those who are suffering and hurting in our world.”

It turns out that the bible says…we are his plan…and that God doesn’t have another plan.

God says in Matthew 5:14,16 that we are the light of the world…”Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is not just a trite little bible verse that you learn in Sunday school. God’s call for all of us let our light shine is a call to engagement, it is call action, it is a call toward compassion, and it is a call toward justice.

To my core I believe that Jesus is the path to God and the path to real transformation in our world. I also believe if more people met the real Jesus more people would accept that truth. My question is, do we as “Christians” portray who Jesus really is to to world around us. If Jesus is the path to God then perhaps living out a life of true, Biblical compassion and justice is the path toward letting the world see the who Jesus really is in all the fullness of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control.

The world is not longing for religion, it is not longing for some new religious experience, it yearns for Godly compassion and justice where the blessings that God intends for everyone are not blocked by anyone.

 

 

A Note to Young Church Leaders About Significance

This post is dedicated to young church leaders who are just starting out. As we move into the future you will be serving in a world of digital natives. You will be serving in a world where significance will be measured by how many followers you have in your Google circles instead of how faithful you are to God. This post is for you.


The pursuit of significance seems to be a timeless human pursuit. The platforms and avenues for fame may change over time, however, the pursuit has remained the same. Now that we have personal soap boxes like Google+ Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like, we have more resources at our disposal than ever to help us “live forever.”

I can’t say that it is particularly wrong to desire a life of significance. However, I do get concerned when the pursuit of significance out weighs the pursuit of character and faithfulness. I also get concerned when we start weighing the significance and value of a leader by their visibility and popularity rather than by their character and faithfulness.

Some of the most amazingly effective leaders for Christ I have ever met were leaders who have  little or no visibility to anyone other than the communities they serve directly. If you think about it, today’s high visibility leaders only make up a tiny percentage of the leaders in our world who faithfully and effectively grind it out every day in what seems like futile obscurity. What seems like obscurity to us, may be “rock star” status to God. I believe and imagine that from God’s perspective a woman, who against all odds starts a community church in a poor Barrio of the Dominican Republic is just as significant as a high tech pastor in L.A. It may take billions of dollars in social, corporate and production technology for us to see the progress and pursuits of many amazing leaders in today’s society. However, God reads the hearts and mind of every living soul as clearly as you and I read the latest twitter feed of a mega church pastor.

Please remember that God’s definition of significance does not resemble the worlds definition. There will be many pastors who were charged to lead millions and many pastors who were charged to lead 10 who will receive the same reward in heaven. God measures the heart not how many followers you have.

So Young Leaders who desire to make a difference for the Kingdom, I urge you not to pursue ways to increase your influence and significance in the eyes of the world.  Christ already gave you the greatest gift of significance in displaying His love for you when he died for you on the cross. How much more significance do you need. Therefore, the mega pastor and the minor church pastor are already equally significant in God’s eyes. Instead of pursuing ways to enlarge your territory, pursue ways to enlarge your heart for Christ. If God blesses you with greater amounts of influence then pray for wisdom and prudence to be faithful to this role.

There is nothing wrong with wanting your life to count for something. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a difference. However, there is a fine line between the desire to make your life count for Christ and the pursuit of fame. Living up to your significance in Christ is all about Him. However, when your pursuit of making your one and only life count for Him slips into the pursuit of fame it becomes all about you. Trust me…I am an expert on this subject only because I slipped into this pursuit more than once in my life. Every time I go down this path I learn difficult lessons. Lessons you can avoid if you start on the right path early in your adventures in church leadership.

Leadership Myths: Myth 2 – Leadership Is Primarily About Influence

We have all heard these definitions before. Leaders are marked by their ability to influence and guide people from point A to point B. Leaders are marked by their ability to develop followers. The definition is true. If you can’t develop followers and influence people to move in one direction or another then you probably are not a leader. However, as important as the ability to influence people is to leadership, I submit that leadership is not primarily about influence. It is primarily about faithfulness.

Some might ask, “Isn’t faithfulness important to all roles in an organization.” Of course, the answer to that question is…yes.” Some might ask, “Aren’t all the fruits of the spirit, (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control),  critical to leadership?” Again…of course…yes.

I chose the word faithfulness as a higher priority ingredient to leadership than the ability to influence because, by definition, it encompasses integrity, consistence, loyalty and….well…faith. While the concept of faithfulness is critical to all roles in an organization, the ability to influence people is also useful for many roles as well. Many people are faithful and many people can influence who are not faithful. However, only a few have the gifts to development followers and the character to faithfully lead those followers to new amazing places.

Therefore, you might be able to sell ideas, cast vision and articulate direction and guidance flawlessly. However, if you really want to be effective in serving God and people by guiding them get to new destinations. If you really want to be an effective leader, then make your leadership primarily about faithfulness first and the ability to influence second.

Leadership Myths: Myth 1 – Leadership is Lonely

Loneliness, Part of Life Not Just Leadership

Perhaps you have heard the popular phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.” One of my favorites is, “It is lonely at the top, but you eat better.” I believe that leadership can be lonely at times. However, it is not leadership that places someone in lonely places at times. It is conviction. If you believe in something strongly enough, you might find yourself alone in your conviction. As I apply this to the disciple of Christ, I would have to conclude that whatever role you may find yourself in life, however you might be wired or gifted, if you follow Christ, you will find yourself in situations where you will be called to stand alone. I could write some trite romantic comment like, “Just remember that Jesus is with you always and you will never feel alone.” I don’t care how gifted you are in faith, there are dark nights of the soul and situations in life where all people can feel the despair of loneliness and in those situations even the God of the entire universe can feel like He is a million miles away.

The point is, being lonely at times is part of life not leadership. I would add that if you find yourself entrusted with a leadership role and you find yourself believing that it is lonely at the top, you are in a very dangerous place. I would give you the same advice that I would give someone who is physically on fire. “Immediate action is required, stop, drop and role.” If you don’t act immediately, you will eventually find yourself burned up. It is also extremely dangerous and very selfish for someone entrusted with a leadership role to believe that their sense of conviction and “lone” faithfulness is somehow more significant than anyone else’s convictions entrusted to their care.

A Biblical Example

Perhaps the life of Elijah as recorded in 1Kings 17-19 offers us some insight into this type of loneliness. Here we have a genuine spiritual hero. God used this guy to raise people from the dead, stand for truth, stand against an entire corrupt religion, stand against an entire twisted government administration and ultimately represent the words and will of God on Earth. You would have thought that a guy like this would be unstoppable. However, this extremely faithful prophet of God found himself in a very lonely place eventually telling God,

 “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” – 1 Kings 19:10

Since we know the whole story, it is easy for us to see that, of course, Elijah was not the “only one left” who followed God. God patiently confirms this later by assuring Elijah,

18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” – 1 Kings 19:18.

 

Practical Application

Reading an example like the story of Elijah leaves me with some questions. I believe that exploring answers to these questions offers us some helpful insights toward dispelling this myth.

  • How effective was Elijah in fulfilling his purpose for God when he allowed himself to believe that he was the “only one left?

I know…This question is almost a full frontal assault on the intelligence of all humankind. From our perspective, we would say, “of course he was not very effective in fulfilling his purpose for God when he believed he was the only one left. Yet, if this is so obvious, why do so many of us allow our effectiveness to be impacted so often?

  • How did Elijah get to this place of loneliness?

One thing that can be observed in the example of Elijah and can be applied to situations in our own lives where we find ourselves standing alone for our convictions is the “loneliness” that Elijah felt was not the primary driver of his despair. I believe that the primary source of Elijah’s “only one left” mentality is fear. In his case he was afraid of being killed. As I process this myth of loneliness in leadership I wonder if it is actually fear that drives leaders to a place of loneliness. It may not be fear of being murdered that drives us to isolation. However, perhaps we are afraid of failure. Or perhaps we are afraid of people seeing our flaws or our weaknesses. Whatever the case may be perhaps the first question we need to ask ourselves when we find ourselves in a lonely place is, “What am I afraid of right now?”
  • Could Elijah have done anything to avoid this situation?

As I look at the amazing faithfulness of Elijah’s life and compare it to the amazingly forgetful example of my life, I have to come to the conclusion that if a guy like Elijah could be blind sided by fear and loneliness then so can I. Even with textbook plans to balance my life and even if I spend every minute with God and follow his ways. It is precisely that obedience to God that will lead me to lonely places at times. With that in mind, I believe that the challenge here is not how to avoid situations of loneliness, but how to be faithful in situations of loneliness.

 

How did Elijah remain faithful and eventually get out of this pit?

Again, in this situation we can look to the life Elijah for an example of what to do. Actually, while Elijah physically fled from his perceived  danger, he did nothing to initiate his escape from his pit of dispair, (See 1Kings 1:19). It was God who reached out to Elijah. However, I observed five key behaviors that Elijah lived out as God reached out to him. I believe that these traits could help us remain faithful when we are faced with this kind of loneliness. To help me remember these traits I have organized them into five words that start with the letter R.

1. Relationship – The first key trait that I observed in the life of Elijah as it relates to his wilderness experience was his relationship with God. Elijah walked with God trusted God and loved God. His relationship with God did not shelter him from fear, loneliness and despair, however, it is the key to the next four traits I observed.
2 Remember – Throughout his entire ordeal, Elijah may have lost faith in himself, lost site of his purpose,  lost perspective of God and even cried out to God to take his life, but he never lost site of the Holiness of God.  God remained Lord and King of Elijah’s life.
3. Retreat – While I can’t say that I can ever support running away in fear to wallow in lonely places when time get tough as we stand up for our convictions, I can see a positive side to Elijah’s situation of isolation. As a leader, if and when you find yourself in a position of loneliness and you ask yourself the question, “What am I afraid of that is driving me to this lonely place?” then perhaps you would do well  to lean into that situation and spend some time alone with God. A retreat to spend time alone with God doesn’t have to be a reaction to fear. It can be a proactive response to discovering something in your own character that might keep you from intimacy with God and from his purpose for your life.
4. Remain – Even at the height of his despair, Elijah never cut himself off from God. He may have felt alone, afraid and even distant from God but he remained connected. In 1Kings 19:8 it reads that Elijah eventually traveled to Horeb, the mountain of God. Symbolically, this could be translated as he retreated to God in his fear. Conversely, he did not run to Baal or look to any other remedy to solve his death threat problem.
5. Respond – When God finally did reach out to Elijah throughout his dispair, he responded. He might have been overwhelmed with fear and loneliness. However, when God told him to get up and eat, he responded faithfully,  when God told him to stand in His presence, he responded faithfully, and when God revealed himself in the gentle whisper, he responded faithfully.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would say that while Leaders, or anyone who lives with strong convictions will have times of loneliness. However, loneliness in leadership as a way of life or as a general rule is a choice. The best leaders in history surrounded themselves with inner circles of dear friends and lifelong teammates. If you are looking for an example of this in the Bible, you needn’t look any further than the life of  Jesus.

I also want to give credit to Bill Hybels for inspiring me to write this post in a tweet he posted several months ago that challenged me to dig into this topic during a particularly lonely time of leadership.

 

My Favorite Twitter & Facebook Debt Ceiling Quotes

Astonished...Washington locates the actual debt ceiling...Days Agenda: Review and discuss paint color options Both parties concerned that they can't agree on a shade. image credit: themetapicture.com

I took a few moments this morning to record a couple of the national debt ceiling quotes that caught my eye over the past several weeks. In the endless and overwhelming flow of information that floats around out there…I thought these quotes were seasoned with some wit. It makes me think that these people from all walks of life gave a little thought to what they wrote.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of them….but they all made me think. Oh…and I almost forgot…I left these quotes anonymous to protect to innocent and the guilty. However, you can blame me for the cheesy caption under the image.

  1. “United States downgraded day after record number of Americans tune into Jersey Shore season premiere.”
  2. “The American Dream is 6 cents cheaper in canada…!”
  3. “Everything we’ve had for the last 20 years is fake”
  4. “Today’s national debt: $14,564,970,167,709.38. Your share as a citizen: $46,694.11. Your share as a taxpayer: $130,289.”
  5. “Apple should launch a new application for all congressmen; iDebt”
  6. “Entitlement my ass. I paid for my Social Security Insurance! Our benefits aren’t some kind of charity or handout! Congressional benefits – free health care, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, unlimited paid sick days – now THAT’S welfare. And Congress has the nerve to call my retirement an Entitlement?…”
  7. “I read somewhere that Apple has more spending rev than the US Govt. #DeptCeiling crisis… time to borrow sugar from neighbors analogy”
  8. “Standard&Poor just downgraded US credit to BAAAAAAAAAD.Will it convince spenders irresponsible debt is dumb? Unlikely.”
  9. “Someone forgot to inform the stock market to rally in response to the grand debt deal! Just saying… Reality speaks louder than the spin doctors.”
  10. “DEAR CONGRESS, Last year I mismanaged my funds and this year my family and I cannot decide on a budget. Until we can come to a unified decision that fits all of our needs and interests, we will have to shut down our check book and will no longer be able to pay our taxes. I’m sure you’ll understand. Thank you very much for setting an example we can all follow.”

6 Principles for Using I.T. Volunteers in the Church.

I thought that, by now, the concept of using volunteers in the Information Technology (I.T.)  areas of the church would be irrelevant. I am encouraged to hear an increasing amount of stories where churches trust some of their most critical I.T. operations to volunteers. However, many church leaders still struggle with this concept  so I thought that I would address a couple issues that I have experienced over the years and “volunteer” some principles that have helped me gain a measure of success helping volunteers use their technical gifts and skills in the church.

 

Principle 1. An Unrelenting Commitment to a Biblical Volunteer Paradigm.

Let’s face it, Managing people is hard work. Even if a paycheck offers a primary motivation to complete a job, the process of instructing, developing , coaching, communicating, inspiring and over-all supporting requires a considerable amount of energy. I believe that leading and managing volunteers takes even more time and energy than the energy required to lead and manage a paid staff. This can make it difficult to see any immediate return on all the time and effort church leaders invest in building volunteer teams to take on significant tasks. With this in mind, I submit that if using a persons natural and spiritual gifts to support the initiatives of the church is a basic act of obedience that all who claim to follow Christ should fulfill, then there is no reason why churches shouldn’t have people who volunteer their I.T. skills in the church. Using Acts 6:1-7 as an example, I believe that it is good to have  I.T. volunteers take up the tasks of supporting technology services in the church so that Bible teachers, many of whom are volunteers themselves, don’t have to “neglect the word of God,” to fix computers. If the church is particularly large then perhaps full or part-time staff is necessary to support the operations of the church during daytime hours. Still, I believe that 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4 offer us clear direction and a clear example for people to follow as they use whatever spiritual gifts and natural abilities they might be blessed with to further the initiatives of God. It is simply a normal part of being a Christ follower and because of this I believe that Church leaders need to have an unrelenting commitment to this Biblical volunteer paradigm.

Principle 2. A High Calling and a High Motivation.

Many individuals, including myself, hold a strong conviction that there is a community of people all over the earth who believe that:

  • Jesus is the Son of God who chose to die for our sins, giving us the opportunity to have a personal and public relationship with the creator of the entire universe
  • Though Christ, God calls us to a life of love and purpose as we  “Make Disciples,” (Matt 28:19-20) and  “let our light shine before men, that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven,” (Matt, 5:15-16)
  • There is a royal priesthood of all believers. (1 Peter 2:9).
  • This community…the church, is the most important initiative on planet Earth

With this in mind, if the church is the most important movement on the planet then it stands to reason that the stakes of completing tasks that support this  important institution are extremely high.  With so much at stake, I consider it critical that church leaders hold I.T. volunteers, who are entrusted with managing  information and technology that supports the church, to the same standard as any other ministry leader. I recommend using 1 Tim 3:1-12 as a guide in this area.

Principle 3: Due Diligence

On a practical note, while calling someone in this position to such a high spiritual standard is the highest priority when it comes to overseeing church I.T. volunteers, we still live in a fallen, physical world. This world we live in has practical and legal risks to manage. On this thought, I would recommend that all I.T. volunteers in a given church be required to sign a confidentiality agreement along with a code of conduct covenant. I realize that this may seem extreme. However, entrusting volunteers to use their gifts often means that they may see information regarding staff and individuals of the church. Even if your church policy is to bar all volunteers from seeing any personal information at certain levels of sensitivity, I believe it is wise to consider that even simple data entry exposes personal address and family information to individuals who might not always feel the same level of commitment and loyalty to their current local church. In any case, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in adding a small measure of legal and practical due diligence to the high level of spiritual accountability that you require from your I.T. volunteers.

Principle 4. The FAST principle

A challenge that has come to my attention often over the years has been the challenge that church leaders face in selecting I.T. volunteers who are skilled and qualified to serve in a given church  I.T. position. There may be a few people who come forward wanting to serve, and they fit the spiritual maturity levels required to oversee a church I.T. position. However, these individuals don’t have the skills necessary to complete the task. Conversely, there have been many skilled individuals who say they want to serve, but simply don’t have the time. A principle that has served me over the years has been what I call the FAST principle. This principle simply assembles 4 key values into something that is easy to remember and communicate to volunteer candidates. It calls for FAST people to serve in any given I.T. position in a church. That is…People who are:

Faithful – Spiritually mature, trustworthy, with a track record of finishing what they start.

Available -Able to give a level of consistent time and energy to a given position, and available to complete a given project or milestone.

Skilled -Poses a level of professional skill in a technical area.

Teachable – If they think they are God’s gift to the technology world. They probably are not teachable. There is only room for one God in the church. I realize that it may sound harsh, However, I have met many people who consider themselves technology gods. There is nothing they can learn about technology, or anything else for that matter. You may think that you can reform their attitude by letting them serve. I would recommend that you refer them to other areas of the church where they can grow. It is much easier for them to bring your entire team down than it would for you to lift them up to a higher spiritual level. This is especially true since it is only God who can change their heart anyway.

In using this principle, I would often  communicate these four values to potential volunteers coupled with the following call to action:

“I am looking for FAST people who are willing to Show Up, Give Up, and Follow Up..That is:

Show Up, on time, ready serve as they willingly use their gifts behind the scenes for the kingdom of our most high God.

Give Up, their personal agenda for the sake of the bigger mission of the church.

Follow Up, finish the projects and tasks they start and stay true to their commitments.

I believe that it is important for church leaders to have a defined set of values that is readily available to apply and communicate to potential volunteers. If your objective is to leverage volunteers to do significant technology ministry in the church, then defined standards and values go a long way toward achieving this goal. Finding the right people and holding them to these standards will be far more productive than any other organizational structures and/or position definitions you can assemble.  Furthermore, I believe that volunteers actually appreciate being part of a team that holds to such standards.

Principle 5. Practical Flexibility

There is a certain level of practical “give and take” when it comes to putting volunteers to work in the I.T. ministry of a church. I would not be flexible with regard to any of the values that I have mentioned in the sections above. However, when it comes to fulfilling positions and tasks, I have found that a certain level of flexibility is required. On one extreme you might find it useful to draft volunteer job descriptions and post them on the church website or weekly newsletter. This is great in theory, however, you may not have anyone in your congregation who has these skills and gifts. On the other hand, you may want to simply survey the congregation to see what technical skills and abilities, if any,  might exist in your congregation. I have found that applying a balance of defining needs and surveying talent works best. Flexibility enters into the equation when a church leader plans on using paid resources to accomplish a certain task while using volunteers for another. It pays to be flexible when you post a volunteer position for one need only to find that a FAST person who is perfect for another need comes forward.

Principle 6. Prayer

By now you might be thinking that with all the values and standards I have written above, you will never find people to serve in your ministry. I assure you that God can and will bring the right people to serve in your ministry. I have prayed many times for God to “bring people our of the wood work” if necessary to serve in His high calling. I can’t think of a time when He has not answered that prayer. He may not have always answered it in ways I have expected, but He has always assembled the teams needed to accomplish the critical tasks necessary to support His initiatives.

 

Conclusion

There you have it…6 principles for using I.T. volunteers in the Church. I realize that for some this was a great deal of information to absorb in a blog post and for others it did not go deep enough. Either way, I hope that this information is helpful to those who really want to and need to rely on volunteers in I.T. and are struggling with how to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Things I learned from Pat Gilbert

Pat Gilbert preceded me as Director of Information Systems at Willow Creek Community Church. I am extremely thankful for the opportunities that she gave me to grow as a leader.  I do not believe that I would have had the opportunity to lead and manage the Information Technology ministry at Willow Creek if it were not for her willingness to take risks on my growth. I know that my energy and propensity toward action can be a handful to manage. However, Pat’s experience, wisdom and patience with me over the years that she lead and mentored me has had a profound and positive impact on my character as a leader,  as a professional and as a follower of Christ. Furthermore, I don’t think that I have appropriately expressed my gratitude to her for her investment in me…that is…until today. This Post is dedicated to you, Pat Gilbert. Thanks for taking chances on me.

1. Employ-ability – Pat had a great concern for our ability to grow in our skill as professionals. Pat came to Willow Creek with a tremendous amount of skill and experience as a technology leader and manager. She worked for large financial corporations and she new how fragile employment situations could be. An economic downturn could mean that she might be forced to eliminate a position. She would say, “I can’t promise you employment forever, however, I can do my best to promote your ability to be employed.” To this day I think about Pat’s perspective on “Employ-ability” and though I can’t always provide the training opportunities I would like for the people entrusted to me, professional development is always an intentional objective for me to pursue for any of the teams I have of the privilege of serving.

2.Integrity – One of the things I remember most about Pat when I was serving under her was her integrity. I have always known Pat to be true to her character, even when the outcome might be that her perspectives or decisions were not popular. Pat was not in the habit of necessarily telling people what they wanted to hear. However, Pat always provided an unbiased and tactfully honest assessment of any situation. She believed that she was accountable to God first and never played favorites when it came to stewarding resources and setting direction for anything she is accountable for leading at Willow Creek.

3. Grit – I realize that I don’t have any semblance of credibility to talk about the challenges that women have faced and continue to face in our world. However, I think that I have been in the field of technology long enough to safely observe that even today this field is heavily dominated be men. While I am encouraged to see a growing number of women filling positions at all levels in the field of technology, Pat is particularly inspiring to me. She served in both high tech positions as a developer and high leadership positions as a Vice President at a time when I believe such things were even more of an exception than they are today. I believe that it has taken a certain amount of grit for Pat to make as far as she has in her field of expertise. I realize that the term grit can carry a certain negative abrasive connotation. However, others who have served under Pat have described her as “always being tough but fair.” After much thought and consideration I came across the following definition: “firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck: She has a reputation for grit and common sense.” This is, of course, a definition for the word grit. After reading this definition, with all that Pat has experienced in her life. Pat is a person of Rock solid character in Christ and she has an unconquerable spirit. She has a reputation for grit and common sense that has inspired me to seek a similar path.

4.Adventurous Spirit – As long as I have known her, Pat has pursued a relationship with God with great passion. She has also pursued serving God wherever He may lead her. Even when this meant leaving high paying jobs to work in full-time vocational ministry, Pat followed God’s call on her life. Wherever and whenever God gives Pat an opportunity to explore and serve she follows His lead. This has lead Pat all over the world. I believe that as long as God gives Pat the strength for follow Him, wherever He may lead her…she will.

5. Undying pursuit of learning – I remember walking into Pat’s office one day to report on some task we were working on in I.T. when I caught her installing a training software to help her learn the Spanish language. Pat had just returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic. She was determined to learn Spanish so she could connect better with our partners in that area. As long as I have known Pat, she has continued to pursue a lifestyle of learning. She does this even if it takes her out of her comfort zone or challenges her to go beyond the boundaries of anything she may have explored before.

I am thankful for the influence that Pat Gilbert has had on my life and I am so very thankful for the growth opportunities that Pat has given me. I pray that God continues to bless her in all her efforts to follow Him wherever He may lead her.

Top 5 Things I Learned From Bill Hybels

From the day he lead me to Christ during a weekend church service to the day I accepted a new calling to step out in faith and leave Willow Creek staff, his influence on me as a pastor, leader, mentor and friend has played a major roll in my development as a follower of Christ and as a leader. Like many who have served under his leadership, I would have to say that Bill is not a perfect person. He has made mistakes in many aspects of his leadership over the years.  He can also be an incredibly difficult person to work for, with what would seem like impossible standards to attain.

Well…this is not a post to bash Bill Hybels. He never claimed to be perfect. He is, after all, just a person, he knows it and he owns it. While he is a fallible human being, it is hard to argue with his intense passion for Christ and for Christ’s bride, the Church. In the words of Gary Haugen, President of the International Justice Mission, the Church is God’s plan for bringing hope to all that is broken in our world and “God doesn’t have another plan.” I have never met a person who is more passionate about God’s plan, the Church, than Bill Hybels. Bill’s deep conviction to reach out to those who do not know God coupled with his holy discontent about injustice in our world is contagious. He simply believes that Jesus and His church can change the world…he believes that it is our calling and purpose to follow Christ in this endeavor.

Condensing all I have learned from Bill over the past twenty four years into five points seems like an impossible task. However, out of everything I have learned from him there are five things to rise to the top…

A Clear Destination

I have not always agreed will Bill’s decisions on things, I don’t think he paid me to agree with him. However, I would have to say that under his leadership I always knew where we were going as an organization. Warren Bennis defines leaders as, “people who do the right thing,” as compared with managers who, “do things right.” While I do believe that Bill values doing things right, he demonstrated for me that, out of all the possible ways an organization can go, the leader must have a clear picture of that destination and they must be able to communicate this picture with such clarity that those who hear it and see it want to become part of the picture. Bill is incredibly gifted in this area. He takes this so seriously that he has spent a great deal of time in prayer and in God’s word over the years listening for whispers of direction and wisdom from God.

Focus

One time while I was in Bill’s office following up on a technology issue at the church, he decided to pull me aside and offer a little leadership coaching. He said, “Capital L leaders usually have an overwhelming number of problems to solve and priorities to address at any given moment of the day. Yet, they have the ability to focus on the moment. If that moment includes a conversation with someone, the capital “L” leader had the ability to make that someone feel like they are the only person in the world at that moment. Bill then went on to give me examples of other world leaders whom he had learned from in this area. How they might have issues of security, economics and social welfare to deal with at a national level, however, when Bill would meet with them or when he would observe their meetings with others, these world leader types would focus at that moment as if the other problems they faced did not exist. As you might be able to guess, he said that I could use some work in this area of the leadership. I have not forgotten this important lesson and though Bill has affirmed my progress in this area, it is something that I still consciously practice to this day.

Help Me Understand

Bill is an extremely passionate person. Candidly, I would have to say that some of his responses to problems he faced in his earlier years of leadership are legendary. Over the past 24 years of following him, I have watched him develop styles of self discipline to focus his passion. Frankly his rigorous self discipline is amazing to me. Many people know of the consistent disciplines he follows to stay healthy spiritually, physically and relationally. However, one area of his self discipline lifestyle that stands out for me is his “Help Me Understand” discipline.

In a spirit of full self disclosure, I would have to confess I am an activist. The minute I see a problem or get struck with a “holy discontent” about something broken in our world, I want to jump in and fix it. I can also tend to react strongly in the face of conflict. While I would not place myself anywhere near the same caliber of leader and servant as Bill Hybels, the one character trait that we share is our spirit of activism. It is precisely with the back drop of his action oriented heart where Bill’s, “help me understand,” discipline really shines. Typically, I have observed that action oriented people react first and ask questions later. Bill has learned to pause and ask the question, “Help me understand?” before he dives in to solve a problem. This simple practical discipline has saved me and several others who have followed me over the years from many a rabbit trail and false start. All this from pausing for just a moment to ask one simple question before a conclusion is reached prematurely.

Authenticity

When it comes to authenticity there one item that rises to the top when I think about the top things I have  learned from Bill. Authentic leadership in Christ comes from authentic follower-ship of Christ. Bill takes his relationship with God very seriously. He revolves his life around his love and pursuit of Christ and he realizes that his relationship as a treasured child of our most high God is more important than any of the leadership or ministry initiatives he delivers. Bill is a man of action. It would be easy for a person like that to put action over relationship. However, Bill has placed such a high priority on his relationship with Christ that he carefully disciplines himself to keep his relational priorities with God in place. I would even go so far as to say that I have learned much from observing Bill grow over the years in how he keeps his relationship priorities straight with people as well.

The last 2%

Simply stated, the “last 2%” is saying those last things that need to be said to keep relationships healthy. Here’s how I interpret and put Bill’s “last 2%” philosophy into practice. When we are faced with difficult conversations, we often slip into passive aggressive behavior, we either don’t say what needs to be said or the “last 2%” of our words we do say come out sideways and we start to accumulate baggage in our relationships.  I think, at the heart of what I have learned from Bill’s last 2% is that we need to think very carefully about the last 2% of those words we share in any conversation, meeting, etc. If we don’t go that last 2% percent in all of our relationships we will fall short of giving our best to people we share life with. However, we need to be mindful that our last 2% is not a quantity item. Quality is the key in everything we share. Quality is even more critical when we go that last 2%. In classic Hybels style I will end this section with a question. What if all Christ followers went that extra 2% in all their relationship? What if all Christ followers shared thoughtful truth in love and shared meaningful encouragement in love? I think the whole world would benefit from the outcome of this effort. I credit Bill for teaching me this philosophy.

Conclusion

Bill holds himself to incredibly high standards in all aspects of his life as a follower of Jesus. There is nothing casual about his walk as a Christ follower and as a leader. He believes that Christ deserves our whole heart; “ninety five percent of our heart yielded to Christ is five percent short.” He simply calls others around him to the same standard he follows for himself. As I look back over the years, I am thankful for Bill’s seemingly “impossible” standards. His standards called me to a higher level of excellence, yielding, integrity and even love for Christ and for people around me. In the midst of it all, his pastoring also helped me understand my true identity as a treasured child of our most high God.

The Top 5 Things I Learned from Rev. Mike Neal.

Back in 2005 I went on a Journey called the Justice Journey. I am not going to go into the details of the Journey here. I wrote a little about the Journey itself in the following link. http://www.mikegold.org/2009/05/justice-its-personal. However, it is safe to say that the Journey changed the lives of many of us who experienced it forever. For this post however, I would like to focus my attention on a dear friend I met on the Journey and how God used his influence to change my life. This friend’s name is Reverend Mike Neal. Mike and his beautiful family live in the Bronzeville Neighborhood of Chicago where Mike is currently pastor of the Glorious Light Church. Today happens to be Mike’s birthday. I thought that it would be very appropriate to share the top 5 things I learned from him as a token of my appreciation of him and in celebration of all the blessings he shares with so many…

Sanctioned By God

Some day I will be able to write all the details about how the “Sanctioned by God” phrase came into being. Let’s just say that as Mike and I started dreaming together about how we might be able to serve Christ in ways that would build bridges and promote a biblical mindset of Godly justice in our communities, our ideas were not always received with open arms. We decided that if an idea loves people, honors God and follows God’s word it just might be sanctioned by God and we have to follow it even if it is rejected by others. To this day, I follow a “Sanctioned by God” lifestyle.

Love and Patience of Another kind

Soon after Mike and I met, our families vacationed together. My family and I would often rent a small cottage in a quaint little neighborhood on Lake Delavan, Wisconsin. We had gone up there for years and no one ever noticed us, that is… until we brought our African American friends. I was in the lake swimming with all the kids while Mike, his bride, Dee and my bride, Dawn were up talking on some benches that overlooked the beach. At one point I looked up and I saw an older gentleman engaging in conversation with Mike and our wives. I thought that the situation looked a little strange so I went to investigate. When I joined the conversation I found that the man, who was quite inebriated, was very much taken aback by our presence there. He was surprised to see us all together. He asked us…”So what’s up with this salt and pepper thing here.” The conversation went on for some time and started to get spiritual. The guy couldn’t believe that we actually worshiped together. He was even surprised to find that we were actually all renting a cottage in the community. I could go into greater detail about the ignorance that was unveiled that day. However, I don’t want to draw anymore attention to the foolish man who crossed our path. All of this is just a back drop to the amazing character of Mike Neal. In the midst of this terrible situation, while I wrote this guy off as a drunken fool, Mike actually started to share the Gospel with him. Even as I write this post, the memory of my dear brother sharing the love of the good new of Christ to a man who was clearly racist brings tears to my eyes. Mike is truly an amazing follower of Christ.

Commitment to Calling

For this section, I have to include both Mike and his bride Dee. Ever since I met both of them in 2005 I have been inspired by the commitment they have to serve their community for Christ. Mike and Dee have a vision for their community. They long to see the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago transformed into a Christ Centered community where all socioeconomic, ethnic and generational groups are included. In 2006 they started the process of launching Glorious Light Church, a neighborhood church with a “walk to worship” vision. GLC is a strong Biblically based church that is serious about raising disciples for Christ. However, GLC also has a strong community center mission that is determined to be “Jesus with skin on” to Chicago. Mike and Dee continue to press on faithfully launching this church. Their commitment and sacrifice to their calling is inspirational to me.

Collaborative Leadership

One of the first things I noticed about Mike’s leadership style was actually articulated best by my wife Dawn. Both of us attended a Bible study that was hosted by Mike and Dee in Chicago. There had to be somewhere between twenty and thirty people who attending the study that day. Mike’s non-threatening, collaborative style of leading people through God’s word was amazing. Mike has a way of allowing others to engage and share, but he is always able to keep the study moving forward, even in a larger group. After the study, Dawn commented on how impressed she was by the way Mike led that group. Even when someone shares a thought that might not square with the Bible. I have watched Mike gently but firmly clarify and correct.

Step Out of the Boat

This last attribute that I learned from Mike probably made the greatest impact in my life over the past two and a half years. Some time over the Summer of 2008, while Mike was in the thick of launching Glorious Light Church he started teaching on Matthew 14:22-33 at one of his neighborhood Bible studies.. In this passage Peter steps out of a boat in faith and starts to walk toward Jesus. It was at that Bible study where I started wrestling with God about leaving my very comfortable ministry post at Willow Creek Community Church to follow Christ on a new adventure. One year later I submitted my resignation to the church even though I did not have a job lined up.  I thought for sure that my family and I would wind up in Chicago helping with Glorious Light. God seemed to have other plans and my family and I now live in Memphis. Even from Memphis I still have the privilege of serving the GLC vision. Where ever we live and serve, we love our new adventure and I credit Mike for our step of faith. His example of walking in faith and his fearless teaching of God’s word inspired my family and I to make bold moves for Christ.

Who would have known that in 2005, when Mike and I met as we started on a Justice Journey together God would use our relationship in such profound ways. I will be forever grateful to God for bringing this amazing person and his amazing family into my life. Happy Birthday my Friend…