The Power of YES

“Say, yes. And if you’re lucky, you will find people who say ‘yes’ back. Now will saying yes, get you in trouble at times? Will saying yes, lead you to some foolish things? Yes, it will, but don’t be afraid to be a fool. Cynics don’t learn anything. Cynics always say no. But saying yes, begins things. It’s how things grow.” ~ Steven Colbert in his 2006 commencement speech to the graduates at Knox College.

***

This story isn’t about me, or even Harold, really.

It’s about the power of “yes,” and it’s true.

***

More than how it curbed my enthusiasm, I mostly remember how it outright dampened my spirit.

I’d just enjoyed an hourlong visit, and a cup of coffee with an old friend. Three years earlier, he’d presided over the ceremony where Dana and I became husband and wife.

We talked about life’s ups and downs, some common challenges we’d both shared, and how it can sometimes just wear you all down. Then he hit me with something I never expected.

“You know, I haven’t had a vacation in 17 years. I really need a vacation,” Harold said, explaining that he had neither the money, nor the time for a really relaxing trip.

Seventeen years. That’s a very long time.

This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he's one of my wisest friends. Bill has said "yes" more times than anyone I know.

This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he’s one of my wisest friends. Bill has said “yes” more times than anyone I know.

Minutes later, I left our visit determined to put the 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere, anywhere, tropical, for at least a week. But I would need some help. I would surely need some “yesses.”

Harold is a man who goes above and beyond the call for whatever it is he’s called to do. For a year or more we attended the same church where Harold was then leading its membership through a time of transition to a point where a new pastor would ultimately be appointed. I got sick of the politics and left the church months long before it all came to pass, but faithful Harold stayed behind to lead where no one else could, and he wasn’t one bit mad at me for doing what I had to do. He just wanted me to be okay. That’s why I love Harold. He “gets” things.

For me, the very thought that Harold hadn’t seen a vacation in 17 years was unacceptable, and I intended to do something about it, and right fast, but I’d need some help.

On a dime, I scrapped the day’s schedule, and put on my fundraising hat. In a previous career as director of development at a 12,000-student university, I’d helped raised millions of dollars a year over several years, so the $5,000 we needed to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical would be no big deal, I thought, and I had every intention of raising it by 5 o’clock that afternoon, and putting Harold on a plane to somewhere tropical in the next two weeks.

I went back to my office and wrote down 10 names. Ten names in Harold’s church who I really thought would see the need and vision for this wonderful opportunity to “give back” to Harold for all his wisdom and leadership over the years. And, moreover, 10 names that I thought could cough up $500 each on the spot, and never miss a dime.

An hour later the list was on paper, and I was making phone calls.

“I think it’s a great idea, but I’m not sure the time is right,” one said. “Maybe in a few months.”

“Don’t you think this is something we ought to run by the leadership?” another asked.

“I see where you’re coming from, and admire the effort, but why such a hurry?” another finally confessed.

Less than halfway through the calling list, it was clear we weren’t going to put 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical that week, or any other time for that matter.

No one would say “yes,” to such a whimsical gesture from such an apparently naive dreamer.

Harold’s still there, giving as much as ever, and he’s not getting any younger.

Many months later “when the time was right,” the church leadership went on to acknowledge Harold. I’m pretty sure they gave him a certificate of achievement.

One day soon, I’m going to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical. Count on that.

***

To lead a movement, one of the greatest qualities a person can possess, I suggest, is the ability to say “yes” now, and figure out the “how” later.

Are you a leader? At your company? In your family? In your church?

Want to see your team make a difference? Learn how to give a reflexive YES. Stop throwing up barriers to the very people who want to make a difference.

Stop making them sense apprehension at the very thought of asking your PERMISSION.

Lead with a yes, and ask how later.

Now what laughable dream will you say yes to, today?

Say yes.

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2013: Kill the Status Quo and SEE Your Laughable Dreams.

Steve and Dana Watkins in Ecuador

“It is impossible to travel South without turning one’s back to the North.” ~ A.W. Tozier

Gordon McKenzie’s unofficial title at Hallmark was vice president for creative disruption.

Not too many years ago, McKenzie conducted an informal, yet profound experiment.

He visited a nearby elementary school, walked into five different classrooms, grades one through five, and asked each student group this same question:

“How many of you consider yourselves creative artists?”

His findings? Nearly every student in the first grade raised their hand. Second grade, maybe two-thirds. Third grade, half. Fourth grade, one-third, and by the fifth grade, only two or three students raised their hands, and they were obviously embarrassed to do so.

How could this be?

McKenzie surmised that the school – the students’ actual supportive organization – actively  participated in the suppression of creative genius, and that it’s a trait among almost all organizations. Schools, the workplace, church, anywhere you might imagine, it’s the organization’s desperate attempt to maintain the status quo. At the heart of it all is that the organization takes on its own life to radically curtail change, that which would often be change for the good.

The organization, you see, wants to “survive” just as it is, and always has been.

I’ve learned to hate the status quo. Succumbing to the status quo would have prevented every dream I ever had.No Status Quo

A go-along attitude would have quashed my dreams as a writer, creative marketer and I’d surely never have written this post from a new base in the peaceful fishing village of Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, a place I consider an entrepreneur’s paradise where the risks are low and the potential for success is high.

No Status QuoJust like me, I’ll bet you have dreams for 2013, and I want you to realize every single one of them. Here’s what I want you to do:

DON’T pull out a pen and paper tonight and jot down 10 quick “resolutions” five minutes before midnight.

DON’T get an accountability partner to hold you to your mutual commitment.

DON’T buy new batteries for the bathroom scales.

***

I want you to VISUALIZE your success stories in 2013.

For years, Tiger Woods visualized sinking a 40-foot putt to win Augusta’s Masters.

In many NBA pre-seasons Michael Jordan paid a professional who would help him see his final shot in the championship series seventh game.

A few years ago, I even did it myself as I trained for my first marathon and at the end of each Saturday’s long run (which was just a bit further than the previous Saturday’s training run) I visualized myself crossing the 26.2 mile finish line as a volunteer placed a finisher’s medal around my neck.

So stop hoping, stop dreaming, and start SEEING your laughable dream now.

Try any of these six ways to begin visualizing your laughable dreams, many of which I’ve adopted from the book, On the Verge, by Alan Hirsh and Dave Ferguson.

1. Use this formula: L = P + Q. That is LEARNING takes place when PROGRAMMING (that of your organization’s status quo) is subject to QUESTION. Learn how to ask the right questions to initiate a genuine quest for the answers.

2. Take more RISKS. Conformity is the result of obsession with safety. Diversity and adventure result from a willingness to take risks. Take yourself entirely out of your comfort zone. I’ve failed in a huge way, many, many times.

3. Think like a BEGINNER, not an expert. Even if you must “unlearn” much of what you think you already know.

4. Know that it’s okay to FEEL. I admire the great thinkers around me, but I wouldn’t take anything for my feelings and gut instincts.

5. Learn to PLAY. In the beginning, even if you must be so anal as to require scheduling for

I took this photo on the streets of Puerto Cayo less than 24 hours ago and must have gone back to look at it a dozen times. I love how these guys just threw caution to the wind just to have a little fun.

I took this photo on the streets of Puerto Cayo less than 24 hours ago and must have gone back to look at it a dozen times. I love how these guys threw caution to the wind just to have a little fun.

play, do it, so that it becomes second nature.

6. Develop your personal MANTRA – that is, adopt, or create a set of words with a certain rhythm that resonates with everything you do. Five years ago, I adopted as my mantra a quote by renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That mantra changed, and continues to change my life, and it’s the very thing I pursue every day.

Lay claim to your dreams right now.

Don’t be denied.

Hate the status quo.

(Dedicated to my buddy, Brady Cornish, who’s dropped just about 80 pounds in the last 11 months, on the fast track now to his goal.)

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Un-Learning Church – The Inverted Steeple Approach

One of my first recollections of church is a Southern Baptist cliché. I think I was 5 years old, so the year would have been 1971.

An aunt was babysitting me for the weekend and she took me along one night to her church revival.

It was hot summertime in Arkansas, the place was packed and all my 5–year-old mind could hear was a preacher saying I was going to hell if I didn’t repent. Hell, fire, losing my soul, dying lost – that’s what I recall as being the message.

I was scared to death and became so uncomfortable I started crying and throwing a tantrum. Eventually, my behavior was so unruly my aunt took me to the car for the remainder of the service so as not to be a distraction.

Why that background is important, I really don’t know, other than to say the “fear” of God is something that stayed with me for many years, until quite recently, in fact.

Most of us who are “good church people” have pretty much learned “church” in similar ways. It’s the “place” we go on Sunday. We sing songs, we pray, we hear the weekly message, maybe a few people get “saved” at the altar call, and the next Sunday we do it all over again.

Most of my adult life, I was a pretty good “church person.” I rarely missed, gave my time and resources, taught Sunday school. Still, I had failures along the way, and I took a performance-based approach to “make up” for all the shortcomings in my life.

As one wise leader recently put it, there was always the “nagging chihuahua” of sin and failure nipping at my heals telling me I wasn’t forgiven, and God was mad.

And so there really never was a time when there wasn’t a spiritual void in my life. Either I was missing something, not doing something right, or really just didn’t understand.

It’s the latter of the three to which I’ve now drawn my conclusion.

TURNING POINT

About six months ago I walked away from church. Right or wrong, it was a personal decision.

I simply, in good conscience could no longer be a part of revising constitutions and bylaws, scrutinizing line-item budgets and trying to re-create what was created originally some 30 years ago. It felt to me as if it were an empty effort. For me, recreating a vision of the past was a missionless mission.

In many ways, I believe that we (the body) have taken ownership of the church – and not in the best of ways. While we’ve been well-intentioned, we’ve taken the wrong turn at the fork in the road. We’ve tried to make the church what we believe it should be, but if we open our eyes to the reality of the world, it clearly isn’t working.

One of the most profound works I’ve come across on this topic is a book titled: “On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=on+the+verge&sprefix=on+the+verge%2Cstripbooks%2C229

Here’s an excerpt that summarizes this issue upon which “Verge” focuses:

ADDRESSING THE MISSIONARY PROBLEMS

“The related problem comes from the likelihood that around 60 percent of America’s population (much higher in Europe and Australia) is increasingly alienated from the prevailing forms of church. In missionary terms, it means they are culturally distant from us. As a sent and sending people (that is, missional people) it is our task to take the message to them and deliver it in ways meaningful to them. This means we need to reassess the situation in light of best-practice missionary approaches.

“We need to ask the question, what is the gospel for this people group? What would sound like good news to them? This means we must first attend to the existential and religious issues people are facing, before we can communicate how the gospel addresses them. Think of it this way: don’t plant churches; plant the gospel, and the church will grow out of it (emphasis mine). This will mean we go back to our primal message and allow it to reframe the way we see church – not the other way around. It’s imagination fired up by the gospel and its missional implications that drives the church to become more authentically evangelical.

“If we persist with the current status quo, we are, in effect, asking the non-believer to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church. Remember, we are the sent ones – not them. So we not only bring people to church (that will work for the 40 percent); we also take church to the people (to reach the other 60 percent and growing). We can’t front-load church into the equation of mission. We must go to the people group and – once we have understood their culture a whole lot more – then ask ourselves the question what is church for these people? We can’t presume to have the answer up front.”

In our missional community group a few nights ago, I heard a perfect execution of the method outlined above.

A young couple fresh out of Dallas Theological Seminary answered the call to serve as missionaries in Portland, Oregon – considered by some to be one of the most “unchurched” cities in the U.S.

They learned quickly that building a “church” as we know it, was not the answer.

They intentionally located themselves in a low-income neighborhood with a high population of lesbian-gays and single moms. And from there, they immersed themselves in the culture, getting to know people, helping where they could, spending time with people and ultimately gaining trust to form home groups where people could be real, transparent and loved without judgment.

From there, the MC (missional community) groups began meeting one Sunday a month as a “church.” And three and a half years later, they meet every Sunday for congregational worship. The weekly MC groups, however, remain as the hub of gospel love and transparent relationships.

A Nashville-based pastor who endorses this approach said two things recently that have remained in my thoughts:

1. I’ve never seen a person who feels “too” forgiven.

2. We must get up each day and approach life as if we’ve never heard the simple forgiving message of the Gospel.

I’ve recently joined a missional community group and a church that believes in these things, and many people have asked me what it’s like. My consistent response is this:

“It feels like I’m breathing fresh air for the first time.”

There’s an interesting history in the church steeple we see on so many of our buildings. Originating in the middle ages, some say the steeple was contrived to point heavenward to God and his kingdome. Others might argue the steeple is just one of many pagan symbols the church has adopted over time. http://www.ehow.com/about_5052101_origin-church-steeples.html Maybe we should think about inverting the steeple with God pointing downward to his people in His abounding mercy, grace and love.

Just maybe, God wants us to focus specifically on where we are at a given point in time, and work upward to the “bigger stuff” from there.

When it comes to church, I have a lot to Un-Learn.

RELATED LINKS:

“On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=on+the+verge+a+journey+into+the+apostolic+future+of+the+church&sprefix=on+the+verge%2Cstripbooks%2C123

Why the “Leadership Movement” is Leaving Your Church Leaderless: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2012/05/29/why-the-leadership-movement-is-leaving-your-church-leaderless/

Alan Hirsch (author of On the Verge): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Hirsch

“The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_18?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+forgotten+ways+reactivating+the+missional+church&sprefix=the+forgotten+ways%2Cstripbooks%2C490

Verge Network: http://www.vergenetwork.org/

Verge Network on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VergeNetwork

Fellowship Bible Church – Jonesboro – Home Page: http://fellowshipjonesboro.com/

What Would it Look Like if …

… we shattered our categories?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

How do we get to the “secret heart” of Christianity? Many are finding it difficult in today’s church.

It’s the battle of two extremes – we are wayward sinners or moral insiders – or we seek one of two journies – the road of moral comformity or the path to self-discovery. Is there room for any of us who may find ourselves somewhere between the two extremes without people thinking we’re rebellious troublemakers?

The fact is, it’s easy to alienate ourselves from God by going either way for too long. Proof can be found in the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which most readers of the Word focus on the wayward son. That side of the story is easy enough. But what about the older son, the one who obeyed the rules, the one who conformed, and yet refused to attend the grand celebration hosted by their father upon the younger son’s glorious return?

The two extremes … where is the middle ground, and if there is one, is it the right place from where the Holy  Spirit wishes us to operate?

Isn’t it interesting in so many Bible stories that the people who were most intrigued by Jesus were the ones who were estranged from religion, as opposed to those who were immersed in doctrine and dogma? The rule followers tried to trick Jesus into a corner. Who is this man, they wondered?

I am one of those who finds myself in the middle – probably further to the right side of self -discovery than rule follower, but yet fascinated by what God’s Word speaks to me each day. In this position, it’s easy to become an outcast. Church friends wonder what happened to you. Why are you rebelling? What’s wrong with you? Do you still know Jesus?

Maybe it rings true with you.

Actually, I feel pretty good. I feel freedom. The sun and stars look different to me now. The North Star visible each night from my back yard reminds me that I do have a fixed point of light and a direction. I’m learning, discovering, hearing.

If it does ring true with you, then I believe we are not alone. I believe we are in the midst of the winds of change. God appears to be changing the conversation He is having with His church. Yes, God can actually “change” the conversation if He so chooses.

Less than a year ago, leaders from a dozen megachurches across the country came together for: “Exponential 2011: On the Verge Conference.” The church leadership in the conference represented some 80,000 members.

The church leaders, you see, were at a high level of satisfaction with their “attractional” strategies. And why not? They had grown exponentially. They were in “high cotton.”

But somewhere along the way, the “missional” aspect of service was lost. Too many people, too many programs and services, too much budget, too many decisions and too much baggage.

They had become “missionless.”

An interesting observation/prediction by two church strategists who helped facilitate the meeting is this: The prevailing church growth approach (or market strategy, if you will) will have appeal to about 40% of the U.S. population over the next 10 years.

So if the strategy continues to dominate, where does that leave the other 175,000,000 or so of us who aren’t drawn to that approach?

What if church looked not so much like a building, but a movement?

What if church looked apostolic rather than institutional?

What would it look like if we created demand, rather than competed for it?

What if we were On the Verge of something?

What if…

(Blogger’s note: Many of the ideas, language and concepts posted in this blog come from two well-written and thoughtful books: On the  Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson; and The Prodigal  God by Timothy Keller.)