Tag Archives: Organization

That Which I am Gifted and Meant to Do

So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting numbered 8,580.
Numbers 4:46-48 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to understand that the organization of human beings to accomplish a particular task (or tasks) is an art form in and of itself. Anyone who has had to lead any kind of large scale endeavor understands this. There are numerous models and theories for doing so.

In this morning’s chapter we find the Hebrew clan of Levites were dedicated to the care, maintenance and moving of their nation’s mobile temple and all its furnishings. They alone of all the Hebrew clans set it up, took it down, carried it on the march, and did the work of the Temple while encamped. If you were born into the Levite clan you would not be a warrior, you would work be assigned religious duties the rest of your life.

Throughout history this paradigm has also been followed by many societies. A father is apprenticed into a trade by his father, and teaches the trade to his son. You were born into your occupation just as sure as you might be given the surname of that occupation: Miller, Thatcher, Farmer, and Doctor.

Had things still been done this way, I might be a carpenter today, just as my great-grandfather was apprenticed to be before he came to America as a young man. Anyone who has experienced my carpentry skills knows that this would be a tragedy. While I am capable to do some basic projects, you definitely don’t want me building your house!

In today’s paradigm, we are taught as young people that we “can be anything we want” and this is somewhat true. In our culture we are free to pursue any trade or occupation. I have noticed, however, that just because you desire to pursue an occupation doesn’t mean that you are gifted at that occupation. I have witnessed for years those who desired to pursue certain ministry tasks or roles within the local church only to frustrate the entire congregation by their lack of skill or giftedness. I’ve known preachers who can’t preach their way out of a paper bag, singers who can’t carry a tune with a handle on it, and directors of worship who are consistently lost and unable to capably give direction to anyone.

Just as the generational paradigm had its weaknesses, so also does the “you can do whatever you want” paradigm. Desiring an area of giftedness does not necessarily make you good at it.

This morning I’m thinking about my experiences in leadership with business, church, community organizations, and even the project management required of producing or directing a show. I’ve come to believe that one of a leader’s critical tasks is helping people find their areas of giftedness and helping them both embrace and develop those areas. Sometimes there is a journey of acceptance required to bring us to a waypoint of understanding that I ultimately find joy when I am doing what I am gifted and meant to do.

An Executable Plan

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”
Numbers 2:1-2 (NIV)

If you want something organized and done well, put my wife Wendy in charge of it. I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. I have been married to this woman for nearly twelve years, and from our New Year’s Eve gala wedding to countless weekend trips to the lake, from running a box office to a successful string of community theatre awards dinners, she is gifted when it comes to organization, planning and execution of a plan.

I thought about Wendy in the quiet this morning as I waded through the second chapter of Numbers, which had all the excitement of an army field manual. In essence, that’s what it was. The Hebrew tribes had no home. They were about to embark on a giant, traveling encampment with over 600,000 able-bodied fighting men, their wives, their elders, their children, their big-top Tabernacle, and livestock to boot. Talk about an organizational nightmare.

Along this life journey I’ve come to realize that people eventually tend to admire, or to shun, those gifts and abilities that run opposite theirs. Unlike my ezer kenegdo, Wendy, I am a big picture, take-it-as-it-comes, go-with-the-flow kind of guy. When Wendy starts making a meal plan for our weekend at the lake a week ahead of the trip, my natural bent is to roll my eyes and say, “Seriously?! Do we have to figure this out now? Can’t we just figure it out when we get there?

But, I’ve learned over time when you’re at the lake with two to four other adults and no plan, the conversation goes like this:

Person 1: “What are we doing for supper?”

Person 2: “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Person 1: “I don’t know. What about you, honey?”

Person 3: “I don’t care. Whatever you want to do.”

Person 1: “I don’t care either. It’s whatever you guys think. Right, dear?”

Person 4: “We could go out, or we could stay in.”

Person 1: “We went out last night.”

Person 4: “Which doesn’t mean we can’t go out again tonight.”

Person 1: “No, it doesn’t. I’m not saying that. We can go out, or stay in. What do you guys think?”

Person 2: “Whatever. We don’t care. We’re okay going out. Aren’t we, dear?”

Person 3: “Sure. Or staying in. Either way is fine with us.”

This conversation can go on in circles for hours, which is not only maddening but also squeezes out actual time having fun and enjoying meaningful conversation.

When Wendy starts asking about a meal plan a week before our trip to the lake, I choose in. I’m still not good about anticipating and initiating a plan on my own (but it’s a growth opportunity for me!) Things run more smoothly and everyone enjoys themselves more when there’s a well executed plan.

This morning I’m thinking about a boring chapter laying out an executable encampment plan for taking the population of the entire Des Moines area on a sustained wilderness march. Sometimes the message is not in the text but in the context. Life is full of daily, weekly, monthly and annual events which run more smoothly with an executable plan. The untold story of many of history’s greatest victories lies in the quartermasters and gifted planners who were able to successfully and efficiently move armies and supplies at the right time in the right way. That’s not my gift.

I’m reminded this morning of the blessing of peace and flow in life that exists only when you have a person with the giftedness and authority to anticipate need, create a workable plan, and execute that plan. I get to experience that blessing because I’m married to such a person.

 

Building Projects and Bad Blood

But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple.
2 Kings 12:6 (NIV)

Anyone who has followed my blog for long knows that Wendy and I have spent years working with our local community theatre. Our organization’s stage home is in a historic old high school building which was turned into a community center some 30 years ago. After 30 years, the tired old building is showing the signs of its age. The lighting system is temperamental, the heat and air conditioning are constant challenges, there are pesky pest issues, and on and on. More than once I’ve had to hurriedly mop up an overflowing toilet in the men’s room before intermission. The show must go on!

As leader of the organization I have often found myself playing liaison with our City with regard to the care and upkeep of the building. I have a great relationship with the folks who work for the City and our organization has benefitted from their generosity. Still, there are always differences of opinion when working with community organizations. There are only so many resources. It takes a lot of money to update and maintain an old building. There are many voices competing for funding to support diverse programs important to different groups and individuals in our community. Lack of communication, miscommunication and misunderstanding can easily lead to a Crossfit worthy workouts in conclusion jumping. Frustration grows.

Over time I’ve learned that when I read one of the chapters in the historical books of God’s Message I have to step back and also read between the lines. At the center of today’s chapter we have an aging community building: Solomon’s Temple (one of the so-called seven wonders of the ancient world). We also have two powerful political leaders within the community: King Joash and the High Priest Jehoiada. Now remember that Jehoiada hid Joash as an infant and placed him on the throne at the age of seven. I can only imagine that Jehoiada enjoyed being the power behind the throne for many years and wasn’t too happy about the King growing up and ordering him around.

The King does call for Jehoiada and orders the powerful religious leader and his priests to take money from the offerings and repair the temple. It would appear that Jehoiada said, “Oh yeah, we’ll take up the offering and do the repairs ourselves. We got this.” Jehoiada and the temple priests took the money, but the repair work never happened! (What?! Taxes collected but not spent on what they were earmarked for?! I’m shocked! SHOCKED!)

Kings don’t like it when their orders are disobeyed. Eventually King Joash loses his patience and calls for another meeting with Jehoiada. I can only imagine the sparks flying between these two leaders. Eventually King Joash sees to it that workers are hired to do the repairs.

At the end of today’s chapter we find that King Joash was assassinated. A quick cross-reference to 2 Chronicles 24:25 tells us that the conspiracy was unleashed when Joash had Jehoiada’s son killed. Obviously, there was bad blood between Joash and Jehoiada’s family. The story of the Temple repairs gives us a hint of the growing conflict between the two.

This morning I’m thinking about relationships and responsibilities as it relates to being involved in community and groups both religious and civic. Along life’s journey I’ve witnessed and been embroiled in many a heated conflict between competing groups within churches, communities, businesses, and families. I’m having a difficult time remembering any of them as being worthwhile. I can’t point to one of them and say, “the end justified the bickering, back-stabbing, and bad blood.”

The further I get in life’s road the more desirous I am to build bridges rather than burning them. I also find myself being very careful where I invest my emotional resources. I only have so much and I’d rather invest them wisely where they might have an eternally positive impact.

Power in the System

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Amos 7:14-15 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked for an old and well structured organization. There was an organizational chart and rules of governance for the organization. It had operated successfully for well over a hundred years. I had a position of leadership on the staff of the organization, so when our long-time executive director decided to retire I, along with the other staff, were concerned about the choice of an interim director to lead while we searched for a permanent successor.

A potential interim came in to interview. It was a nice person with all the right qualifications, but there was a general consensus among the leadership team that this person was not the right fit for us. A vote of the organization agreed and the candidate was informed that we were going to move a different direction.

The following morning when I arrived at work I was called into a hastily arranged meeting that became one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The chair of the organization’s Board, who just the previous day had agreed that the interim candidate was not right for our organization now blasted the staff’s leadership team for embarrassing the organization and denying the interim the position. We were criticized, chastised and reprimanded for actively conspiring to sway the vote of the organization.

I remember leaving the meeting utterly confused by what I’d just experienced. I couldn’t figure out the 180 degree turn the Board chair made overnight. I felt blind-sided, wrongfully convicted, and punished by a kangaroo court. It was not long afterwards that I came to realize what had really happened.

In this organization was a long-time member who had been active and in leadership for many, many years. This person was also a successful local business owner who had donated a lot of time, energy, and money to the organization over the years. When the vote on the interim did not go the way this person wanted calls were made. Commands were given, pressure was applied, and power was leveraged. Despite the fact that it went against the organizational structure and by-laws of our group, the Board chair buckled and obeyed the demands of this one power-broker who remained hidden behind the scenes.

Human systems naturally develop centers of power. Governments, businesses, organizations, churches, and even families develop systemically around those who develop and wield power to drive the will of the system. It was a hard lesson for me to learn that the organization I worked for was not really governed as organized. The real power in the organization was a power-broker hidden behind the curtain pressuring the organization to do their will even if their individual will ran contrary to the will of the organization as a whole.

In today’s chapter, the backwoods prophet Amos runs into a similar situation with the power brokers of his day. Amaziah was a powerful priest and the religious right-hand of King Jeroboam. Amaziah ran the idolatrous religious center of Israel’s northern kingdom and helped Jeroboam maintain control over the people. When the poems of Amos (critical of the northern kingdom and predicting the nation’s downfall) grew in popularity , the small-town prophet suddenly became a target of Amaziah’s political power. Amos refused to back down, and gave Amaziah a prophetic vision of the down fall of his own house and family.

This morning I’m struck by Amos, the shepherd and fig farmer from a backwoods town whom God used to shake up the powerful systems of government and religion in his day. “My ways are not your ways,” God tells us through the prophet Isaiah. Human systems tend to favor the powerful, the wealthy, the beautiful, the well-connected, and those willing to step on others to gather and cling to worldly power. Again and again in the Great Story God chooses the weak, the broken, the least, the marginalized, the outcast, and the youngest to accomplish His purposes. Jesus teaches that real power, spiritual power, is found when you let go of power and give it away for the benefit of others. Jesus exemplified this Himself when He…

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

Today, I’m thinking about my early experiences in that organization and the power-broker who used threats, pressure, and power to pull the organizational strings from behind the scenes. As I have progressed in my journey I hope that I have learned to follow a very different example with what little power and authority I’ve been given. I hope that I can increasingly follow the example of Jesus, who didn’t grasp and cling to power for His own advantage, but let go of it for the advantage of us all.

The Challenge of Leadership Change

Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.
Judges 12:7 (NRSV)

A leader sometimes needs time to find traction, and a quick succession of leaders creates difficulty for the team, or people, being led. I have observed this in different organizations from athletic teams to business to government and civic groups.

Take a step back and look at the list of Judges and the “year of rest” during their period of leadership so far:

Othniel (40)
Ehud (80)
Shamgar (?)
Deborah & Barak (40)
Gideon (40)
Tola (23)
Jair (22)
Jepthah (6)
Ibzan (7)
Elon (10)
Abdon (8)

The tenures of leadership are getting smaller. Unrest is growing, and it won’t be long before the people are crying out for a new form a government. All the city-states around them had strong central leadership in the form of a monarchy. Israel will be clamoring for that as well. God predicted this (Deut 17:14-15) and it will come to pass.

This morning I’m thinking about leadership and it’s relationship to the people and organizations under their influence. Time is required in developing a successful leadership and organizations. When there are rapid changes in leadership marked by short tenures, the organization struggles to find traction and constancy of purpose. The system learns to function on its own, believing/knowing that new leadership will not last and the chaos of change is futile. Dysfunction grows.

In an age in which changes in technology and culture are happening at a faster rate than any other time in history, I believe we will struggle. We will struggle the time required for the development of strong, capable leadership. We will struggle if/when leadership changes become more rapid.

God, help me to lead well, follow well, and adapt to unprecedented levels of change.

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featured image Create Learning via Flickr

A Work in Progress

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Last night was our community theatre’s annual meeting and potluck picnic. It was a gorgeous Iowa evening, and we had the best turnout we’ve ever had with over 50 people attending. At the end of the evening, I gave my final report as President of our group providing a recap of the previous fiscal year. I’m stepping down after a decade in the position. Wendy and two other long-term board members are stepping down, as well. There’s a whole crop of new faces on the leadership team.

I will admit that I had bittersweet feelings about the whole affair last night. I have loved doing the job and I leave the position knowing that I have not accomplished all that I set out to do. I’ve come to realize, however, that unlike the marathon that is our life journey, positions of organizational leadership are actually legs in a relay race. Your job is to run your leg well and then pass the baton off so that the next runner is in a stronger position to win than you were when you got the baton. If you run too long and refuse to pass the baton, then you eventually lose momentum and the entire team suffers.

Both people and organizations are works in progress, as today’s chapter so aptly reminds us. I have a far greater appreciation for this fact today than I did  when I was younger. Works in progress still have rough edges to hone, opportunities to improve, potential to reach, and depths to mine. If I am going to accept this truth about myself (and it for my own good, and the good of the whole, that I must accept this truth about myself) then I must also accept this truth in others. It is a step towards wisdom, forgiveness and grace.

I’m excited about the new leadership team of our community theatre. I’m excited to see what new thoughts, ideas, and directions they bring. I’m excited to focus my energies in different ways. I may have passed the baton of leadership, but I have not left the team. There are other ways to contribute, other events in which to compete, and other opportunities to lift the team. Because we’re all works in progress, we need each other.

featured photo by funnyglowingsmurf  via Flickr

Cain, Crazy Makers and Loopholes in the Fine Print

source: stephanebetin via Flickr
source: stephanebetin via Flickr

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain;
Jude 1:11a (NIV)

Along my life’s journey I have encountered many people who seem to always be looking for the loophole in the fine print. When I was a kid, I watched other kids who could twist and obfuscate their parents’ words until they had self-justified their blatant disobedience. In school, there were always a few who found some hairline crack in the system that allowed them to cheat and get away with it. As an adult, I’ve observed “good” people who seem to look for any means by which to cheat others, and the system, while justifying their actions.

In the early years, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the small groups of those who chose to follow Jesus met in homes. They would gather together, pray, worship, and share a meal which they called a “love feast,” which culminated in the word picture of communion. Everyone was invited and sat at the table together: men, women, rich, poor, slave, slave owner, Jew, Gentile, Roman, or zealot. In the social construct of the day it was an incredibly radical experience.

Those early believers quickly discovered that when you open up the table to anyone, you’re eventually going to attract crazy makers and those who look for the loophole in the fine print. These crazy makers would get drunk on the communion wine or perhaps stop by on their way to the love feast and sleep with a pagan temple prostitute. “If Jesus grace covers all of our sin,” the loophole finders argued, “then the more we sin, the more grace we receive and who doesn’t want more of Jesus’ grace?” They bragged of what they perceived to be their license to sin in the fine print of Jesus’ teaching. It became a problem.

How fascinating that Jude described these crazy makers as following “the way of Cain.” Cain was the son of Adam and Eve who “left the presence of the Lord” and killed his brother Abel. Jude’s point is that these crazy makers have always existed in this fallen world, and they still exist today. I have observed them in every strata of society and in every culture I’ve encountered. Jesus’ repeated call was to self-denial, humility, generosity, purity, and service above self. By contrast, I find crazy makers following the path of selfishness, arrogance, greed, cheating, and self above all.

Along the way I’ve had very little interpersonal success dealing with crazy makers and loophole finders. They are difficult people to be in relationship with as they suck everyone and everything into their self-centric black-hole. I honestly try to simply avoid dealing with them. If I find myself in a position of organizational authority, I try to protect the organization from them and their chaos. That was the whole intent of Jude’s letter.