Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Renewal: Step One - Think!

On Monday morning a friend was driving me to the Seattle -Tacoma airport after a long weekend of teaching and leading. On the way, he asked me, “What do you feel is the best thing about your new situation?”
The question caught me by surprise. I didn’t have a ready answer. My life had always been a busy and exciting journey. My early career years were spent as a corporate executive in the electronics industry, starting and growing business organizations. Then leaving that behind we transitioned into full-time ministry - planting and growing churches and teaching and leading seminars and workshops. My new situation was semi-retirement. We had left our church, moved to Mississippi, and started Aslan Ministries - a non-profit organization to encourage and equip churches and other organizations.
After about thirty seconds of thought, I blurted out the answer that had suddenly hit me, “Now I have time to think.” The answer seemed to stun me, and also my friend. But it was true. My life had become far more productive.
Too often, we get caught up with daily activities and do not take the time to reflect. Our lives have become too organized.
Today this starts in early childhood as parents begin to organize their children's lives. They fill the child’s life with organized activities - sports, dancing classes, and church groups. These are all worthy and teach, but they keep children, and the parents, so busy they have no time to think and reflect.
I grew up in a time when there was no television. We would sit on the floor in front of the radio and listen to the Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, and other programs. You could shut your eyes and picture the great white stallion, Silver, and trusted Indian friend Tonto. When these programs came to television something was lost. No television set could equal the imagination pictured in a listener’s mind.
For many years I have been struck by an interesting fact. The state of Mississippi, which is often near the bottom of positive statistics, stands out above all other states in the number of creative people per capita. Was there something in the water? I have since come to the conclusion, that because of the poverty and slower lifestyle, people have time to think. When people have time to think, they can use their creativity.
When starting a company from scratch, there are few customers to serve. There will be a lot of marketing activities, getting out and meeting new people, and setting up your products or services. It is the same way planting a church. This leaves time for thinking and soul searching - sometimes wondering why you ever tried this.
As the organization grows, you have to get organized, because that is what everyone does. You start with the vision of the future, a significant purpose that will motivate the leadership to spend their lives for that purpose. Concerns for any difficulty are subjugated by the sheer power of the vision. The rewards will be greater than the risks. The family, employees, or members of the organization are able to foresee the significance of what they are trying to accomplish.
As the organization grows, the exciting adventure of achieving the vision dims, even in the best of situations. Somewhere along the way, the organization itself changes. Instead of being the instrument for fulfilling the vision, it now has become a consumer of valuable resources. Like an overindulged, spoiled child, the organization itself demands everyone’s attention. The vision is subjugated to the demands of maintaining the organization. Resources intended to serve the greater purpose are now consumed maintaining the organization.
Renewal can only come when the original vision is restored. If you feel that your life, your job, or your organization has become a drudgery, it is time to stop, get to a quiet place and spend time reflecting upon whatever happened to your dream. Several years ago we were teaching a group of missionaries, pastors, and evangelists in Costa Rica. It was obvious that many of them had lost their God-given vision. My advice to them was if their vision has dimmed, they should stop what they were doing, go up on a mountaintop, and pray for their vision to be restored. They should not go back into ministry until that vision was clear again.
If you are a leader of an organization, do not let the organization lead you. You should be led by your vision. If that vision is unclear, take time to think, reflect, and pray.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Happened to The Dream

(Excerpt from "Disorganize or Bust") 

When a baby is born, the family gathers around and are struck with the wonder of what the child will accomplish. It is a time of joy, looking to the future and dreaming big dreams. There is the potential for greatness. Parents also feel the burden of responsibility to provide the child everything needed to reach its full potential. As the child grows into adulthood, there will be many trials passing through different age levels – the terrible twos, teenage years, and leaving the nest. Later in life choices are made, good and bad.
So also is an organization. There is the vision of what the organization can become. There will be a significant purpose that motivates the organizers to expend their lives for the good of the purpose. The future trials are subjugated by the sheer power of the vision. The rewards are seen as greater than the risks. The family, employees, or members of the organization can see the significance of what they are all about.
Then trials begin to show up and the vision of the future is dimmed in light of immediate circumstances. The exciting adventure has become a drudgery. This can happen even in the best of situations. Somewhere along the way the organization itself has changed. Instead of fulfilling the vision for which it was created, it now has become a consumer of valuable resources. Like a spoiled child, the organization demands everyone’s attention and the vision is subjugated to the demands of the organization. The organization which was started to fulfill a need has become the entity in need. Resources intended to serve the greater purpose are now consumed to maintain the organization.
The organization has become institutionalized. It acts like Audry Jr., the crossbreed of a Butterwort and a Venus Fly Trap in the movie Little Shop of Horrors. Little Shop of Horrors is a 1986 American rock musical horror comedy film directed by Frank Oz. It is a film adaptation of the off-Broadway musical comedy of the same name by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman about a nerdy florist shop worker who raises a vicious, raunchy plant that feeds on human blood. As the plant keeps growing, it became more demanding, and commands its owner, “Feed me Seymour!”
Organizations can grow into bureaucracies and become more demanding, consuming more and more time and resources, just to continue to exist. The leaders, employees, or members become so consumed with keeping the organization fed that they forget the original purpose. 

Imagine the “Borg Collective.” The Borg are a fictional alien race that appears as recurring antagonists in the Star Trek franchise. Aside from being the main threat in First Contact, the Borg play major roles in The Next Generation and Voyager television series, primarily as an invasion threat to the United Federation of Planets, and serve as the way home to the Alpha Quadrant for isolated Federation starship Voyager. from the Star Trek television series.
The Borg was an alien race that was a collection of species that have been turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones in a hive mind called the Collective, or the hive. The fictional Borg, whose ultimate goal is "achieving perfection," resembles a large organization trying to achieve ultimate institutionalization.
Any organization, large or small, can fall into the trap of losing sight of the original significant purpose for which it was created. Governments, major corporations, labor unions, service organizations, religious entities and individuals all are vulnerable to losing the vision. 
The obvious examples of this bureaucratic process are government agencies. But, we see it in the banking industry where a bank becomes “too large to fail.” Some corporations have grown out of control through merger and acquisition in an attempt to control an industry. Labor unions which came into life to protect the workers have become institutions which have lost sight of their original purpose and exploit workers as the industrial barons once did. Education systems have become large bureaucracies which must be maintained while the education of students continues to fail. In the old one room country school, the expenditures for education were spent mostly in the classroom. Now the majority of funds are spent on maintaining a hierarchal bureaucracy. The bureaucracy of some charitable organizations has grown to the point where only a small fraction (as little as five percent in some well-known cases) of their income is actually spent helping people while the majority of income feeds the organizational beast. Our religious institutions are not immune to this structural obesity. Many local churches spend the majority of their budgets on maintaining facilities and infrastructure. As a result little is left to feed the poor and minister to those in need.
While this situation is pandemic throughout the world, there are solutions that can renew these organizations. Renewal infers that there was a significant vision which has been lost but can still be realized, but it will require taking drastic steps. The alternative is to continue on the path of growing budgets while providing less and less significant work.
John 15:2 (NIV) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.