Communicating Depth – Know Your Context


One of the areas in which I am always fascinated is communication and how to improve my own communication style and the communication style of the teams I work with.  This fascination leads me to listen to great communicators throughout history to find the nuances that make them the best communicators, as well as trying learn from different, maybe odd, sources.  One of the more obscure sources I ran across recently is Malcom Gladwell in his popular podcast Revisionist History.  Malcom takes on some obscure reporting and makes it incredibly relevant to various topics throughout history and while listening to Episode 6 of Season 2 (linked here) something captured me about communicating “depth”.

Have you ever heard feedback from someone that sounded something like “I wish the teaching were deeper”?


If you have ever communicated in front of large numbers of people for any time, you may hear feedback that relates to the depth of your teaching.  Teaching today, especially in the modern church, demands in-depth relevant facts.  If you skim across the surface on a topic you can be perceived as shallow and not being “deep enough”.  I’m fascinated when I hear feedback regarding depth because I believe there are nuances in the words we use that indicate depth or shallowness, but I also found something in Gladwell’s podcast that can be helpful.

Gladwell interviewed Bobby Braddock who had written “more sad songs than almost anyone else” in country music.  What Gladwell found is that through the words of the sad songs that Bobby wrote the depth was incredible.  Song lyrics were communicating emotional nuances and deep stories.  Comparing those words to pop music today Gladwell found that country songs in general provide a more rich and in depth context of the topics they are singing about.  Comparatively current pop music lyrics tend to be shallow and flashy.  Deep story lines are generally not shared in pop culture music.  What Gladwell surmised is that country musicians came from the regions that they were singing about and that the more in depth the song lyrics the more context and history the song writer had in the region they were singing about.  They were signing to an audience that they knew well – that they did life with.

Gladwell did some digging and found the same depth in hard core rap lyrics out of LA, the Bronx and other very specific regions.  You can communicate more deeply and intricately when you are communicating in a context that you are incredibly familiar with.  

If you are hearing feedback that your weekly messages are lacking in depth, or someone just wishes you would “go deeper” you should ask yourself how well you know your audience.  Are you trying to communicate to too large of an audience which can be perceived as shallow, or are you communicating to a group of people that you know so much about that you can’t help but share stories and depth that touches the heart?

Multisite: If I wanted to watch on a screen I’d just watch from my TV at home

multisite-video-messagesAt thousands of multi-site churches around the world the message is played via video instead of being provided live and in person.  This has been a source of many questions from the investment to make it as life-like and “live” as possible to questions from individuals wondering what the experience will be like.  Overwhelmingly the most frequent concern from individuals considering a video message or location relates to something like “Why would I come watch a video message when I can watch a message from home?  I’d prefer it to be live and in person”.  Here are my responses:

Church is a collective “us” and a individual “you” – If you define your church experience by who is teaching, how they are teaching or if it video vs. live then your definition of church might be misguided.  Church isn’t a building, it’s not a speaker, it’s not the lead pastor or the teaching team.  Church is YOU and US.  We need your gifts to be awakened and used in the kingdom as much as you need great teaching on Jesus Christ.  Consider the letters that the apostle Paul wrote churches that desperately want to hear the message of Christ and longed to have Paul visit but never saw him.  They relied on stories passed on between believers.  They relied on letters to be read in front of groups from Paul for encouragement.  I’m certain that there were comments that people would rather see Paul live than just get a letter from him, but by all accounts those letters made an huge impact in the community. (Romans 1:13)

Community is difficult to participate in from your living room – Part of getting together in a larger community is to share together our gifts, our concerns and to be built up together.  While I love to hear great speakers and only  have access to them via the Internet and watch them from the comfort of my own home I can also state that it is impossible to enjoy the benefits of “community” from my couch.  Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages us “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Leaders are born in video locations – I usually reserve this statement for individuals who have an option to go to the live teaching or visit a video location.  A large church can enable and empower incredible leaders.  Teams are put together to provide worship, hospitality, cleaning and maintenance.  While large churches desire everyone to be involved and ignite their gifts, what we have found is providing video locations provides a MULTIPLICATION effect that allows even more people to get engaged in the kingdom with their gifts.  When we started our three video locations our entire worship team tripled.  The amount of individuals in groups and participating substantially increased.  Individuals who were desiring to be engaged in the kingdom but were not in the large church context blossomed and started to lead in dramatic ways at smaller video locations.

Video locations are likely not for everyone, but the impact is undeniable.  Paul in the early days of Christianity likely had to deal with many of the same frustrations about not being able to be everywhere preaching and teaching live, but the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is alive today through many different delivery methods.  From live teaching to video teaching and beyond.

Should Following Jesus Be This Comfortable?

FearGodDuring my time studying the Bible I was drawn to the account of King Saul in 1Samuel 15.  Samuel the prophet tells Saul a specific instruction from the Lord :

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them.  Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. 1Samuel 15:3

Saul gathers the men, attacks the Amalekites but spares the king of the Amalekites as well as the best sheep and cattle, fat calves and lambs “everything that was good”. Anything that was weak they destroyed, but kept all of the good animals.  (1Samuel 15:9)

The Lord was angered and sends Samuel back to Saul to find out what happened,  which King Saul says:

“The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” 1Samuel 15:13)

WHAT?!  I look at that and think how deceived Saul was and how misguided his decision to do almost the opposite of what the Lord told him to do.  I can almost hear Saul, in a proud voice say that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions.  However he has missed the mark! Samuel tells him of his sin, to which Sauls eventual response is

I was afraid of the men, and so I gave in to them. 1Samuel 15:24

Fear of man crept in and derailed the Lord’s plan and it cost Saul his kingship and blessing from God.  During the battle Saul thought he hit the bullseye of God’s plan.  He was comfortable and deceived.

This account is not far off of the fear of man that is prevalent in my own life.  Too often I am reminded of the commands of God, or hear a specific prompting from God but choose to modify or ignore Him or modify His prompting to remain comfortable.

I chose not to share the Gospel with the auto parts clerk whose life seemed to be in shambles. I encouraged her, but did not share that there was hope in a life with Jesus and left the store with the part I needed, but left her missing the greatest joy in life. How much do you have to hate someone not to share the love of Christ with them? (…love your neighbor as yourself – Leviticus 19:18)

I chose not to help the homeless men this month who were encamping under the bridge again in downtown South Bend during the summer.  I thought that our ministry over the winter was good enough. How easy it is for me to think I’ve hit the bullseye in God’s plan yet miss the mark.  (For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… Matthew 25:35)

Those were just two recent examples highlighting my fear of man instead living out of a fear of the Lord.  I was concerned that others in the auto-parts store might be bothered and I was concerned about my own time and my families time so I chose to be comfortable.  As I share this I have this thought:

“Should following Jesus be this comfortable?”

It’s time to re-evaluate my (our) priorities and my (our) focus. Where in the Bible does it say that following God’s plan isn’t going to hurt and be uncomfortable? Paul’s answer to this is pretty clear:

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:24-28)

Advanced Calendaring – How to Manage a Complex Calendar

FrustrationYou likely have heard it a million times, and maybe even repeat it daily – “There’s a lot going on”.  In a world of work commitments, personal appointments, keeping track of where the kids need to be, trying to schedule some fun in your life and working on planning in a complex world, having some type of calendaring system is critical.  I’ve spent a few years developing my “system”.

Individuals typically have a work calendar and a personal calendar, but I’ve found that creating multiple calendars to help organize and plan are a key to success.  My office uses Office365 and Outlook for it’s calendar and I use Google Calendar for all other needs.  In total I have 5 calendars and hers is how I break them down.

Calendar #1 – Outlook Work Calendar – I use this for work appointments and it is a requirement so my coworkers can seamlessly busy search my calendar.

Calendars #2-5 are powered by Google Calendar from my personal account.

Calendar #2 -Personal calendar – This calendar lists all personal appointments that I need to be at or birthdays that I should remember.

Calendar #3 – Prayer calendar – This lists all major prayer requests and my daily “all day” repeating prayer categories.  If someone says they have a doctors appointment at 3pm on Monday I enter it into this calendar and pray at that specific time.  For every day I have a prayer theme to ensure I am praying for my teams and various aspects of the church regularly.

Calendar #4 – Planning calendar – This is the calendar that I use to log any major anchor event that will require extra planning for that day.  Any item in this calendar is listed in the “all day” category that shows at the top of the calendar.  There are no scheduled events for this calendar.  The scheduled events that go with these items are listed in my work calendar.

Calendar #5 – Family Fun calendar – Any event that we might attend at a whim is on this calendar.  Car shows, movie release date that we learn about, parades, fireworks, fairs, etc. are entered.  We may not go to them, but it is handy to have at a glance if we just want to run to an event.

I use Fantastical to manage all of my calendars into a single view that is color coded.  Here is a sample screen shot of Fantastical with my calendar setup:

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.04.00 PM

My Application Mix 2017 Update

UnknownIt has been a year since I posted my application mix 2016 and it is time for a refresh.  I am asked frequently what applications I use to stay productive and organized.  Here is my 2017 application mix:

Evernote Premium – This continues to be the go-to application for all note taking needs.    I have thousands and thousands of notes and use this application regularly.  I’ve organized all of my folders, shortcuts and haven’t changed my note taking process in years.  This is definitely still worth the premium subscription cost.

Fantastical – This also has not changed since my 2016 application mix listing.  I have multiple calendars I use for planning and organization and there just isn’t another calendar app that creates the flexibility I require.  I have a main “work” calendar, a personal calendar, a planning calendar, a “family fun” calendar that lists all of the festivals and events near us and a prayer calendar.  All of these are color coded and rolled up into a since weekly fantastical view.  There just isn’t another application that works this well for my complex calendar needs.

Olive Tree Bible Software – Again I’ve not changed my electronic bible software and my previous investment in books is used regularly.  Over the last year I did request that all of my notes and highlights be reset so I could “restart” my note and highlighting in my electronic version of the Bible through this software.

Things 3 – This was a substantial change from 2016.  I think I have tried almost all of the major brands of task management systems, including paper, and have landed on the simplicity of Things 3.  I was not sure it would keep up with the requirements I have for a task management system, but the simplicity is deceiving as there is a powerful engine behind it that allows for tagging, searching, categorizing, etc.  It is well worth the price!  Highly recommended!

DayOne – Yes I realize they changed their pricing model to subscription based.  Yes I realize it can be expensive, but in my opinion it is entirely worth it.  I would easily fork out $50/year in paper journals and having the flexibility to quickly post a picture and a journal entry is worth it.  It is BY FAR the easiest journaling workflow that I’ve come across and it sits separate from all other apps, which in my opinion is a must.  I’ve tried using Evernote for personal journaling, but I find myself getting distracted and having the formatting tools available is a huge plus.

I continue to use Office365 and heavily rely on Onedrive.  They are almost “requirements” for what I do daily.


Conflict Resolution: There Is A Solution

chess-king-square-piếc-black-and-white-fight-render-hd-widescreen1One of the problems during a conflict is to lose sight that there is always a solution.  Throughout more than 20 years in healthcare management, 6 years running  a low barrier homeless shelter for men, and now 2 years as a pastor I have seen a lot of conflict.  I have mediated conflict between physicians and executives, homeless men and city government, drug addicted homeless men with their significant others, co-workers, and family members.  In almost every conflict there are three ingredients:

  1. Emotion – This can be good emotion or, too often, bad emotion.  The emotion can be driven by history, the topic, false beliefs, accurate beliefs, and how things are heard or perceived.  Emotion is always there….
  2. The issue at hand – This is the reason the conflict arose.
  3. The desire to win – If there was no desire to win (or be right) there would be no conflict.

When you recognize that in almost every conflict those three ingredients exist you can start to address each to come to a resolution.  If any of the three are ignored it can seem as though a solution does not exist.  Here are some tips on how to manage conflict when you have recognized those ingredients:

  1. Nothing is solved when emotions run high. I cannot recall any examples of long term conflict resolution when someone is yelling, angry or course during conflict.  Cooler heads always prevail.  When resolution is demanded when emotions are high ridiculous solutions tend to be agreed upon that do not last.
  2. Within all of the noise of the conflict if you cannot describe the issue at hand in a sentence then likely the conflict will not be resolved.  While this might seem like an oversimplification, too many times there are arguments around countless details and side stories and similar examples.  All of which may be interesting but take the focus off of the simple issue at hand.  This requires asking “why” many times, and it may lead you to new areas of misunderstanding but it should lead you to the root of the problem.  Without dealing with the root of the problem, the problem will grow back in different ways.
  3. If we would redefine “winning” as the conflict being resolved and not treat it as a tennis match long term resolution would be easier to achieve.  Frequently individuals want to win rather than resolve the conflict.  The vast majority of conflict happens with individuals on the same team, yet the team members do not act like they are battling a common enemy.  Focus on what matters and stop focusing on who is winning.

Great Leaders Adjust

Fotolia_78205116_S-700x467Leaders make bad decisions. Hopefully that doesn’t surprise you. Throughout my last 20 years of leadership I have made some pretty lousy calls and watching others throughout those 20 years I was not alone. What makes great leaders unique from bad leaders is the ability to regularly adjust to decisions and the environment around them. Great leaders adjust, even if it means adjusting off of their own previous decision.

Too often, and I have been guilty of this, a leader makes a bad decision and then has an irrational desire to lock in and “be right”.  There is some false assumption that transparently owning a bad decision makes a leader look weak. If you find yourself supporting one of your own decision out of a desire to “be right” you are wrong already. Great leaders realize that it isn’t about them. Decisions that leaders make are for others – members, consumers, shareholders and employees.

Here are a few tips to consider when faced with a bad decision that you made:

  1. Don’t immediately discount what others see – Spending time convincing others that the obvious is irrational just because you want to be right burns more time than it’s worth.  Use that time instead to consider other options.
  2. Listen to your sharpest critics – Many times those most critical of your decisions see something that you don’t.  You shouldn’t spend too much time in this area, but the weakest leaders tend to immediately discount the loudest critics without listening or learning anything.
  3. Be cautious of dropping an anchor that can never be lifted – Leaders need to make a lot of decisions and frequently they are the ones that have to make the most contentious. Great leaders will make a tough call and the greatest leaders won’t drop a permanent anchor on decisions.
  4. Admit you made a bad decision – Every leader makes bad decisions through their career.  Own them, discuss them openly and learn from them.  The best leaders do this so everyone learns around them.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up (too long) – It never feels good to have made a wrong decision, but admit it, learn from it and move on.  Don’t make jokes about it months later, don’t let it rule or slow your future decisions and don’t let it emotionally drain you.
  6. Change your mind with good input and great timing – Some leaders get stuck after admitting that one of their decisions was bad, but they never adjust with a new direction.  They get stuck.  The best leaders change their mind and make a new decision and cast a new vision with others input and within a reasonable timeframe.  Changing your mind based on good input and direction is not a sin and it should be celebrated.

Spiritual Bucket List

ultimate-bucket-listI’m 44 years old (as I write this) and the weight of time has become a more heavy reality recently.  I’m in good health and I’m more energized about life than ever, yet I have a renewed sense of “I’ve got to get after this stuff….” bubbling in me.   I’ve never had a bucket list of things I need to check off before I die but the thought of getting focused around the larger things in life and the limited time I have left led me to consider a spiritual bucket list.  A list that is pushes me beyond normal annual goals or pithy wish lists and is leading me to follow God in such a radical way that my boundaries are being reset.

I doubt the concept of a spiritual bucket list is new. While doing some research on great spiritual bucket lists (try Googling “spiritual bucket list”) I saw many spiritual destination locations and self help suggestions. Suggestions of prayer resorts, experiences for healing your past, finding inner peace and exercises that will increase joy seem to top the list. That wasn’t the list I was looking for. While those are interesting they don’t significantly motivate me many of those can be completed out of my own strength. God wouldn’t even have to show up…. That’s not right! I decided that my spiritual bucket list should be something that so excites me that I literally launch out of bed in the morning.  A spiritual bucket list should ONLY be able to be accomplished when God shows up and amazes me through the process. When I stretch into my spiritual bucket list I should see God’s fingerprints throughout it as He would need to open the doors and make the way or I’d fall down in the process. He would need to show up and show off as I could never complete this list out of my own strength.

Don’t get me wrong, these are not about “me” and what I can see or do. These are about Jesus. They are about creating an environment around me that significantly impacts the word with His love and His power. It is about really understanding how much God wants to interact with us and impact not only our own lives, but the lives around us. I cannot imagine a more exciting time to go after the things that God can do!

Here’s my list…. What’s yours?
  • Live out of a wildly strong identity in Christ
  • Regularly fall in love with the Bible and it’s author
  • Steward a family relationship with Jesus that is unshakeable
  • Learn to worship God in new and unique ways each year, even if I look stupid doing it
  • Pray for / share Christ to 500 people a year
  • Raise at least one person from the dead (Matthew 10:8)
  • Give away 90% of our income per year and live on 10%
  • Write at least 1 book that is meaningful to many
  • Introduce and foster a kingdom mindset into the local marketplace and city government
  • Make Jesus famous by regularly teaching in a multitude of locations and settings (both marketplace and ministry)
  • Be invited to teach and share kingdom principles to the largest organizations in the region
  • Read 20 books a year that stretch me
  • Help to end homelessness is South Bend forever
  • Help create a church planting and leadership development process that is not dependent on me and launches at least 50 churches in 30 years
  • Help start and lead a tent revival where 1,000 people come to know Jesus

Receiving Critical Feedback – A Challenge

feedback-not-for-meIn a previous post I shared the leadership challenge of giving critical feedback in today’s over celebrated and politically correct environment.  I now want to share a few tips on how to receive critical feedback, which is a leadership development must.  If you want to improve you have to be able to receive and process critical feedback.  To be even more clear, I believe you will not significantly improve as a person until you can learn to receive and process feedback that can be challenging to hear.

Here are a few tips when receiving critical feedback:

  1. Feedback isn’t your identity – My identity is in Jesus Christ and whatever feedback I receive I refuse to let it hang on me to change who I am.  Without rooting yourself in who you are you will become what everyone wants you to become instead of who you were made to be.  If feedback is your identity then you will have a fear of criticism and you will search out affirmation from people instead of God.
  2. Discern the personal investment on the feedback you are about the receive – If someone is investing in you and on your future potential you should be completely open to hear and receive their feedback.  Conversely if a complete stranger gives you feedback you have to cautiously determine how and even if you need to adjust or respond.  You don’t need to respond to all criticism!
  3. Receive the feedback with open ears – If your posture becomes immediate defense when someone attempts to give you feedback your potential for improvement declines.
  4. Thank the person who is giving you feedback – There is no reason to do anything but thank the person who gives you the feedback.  It doesn’t mean you agree with them, but assume that they want you to improve.
  5. Consider and Pray about the feedback and how you should change / respond – You don’t have to immediately change.  Likely it took you decades to form your style and your mannerisms.  Changing it overnight can be clunky so be patient.  If you should adjust then adjust.   A big leadership mistake is to receive critical feedback but never do anything about it, even though it was outstanding.


Giving Critical Feedback – A Challenge

feedback-help-professional-developmentI think we are losing the ability to give and receive critical feedback.  I know that is an over-generalization, but with the participation trophy society that we live in, it is becoming more and more challenging for leaders to impart wisdom and advice without being discounted as being overly critical.

When I was growing up I participated in band program and was somewhat musically inclined.  Throughout my teenage years I received A LOT of feedback.   When I inquire with others who participated in sports activities or other extra curricular activities it is a similar story – feedback, even critical feedback, was important to improve.  Throughout my entire working career in the marketplace feedback was exceedingly important to understand how I could improve.

The question was recently asked to me, how do leaders today give feedback without being perceived as negative or overly critical?

As I think through this challenge today here are some tips to consider:

  1. There should be an emotional bank account to dip from – If you are only giving feedback without a relationship you can easily be discounted as always being negative.
  2. Give feedback in a timely manner  – Memories fade quicker than you think.  Giving feedback on something a few weeks ago won’t be as effective as giving feedback on something that happened yesterday.
  3. Share feedback out of a foundation of improvement – Giving feedback should be drafted out of a desire to improve.  Feedback should never be a means to an end, rather a suggestion to help a person be even better than they are now.
  4. Don’t over compliment to bookend critical feedback – Whenever you need to share feedback for improvement don’t fall into the trap of always giving praise before and after the criticism.  You will end up softening the feedback that should be given and could miss the core message you are trying to impart.  Give praise when praise is due, but don’t overpraise just to give criticism.
  5. Go beyond the critical – Don’t just share that “Your performance was terrible”, share what they could have done differently to make it better and be specific!
  6. Follow-up – This is a frequently missed tip!  Follow-up after the feedback in a few days to see if the individual understood or if there are any questions or if they disagree. Many times the time for them to process your feedback generates an even healthier discussion a few days later.

In a follow-up post I will share a few tips on how to receive feedback.