The Day Without a Computer

The title of this post sounds like a horror movie. But maybe not the way you think.

My first thought when I don’t have some piece of “essential” information (e.g., where can I buy Cheerwine?) always involves silicon and a screen. In fact, my life has gotten to the point that it orbits some sort of technology all the time.

And that’s where I find some horror. If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that most days computers see my face more than my family. That bothers me—a lot.

Granted, most of my work involves hunching over a keyboard, pounding out words. I love words, love how they can make much beauty out of something so simple as letters fitted together.

But I love my family more.

So, I’ve started taking a day off the computer each week (usually Sunday). I really can’t take credit for this stroke of obvious genius, since my wife started it, but the impact has been amazing. For one thing, my stress level plummets when I’m not under the purview of my computer-master. If I don’t take a day off, I notice my irritability rising—probably because my inbox is never zero.

Also, I savor the days when I’m not caught in the endless Wikipedia link-loop (you know what I mean). Time passes much more slowly. Considering how quickly my girls grow up, I’ll take all the time I can get with them.

No computer means a focused connection with my wife—rather than the 7 billion other people on Facebook and Twitter. I love social media, but sometimes I just want to focus on her.

Finally, I’ve found that just about anything can take my eyes off God. Being able to put something aside for a day without being reduced to withdrawal symptoms shows me that He still takes priority. (Frankly, not using a computer can challenge me here, as the temptation to dive back in is pretty strong.)

Take a day off each week. You’ll enjoy the break.

The First Promise

The promise of Christ comes early, probably earlier than you think. Before Adam and Eve got their just dessert after a fruit dinner and even before the serpent received news of a foot-stomping good time, the promise of Christ had already been given.

I’ll let Paul explain:

‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Did you catch that? Look at it through the lens of the NLT:

As the Scriptures say, ‘A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.

Don’t miss that: true marriage isn’t simply a human invention or even a human action. A true marriage serves as a reminder and a promise—a reminder of the first union and first coming, a promise of Christ returning.

In other words, societies define “marriages” as social institutions and contractual obligations. God thinks much bigger. He intended marriage to point to Jesus, to salvation, to unity. It is the good news made manifest through a man and woman. Whatever societies may make of “marriage,” true marriage starts with the gospel.

Does salvation define your marriage?

Turning on the Lights

Familiar verses trip me up. I know that may seem odd, but that’s been the challenge of studying the Book of Job. I know my familiar, super-spiritual, get-hyped-up verse is coming, and my brain wants to phase out everything until I get to it. Yes, this verse:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. (19:25)

Great verse, but so is everything else leading up to it. In fact, that verse makes much more sense in context of Job’s clear-sighted, death-wish suffering compared to his friends’ repent-to-riches belief system. (That’s a whole other blog post.)

And other books are the same way. I know the highlight verses, and I have to beat back the urge to rush to them so that I don’t miss the good stuff for the famous stuff.

Here’s what I’ve come up with to keep my focus on the chapter I’m in:

  1. Read an unfamiliar translation or paraphrase. Whip out the NLT or The Message, and the unfamiliarity makes your mind focus. You could even tongue-trip your way through the old KJV for some hardcore challenges. I find that reading a couple translations means more scrutiny of what I read.
  2. Pray while you read. As I’m reading, I usually stop every few verses to pray over what I’ve covered. For one thing, I often need to repent of missing the mark (okay—pretty much every time), and for another, this slows me down enough to really get the point.
  3. Journal. Basically, this is prayer on paper. At least, that’s how I see it. You just keep notes of where you trip up and what you learn.
  4. Jump on the highlight verse. That is, read the book in light of the famous verse. Ask if that verse captures the theme. At least then the elephant comes out to play instead of standing in the corner.
  5. Outline it. Okay, I don’t actually do this, but some people like to outline what they read to better understand. I don’t think that way. If it works for you, go for it.

Do you have any tips for keeping your focus on what you’re reading instead of rushing ahead?

Dislodging Dysfunction

Dysfunction saps creativity in ministry, usually because innovators find too many obstacles to complete their work. Communication sputters; handoff becomes hands off; and follow-through falls through.

I’ve had the privilege of working for both highly efficient companies and living-on-a-miracle ones. That’s “privilege” in the sense of being a guinea pig and figuring out what works—and what makes you want to take sick days. Just being real.

Here’s what the efficient ones had in common:

A Funnel

Each department inherits ministry responsibilities—sometimes strategically, sometimes out of need. For example, a web team might be tasked with email communication or social media. That’s to be expected. But when these responsibilities shotgun into the department, you’ve got a mess. In departments with dysfunction, every team member gets forced into the corner of “we need this right now” and feels responsible. All other tasks get bumped down the list. What gets done depends on which demand comes from the higher authority or which has the most exclamation points in the email.

Efficient departments establish a single point of contact—a funnel. The person needs to have the authority to make decisions about task importance and the authority to reject or redirect tasks. To do this, he or she must also know who’s doing what and how projects relate to the ministry’s vision and timetable.

The person tasked to be a funnel must be gifted in administration, or the department falls right back into the shotgun method.

Clear Windows

Efficiently assigning projects means nothing if team members isolate themselves. In dysfunctional departments, projects disappear in one person’s email inbox. No one knows what anyone else works on unless accidentally revealed in a rant fest.

Cohesive departments (and businesses) share tasks continually. My last supervisor led a weekly department meeting focused almost exclusively on our personal agendas (there were also hilarious pop culture asides). During those meetings, related projects could be coordinated instead of languishing in the “to-do” folder. We also often found that someone else had already done what we needed to do or knew a contact who could help (i.e., shared knowledge = saved time).

Clear windows don’t happen by chance. You have to open them.

Mile Markers

Funnels and windows only get the projects rolling, but they’re not enough by themselves. In companies with a vision problem, a lack of follow-through often derails projects or makes for rushed results. You’ll hear this: “Go ahead and do it. We’ll fix it later.”

What you need are mile markers—clear, consistent goals. In ministries that lack these, I often see a great deal of wasted time because no one ever examines the workflow and barriers. Person A needs Person B to do something before the project can get finished (usually over and over). Meanwhile, Person B is waiting on Person C (usually over and over).

Mile markers allow a project coordinator (often the funnel) to see where hangups are and find ways around them.

Bottom Line

Efficiency is not the default mode of operation—it takes guts and determination. But if we’re working like it’s all for God, then shouldn’t ministry be more efficient than most businesses?

Make Changes, Not War

Excuses ooze out our pores. Even typing this article, several have already planted themselves firmly in my can’t-finish zone: coffee needs to be drunk and sports news needs to be checked.

Being a leader means not only blasting through our own reticence to change, but also undermining the excuses of others. And they’ll have plenty of them. Just suggest something God-sized and wait for the challenges to roll in.

By change, however, I don’t necessarily mean paradigm shifts or seismic cataclysms, though those work too. Change can be as simple as moving from a state of non-existence to out-of-the-head being—such as decorating the stage or putting together a study booklet on your “No Fat on This Temple” series. Scale doesn’t seem to matter because excuses are size agnostic.

Both church name changes and switching bathroom soaps can face an eerily similar uphill battle over the status quo. And that’s mainly because of excuses. One reason for making a change usually slams into twenty oblique reasons the change can’t happen. Some of those reasons make sense, but some are simply ways to sidestep the cost or effort involved.

For those types of excuses, you can undercut them before they pile up.

1. Care about it.

A lack of passion gives off an odor—a subtle one that excusers can smell. Unless you’ve sold yourself on the idea, you’ll rarely package it effectively for others. If you don’t have time to lay out the vision and a real desire to see the change happen, keep it to yourself. Presenting something new requires energy—and probably hand gestures to add emphasis (can’t hurt). You’ll need the momentum that passion affords.

2. Swap seats.

Once you’ve revved yourself up, flip the table around. Think carefully through the types of questions you’ll receive. If someone on your team or board always asks about costs, know the general numbers. Providing quick, reasoned answers to objections or concerns makes your vision that much more possible. Of course, you may need some help on this, which leads us to …

3. Look for a doppelganger.

Sure, you’re creative, but you’re not one-of-a-kind creative. Someone else has probably already done something similar to what you’d like to see happen. Get on the phone or shoot out the email and find out who’s done it and what they faced. Your context is unique, but getting answers from a veteran gives you confidence that this really will work and makes you look researched. At least, that’s the goal.

4. Pick off a few.

If you go into a meeting with the entire team and lay out a sudden change, you might as well wear a helmet because you’ll slam into a wall. Talk individually with a few key leaders about the issue well before the meeting. Sell them on the why so that they’ll back you up when the time comes to tell everyone. Bonus points if you can make them want to champion the idea themselves. Regardless, you don’t want it to be you against the room.

5. Pull the rug out.

When (not if) the excuses hit, be prepared to blunt them. If you know technology will be a concern, have someone ready who can either show your team how to make the idea happen or who can do it for you. If it’s money, find cheaper alternatives or people willing to volunteer time or resources.

6. Listen—for real.

Even though you go into a meeting armed and dangerous, resist the urge to triumphantly squelch the excuses you’ve already considered. Listen carefully first and then parry—thoughtfully. Even if you have a good answer, people steel up when the words traveling from their mouths bounce off your head.

7. Be willing to time travel.

Sometimes you’ll realize the timing’s off. Even though you’ve prayed and prepared for every conceivable argument, other peoples’ minds aren’t necessarily swayed by your ability to lay out the vision. And if you plow through that type of environment, you’ll likely lose buy-in. Before the idea fizzles, punt, regroup, meet individually with those who have questions, and try again later.

What tips do you have for facing resistance to needed change?

Breaking down the Church Walls

A few months back, I interviewed two pastors and a former drug dealer about breaking down the walls of the church. Those interviews led me to this:

His nights only vary by location. Instead of speaking to the people in his apartment building, tonight he’s talking about Jesus [as a bouncer at a bar]. Walker is intimidating and enthusiastic. He’s also evidence of hope, a sign that some Christians in Richmond have realized the seismic shift that’s happening. Instead of boarding up and taking flight, they’re taking the gospel to the people outside.

The article covers how two churches have successfully faced changing realities (population shift and catastrophe) with the unchanging gospel. You’ll find it in this online mag: Evangel (January 2011, page 16).

For more stories of transformation from Travis Johnson, take a look at his blog and the website for Life Pointe Church.

Keep up with Bryan Ogle on the Enon Church of God site.

Walker doesn’t have a link, but keep him in your prayers.

Who is Your “And”?

Around ten years ago, I picked up two prostitutes at a gas station. Reading that, I’m sure you have certain expectations about my reasons for doing so. But that wasn’t it.

For one thing, naiveté still had me rather tightly in those days. The realization of whom I had picked up dawned on me only halfway to their hotel. You see, I thought they were two women who’d simply been stranded after a night out. Never mind they were wearing short skirts, deep-cut tops, and more makeup than should be possible. I wanted to be a hero. I saw that as my shot.

The realization came as we talked—how they got there in particular. What I hadn’t bargained for was hearing about the person behind the label. Prostitutes are often defined by their job, not by their humanity. Before that car ride, I’d categorized a whole segment of the population into something almost less than human.

So it was with tax collectors in Jesus’ day. They weren’t human—they were tax collectors. They weren’t even sinners. They had their own special category beyond mere sinner: sinners and tax collectors (or flipped in most cases). Perhaps Matthew—one of those worse-than-sinners—even believed that himself.

But Jesus gave him the chance to follow—something the religious people would never have done. Jesus saw all humans equally worthy of death—and all worthy of love.

“Follow me.” Those were probably the sweetest words Matthew had ever heard. He got so excited he threw a party so that other “sinners and tax collectors” could meet Jesus. In fact, God used an “and” (a tax collector) to write a book of the Bible.

Each of us has an “and” (or more than one), a class or group we consider the worst offenders, those too evil to love or minister to. The American church in particular has focused on homosexuals as the “and.” And strippers. And legalists. And … you get the point. Put simply, we use the and to separate ourselves—to make ourselves distinct.

Jesus came to call those who realized they were sick. Most people do, but they don’t always hear that Jesus wants them to follow Him.

I’d love to end this post by revealing how I told the two women I picked up all this—how I showed them the Jesus who loves them. But I didn’t. At that point, I had no idea how sick I was. That came later. Instead, I dropped them off and drove home in shock. They’d ruined how I thought life worked.