Plastic football buzz moments

When I was in middle school and high school, the cheerleaders would occasionally do this thing during football games where they would come up into the stands and start throwing out little plastic footballs. I’m sure you’ve seen something similar to this.

Every single time this happened, people who weren’t paying the least bit of attention before were completely engaged. Then, for the remainder of the game, little plastic footballs were flying all over the stands. Some of them even made their way onto the field.

I’ve always wondered why this was a win in the minds of the cheerleaders. Now, quick disclaimer, I won the superlative for “Most School Spirit” my senior year of high school, so I was always the guy yelling at the student section when they weren’t supporting the team the way they should have been. So, it always bothered me that the cheerleaders, who are supposed to be responsible for leading cheers, were instead distracting the crowd from why they were all ultimately there… to cheer on the team.

In the minds of the cheerleaders, they were generating excitement and energy. They were getting the crowd’s attention. That’s a win, sure. But at what expense? For the rest of the game, the crowd was distracted by the plastic footballs, and the janitors had a lot more clean up. Did the plastic footballs enhance the experience of the crowd? Of course. That probably is the goal at a high school football game, though I wish it weren’t.

Now, that’s a long rant if I’m just talking about plastic footballs at Rossview High School. But I say all of that because I think there’s a principle there.

Never create momentary engagement at the expense of long-term commitment to the ultimate goal. 

Opportunities will constantly present themselves to do something “cool” to grab people’s attention. But if that momentary engagement is a distraction from what you’re ultimately wanting people to do, don’t do it. If cheerleaders truly wanted to lead people in cheers, they wouldn’t be passing out plastic footballs.

How does this look for you? What are you tempted to do that will create a buzz, but ultimately be a distraction? Is it always bad to create a buzz? Absolutely not. Should you evaluate the long-term effects of the buzz-item? Absolutely.

A huge mistake when picking a name

Recently I got a mass email from Moody asking for help in naming a new campus program. They have this cool new idea they’re implementing, they just needed help picking a name.

Now, I don’t mean to throw Moody under the bus with this post, but they just provided me with an excellent case study I couldn’t pass up. Here’s a principle for leaders of anything:

You never ask a large group of people for help in branding a cool idea. Never.

This is especially pertinent for church leaders. Our thinking typically goes like this: “Well, this ministry isn’t even for me! They’re the ones who are gonna have to live with the name… not me. So we might as well let them decide what it’s called.”

That is precisely why you can’t let them be the ones who name it.

Here’s why:

  1. When given a voice, people become attached to their idea. Consequently, when their idea is not picked, they no longer buy-in with the same commitment they would have if they had never been given a voice.
  2. You lose your edge of confidence. The goal of branding is to sell. In order to sell something, people must think you’re confident about what you’re selling. When you ask a large group what to brand something, you automatically lose the ability to stand up with your idea as if you are absolutely confident it’s the right idea. That won’t sell.
  3. You forfeit the opportunity to ride the wave of momentum. When you hand the branding over to the market, you miss a chance to stand up with the new and final idea and get people excited about how great it is. Why? Because they’ve already heard about it before it had a name! Now you’ve defeated the purpose of naming it well in the first place!

When I was in high school some friends and I were starting a band. Whenever you start a band, you have to come up with a name for the band. I made the mistake of asking a big group of people on a road trip for their opinions. To this day, people tell me we should have named the band something else.

If you ask a large group to name something, the first thing they’ll think about when they hear its name won’t be the cool idea the name represents, but will be the other names left on the table.

Don’t make that mistake.

Organic and positional leaders

As I’ve observed people and situations, I’ve noticed two different types of leaders. I’m sure some leadership expert has written extensively on this somewhere, but if they have, I haven’t read them. So, for the sake of this post I’m using my own terms for these two people: Organic Leaders and Positional Leaders.

  • Organic leaders are the people who walk in a room and become the leader by instinct. It doesn’t matter if they knew the people before or not, give them half an hour and they’ll be in charge.
  • Positional leaders are those who can lead once they have an opportunity, but aren’t as gifted at creating the opportunity themselves. In an unfamiliar environment, they may not vocalize their opinion (even though they probably have one and likely feel strongly about it).

I think misunderstanding these two types allows for potential stars in leadership to fall through the cracks.

I’ve heard this statement multiple times in reference to leadership: “Real leaders don’t need a position to lead.” The thought is that “real” leaders will just start leading.

The problem with this statement, though, is that it confuses organic leaders as real leaders, as if organic leaders are the “true leaders”. Consequently, potential stars are never recruited, trained, or encouraged because they seem passive, quiet, or apathetic in the initial environment. This causes the organization and the individual to miss out.

I understand the thinking that a person should be willing to contribute to the team even without a position, and I agree. My point, though, is this: Some of the best leaders are not going to thrive until you give them a position. That doesn’t mean you have to hire them, it means you have to recognize them and give them a platform.

Don’t allow potential stars to fall through the cracks by confusing organic leaders as real leaders. We need organic leaders and positional leaders, but unless we’re intentional, we’ll only get the organics.

Have you seen this dynamic play out? How do you attempt to recognize positional leaders?

Determining the ideal world

Recently I was having lunch with a good friend. During one of our conversations, I began to explain some dreams I have about what the church could look like someday. Before I got too far, he said, Yea, the problem is… practically I don’t know how that could ever work.”

Now, practicality is a great thing. ‘Head in the cloud’ conversations have the potential to really annoy me if they last too long. While this is true, I also think we need to be wise about where practicality fits. Here’s why:

Failure to identify the ideal world results in mediocrity and obscurity in the real world.

If you are going to lead a church that has a clear vision on how to best make disciples, you have to take time to think ideally before you think practically.

  • Thinking ideally says: “Here’s what this would look like in a perfect world.”
  • Thinking practically says: “In light of what we would do in a perfect world, here’s what we’ll do in the real world.”

If you don’t take the time to imagine what everything would look like in a perfect world, you’re not going to be clear on where you’re going in the real world. If I don’t know what all my structures would be like if everything were perfect, how can I begin to make strategies and structures that are as close to perfect as possible?

You can’t evaluate something when perfection hasn’t been defined.

In order to pursue excellence and clarity, you have to determine the ideal world before you plan the real world. Don’t discredit the ideal world just because it isn’t very practical. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a different step in the process.

So, in a perfect world, what would your ministry look like? If you don’t know, chances are good that you’re not very close to it.

Gaining perspective: Ezra 3

Recently I was reading the book of Ezra, and I came across an important reminder: Pure hearts take precedent over pure projects.

While the Jews were in exile, a man named Cyrus became king of Persia. The Holy Spirit stirred Cyrus to issue a decree that the people should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed. God birthed this vision in the hearts of many people, and around 50,000 or so Jews made the journey back to Jerusalem.

Their purpose in returning was to rebuild the temple. This was extremely important to them, because the temple was the literal house of God. As long as it laid in shambles, the rest of the world would look at Judah’s God in disgrace. On a personal level, it probably made the Jews question God’s power, faithfulness, and presence.

Now, with that in mind, here’s what’s interesting: Their first order of business when they arrived in Jerusalem wasn’t the temple… it was their heart. Instead of getting right to work, chapter 3 describes how they set up the altar, celebrated the Feast of Booths, and each offered sacrifices are required in the Law of Moses. “6From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid.” Ezra 3:6 ESV

Before they even started the project God called them to, they got on right terms with Him. They were sent to Jerusalem by the most powerful man in the world to rebuild the temple of God. Talk about a pure objective! But, they recognized that pure hearts take precedent over pure projects.

The same is true for us today. It’s easy for me to become so obsessed with dreaming, planning, and critiquing the projects I want to do for God someday, that I neglect my relationship with Him. It’s easy for good things to get in the way of developing a good heart. Don’t let that happen to you today.

Pure hearts take precedent over pure projects. What are you working on today that might cause you to neglect your heart?

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