Preview of New Blog Series on Future of Cru

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

I’m going to do a a series of posts over the next few weeks that are specific to my organizational context. 

I’ve been thinking through some of these things for months and years in some cases and I think it would be helpful to articulate some thoughts that maybe can be used for constructive conversation.

I’ve avoided writing on specific organizational realities, because as you might have observed I enjoy the theoretical, theological, and systemic realms of thought and reflection. But I care about my organization and I care about its future.  And while positive and happy speak no doubt abound within my organization and often under the guise of hope, I believe there are reasons for legitimate hope into the future.  But part of that hope is connected to what kind of conversations are taking place within our ranks.

I want to be clear before I start that these posts are not meant to be critical or hostile to my organization and I don’t believe the tone of them will cause anyone to think that.  It’s because I believe my leadership at the top levels is more open and more committed than ever to navigating and learning in some of the areas I will choose to post on.  It’s because I am hopeful of where my organization is heading at large that I believe it’s the right time to highlight some critical areas that merit, and in fact are probably desperate for, change and new ways of thinking.

I’m willing to write on these topics because I believe there are more people ready to have these conversations than ever before.

But there’s always those anxious folks that fear any change whatsoever and who feel like it’s their job to protect the past at all costs.  To the anxious reader – I won’t apologize at all for what you might feel in any of these discussions should you choose to read them.  Dig deep and let yourself dream beyond what your instinctive fears or impulses to control allow yourself.

I intend to explore some realities that are anchored in an organizational history of 60 years and which is continuing to do the work of positioning itself to fulfill its role in today’s ministry and kingdom landscape.

So clearly this is targeted to my fellow CCC/Cru staff folks, yet outsiders may easily see their own situations in many of the covered issues and topics.  I don’t believe these posts will be irrelevant to you though you will likely need to adjust your application for you own context.

So this should be fun.  I think these are some important conversations, yet they are very rare.  I hope to change that.

If you write or blog and are inspired as we go to write your own post, let me know as I may open things up for a couple guest posts if they are in the same spirit and vein of this series.

So the first post will be up in a couple days and will be a specific post on Transferability and the Future of Cru that will be a follow up to a post a couple weeks ago called How Transferability Undermines Transformation.

So I hope to come back for the series and add your own thoughts.  I don’t anticipate everyone agreeing with one another, but I think most agree that these conversations are an important factor in the hope that many of us have and feel for our organization moving forward.


Because People Aren’t Transferable

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

This is post #1 in a short series on the future of Cru.  I don’t aim to offer a thorough assessment of what the future holds for Cru, but I do aim to raise a few areas that require new thinking and change because frankly they’re holding us back. If you want some context or wonder why I’m doing this or my heart in raising these issues and questions hit my series preview here which lays a foundation for this.  But in short, it’s because I think leaders in the organization want these conversations to happen even if there are plenty of folks that might be uncomfortable with honest discussions.

When I first joined staff with CCC/Cru, back in January of 1998 I heard something that got my attention from one of our organization’s iconic figures.  This person was discussing training with all of the new staff and said, “Everyone is always trying to come up with new training and new methods and new stuff.  Just do the training.  It works.” Now I don’t know how you feel about that kind of statement, but I react to that just as much now as I did then. I’m all for a commitment to the basics of evangelism and discipleship, but that wasn’t an affirmation of making sure we are solid in our foundations. There were embedded assumptions about training.

If context trumps transferability (which I think it does and which I argue for here) that doesn’t mean that you never do any training and only allow people to experience the context. Training in context means that you try to educate about the context while you do some training to get people started – KNOWING that the training alone won’t accomplish all that’s needed.

Transferable training is a foundational yet unspoken VALUE of sorts for our organization.  Our particular approach to training betrays assumptions about development as all approaches to training do. In my opinion, CCC has gone too far in its assumptions about training.  In the past there has been a lot of communication reinforcing (& many seem to truly believe) that transferable training can do and does the whole job of leadership development or discipleship. Master the tools and skills of using those tools and you’ve mastered ministry (assuming proper spiritual foundations). Organizationally, a strong case can be made that we’ve trusted in training too much rather than seeing it as having a place or a particular role within development. Development and discipleship efforts can include transferable training, but they must go beyond it. Because people are more than what they can do.

Here are some general observations that I’ve made. They may not apply everywhere, but they’re consistent enough to mention.  An over-dependence on transferable training within one’s ministry philosophy and practice often bears some of the following fruit:

  • Skills end up taking precedence over relationships.
  • Cross-cultural efforts struggle because there’s unspoken expectations that others who are different will fit into our boxes. We might not even be aware that is our expectation.
  • Performance and skill competence becoming driving unspoken values in leadership selection and in development, to the neglect of  other foundational and often more important leadership qualities and capacities.
  • Doing overwhelms being. Because training is often related to doing, doing wins out over being. This has many implications – limited emotional presence and maturity being one of them.
  • Increased pride in our way of doing things.  Attitudes develop that kill partnership postures and flexibility.
  • Uniqueness and gifting is minimized in favor of conformity to the system.  Training systems are geared towards getting people to doing all the same things more or less.  Executing the program becomes more important than serving people in a context.  “Just do the training. It works!”  That has implications not just for your audience, but for your own soul and identity in living out who you are in leadership and ministry.
  • Pragmatism wins out over authentic servanthood.  “What works” somehow transcends “what’s loving.”  Similarly, matters of justice or of ethical consequence can be minimized or overlooked when there is such zealousness for productivity.

The future of CRU and ministry will call for people to be equipped to be the type of people that can step into different contexts and build trust and relationships.  The days of being able to depend on skill training and tools in mass are over – though we never want to stop innovating tools!

Transferable tools will always have their place. But let’s remember, the heart of ministry is people and relationships.  And people are not transferable. We can’t celebrate diversity within the body and in God’s creation, but then expect everyone to “get it” in the same ways through the same methods.  It always comes back to real people learning to serve and love others. If your approach or assumptions about training hijacks that, then your train is off the tracks.

Because transferable training has been such a central cornerstone for our organization, discussions about culture and race and ethnicity are often harder to engage than is necessary.  We fear opening the door to new paradigms will be a betrayal of our foundations.  Does this have to be the case?

One thing it does means is that the future of training for CRU – to be fruitful in the ways we talk about wanting to be fruitful organizationally – will mean a more holistic training that maintains a learning posture versus a teaching posture.

Organizationally, we need a self-check from time to time in this area of training. It’s healthy and good to examine the assumptions that shape culture and whether our culture is bearing the fruit we ultimately are wanting over the long haul and that honor God.

**Transferable tools can relate to evangelism, discipleship, conferences, trainings, curriculum, and other things.  There’s an important distinction between the tools themselves and a minister or leader’s relationship to those tools.

How do you navigate the role of transferable tools in our ministry and how do you guard against those things that can spring forth from an over-dependence on transferable training?


Names and Reputations

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

After the first post on Transferable Training, it’s time for post #2 in this short blog series on some of what I perceive to be needed culture change in CRU as we move into the future with a new name and renewed commitment to what God has called the organization to.   And in light of that I’m going to focus on some things pertaining to the name change itself, but maybe from a different angle than what has been covered thus far and I do so with some measure of fear and trembling. But as mentioned before I believe our leaders want these conversations more than ever before – so here goes. For more context on where I’m coming from in all this go here.

This past summer when the name change from Campus Crusade for Christ to Cru Global was announced there was a lot of press and much reaction, much of which seemed anxious and even uninformed.  I default to family systems language in saying that for many it tapped into such anxiety that their “amydala’s” took over.  I read an interview of an MMA trainer recently who referred to that point at which your survival instincts take over and your reason shuts down as an “amygdala hijack.”  I like that. A lot of anxious believers suffered from an amygdala hijack this summer when they heard about the name change.

One of my favorite things this summer being with all the staff  and about the name change process was actually a powerpoint slide.  Has that ever been stated before about a staff CSU summer?  But it’s true for me.  When V.P. of the Americas Steve Sellers was walking staff through the process with all the staff, he included a slide that represented how people experience our organization.  It included feedback from non-believers, other parachurch organizations, churches, and donors.  It was a list of things that should not have shocked anyone who was paying attention over the years, but it spoke loudly….

And then it was forgotten (seemingly).

The best thing to me about the name change process was that it was the first time I’ve really seen the organization put significant effort towards learning how people are experiencing us.  There was attention to not just our NAME, but there was learning about our IDENTITY as an organization.  I LOVED that.  Getting tangible feedback that reinforced many of my perceptions and impressions was helpful, yet I hardly have heard anyone talk about that aspect of things in the months since.  Discussion since has all been about the name itself or how it impacts evangelism or what it means for financial giving.

Shortly after CSU, my wife and I had a meeting with a missions board at a church.  In short, they ended up terminating their financial support of our ministry and specifically they cited that they just knew too many people with bad experiences with the organization and some were especially troubled by what they felt was a legacy of burning women leaders (not literally if you’re concerned at that statement!).  Now they were downsizing and there were other factors, but it was a reminder to me that names do matter because people attach meaning to them.  That’s why I was a fan of the change, because the meaning people attached to the name CCC was increasingly more negative.  Some of that was because of cultural changes in how people view Christianity and words like “crusade.”  But some of that is meaning that we ourselves as an organization have earned for ourselves – and it’s not all great (though there have been a lot of great things!).

When I was told about concerns about CCC and perceptions about the legacy of women leaders being treated poorly, I unfortunately couldn’t totally disagree in general. I myself have witnessed too many examples of great women leaders suffering greatly both from systems that favor men and from at times a variety of assumptions and expectations that work against the empowerment of women, sometimes that are even theologically driven. Now I know women who have had great careers on staff where they’ve felt empowered and treated well too.  So I’m not making universal statements, but as I observe myself and have interacted with people who have been around the organizational a long time, it’s hard to argue that CCC has had patterns where women leaders have not been supported enough or empowered and often shoulder extremely difficult burdens in the ministry.

And it’s broader than that, because the same things are true when I track the history of how ethnic minority staff have fared over time in the organization. I was not totally surprised, but when I switched to serve in an ethnic ministry about four years ago I was somewhat shocked to hear how many ethnic staff had their friends and pastors and even donors warn them about serving with CCC because of a perception or reputation that we don’t navigate culture well and partner well with ethnic churches. That’s not perhaps universally true, but it’s true enough to where that reputation and perception was attached to the name. If you are Cru staff, did you know that no small number of ethnic staff have been advised not to join the organization by their own faith communities? That was sobering news to me and makes me more thankful for every single ethnic minority staff we have because they clearly have been called!

I’m not citing these things to be negative or critical – just honest. After all, that powerpoint slide had many of these types of examples which partially fueled the process of the name change.  The bright side for us in these particular areas is that I believe our organization gives more women the opportunity to lead on most levels more than almost anywhere I look in the ministry landscape.  There’s a lot of women leading in a lot of places. And there’s been great progress to take initial steps towards partnering with ethnic communities in more respectful ways.  But there’s a ways to go and we have real and legitimate character flaws within our organization that many people associate with us.  We have had integrity gaps if we’re humble and courageous enough to acknowledge them.

So here’s my point.  I loved the statement our V.P. made at CSU that Cru would be a new name that we would infuse with new meaning.  I agree. There’s an opportunity now to invest in what we want to be known for and it goes way beyond just affirming our roots as a ministry or affirming that we’re still committed to Jesus Christ and the gospel.  There’s an opportunity to sow a new reputation as well as our actions and behaviors from here on out will provide much of the new “meaning” of Cru.    Just as that powerpoint illustrated we can look at what people have experienced, connect with feelings of sadness where we’re falling short, and make a choice to change for the better so that our actions match up with our hearts and intentions.  So whether it relates to ethnic ministry, the empowerment of female leaders, or involvement in compassion and justice areas and many other things – we can sow new meaning into our name and an even greater integrity into our corporate identity. Integrity in our corporate identity means greater integrity in our mission.

That’s what excites me about the name change.  But if we can’t sow that kind of new meaning into Cru, then it simply won’t matter what our name is over time and we might as well be called Crescendo. I’m excited to invest for the sake of a new future – are you?

What kind of changes do you see as needing to be made, if any, to the future identity of Cru?


Where Were We? Where Are We Now?

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

As I embark on this fourth post in my series of posts related to culture change and the future of Cru in the wake of it’s name change, I’d like to go into seldom discussed territory that can be instructive for us as an organization today. As before, I write because I believe these conversations are desired within my organization and are part of forging a redemptive future. This is a longer post, because it merits context and more thought.

Campus Crusade for Christ just celebrated its’ 60th anniversary as an organization, after starting at my alma mater in 1951.  And when one steps back and thinks about how our organization’s history fits within the broader scope of our nation’s history over the past 60 years, there are inevitable questions that become pretty hard not to ask as long as we’re not trapped in the mechanics of just looking down at ourselves putting one foot in front of the other in our current responsibilities.

What comes to mind when you think about the events of the past 60 years?  I think of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of AIDs, the media revolution(s), and a myriad of culture changes as it relates to marriage, family, and a host of other things.

Organizationally, as a religious order, we are to not get embedded or embroiled in blatant political activity – particularly partisan politics in which campaigning for a particular political candidate or partisan driven propositions can undermine our status and credibility as a religious order, both in the eyes of the IRS and in the eyes of those whom we are engaging in the course of ministry.

Yet for a while now I’ve wondered and reflected specifically on the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, in which my organization’s 2nd decade of existence paralleled, and I’ve asked the question,

“Where was CCC during one of the most important
movements of our nation’s history?
Did we miss the moment?
Did we see the moment?
Where did our organization stand?
Did we help in the struggle?
Were we part of the problem?”

These questions have become important to me, especially since my transition into Ethnic Minority Ministry several years ago.  And it’s occurred to me that I never hear these questions asked and I have been around a while.  Despite being on staff for 13 years now, my organizational memory extends to at least double that when adding my student years and my life growing up in the organization as a staff kid. If you didn’t know that about me, I’m 2nd generation CCC staff. I remember sharing my faith for the first time on the 1981 Lake Tahoe Summer Project that my dad directed for a couple years.

The lone exception for me was a little over half a year ago, there was a unique assembly of folks gathered for a series of meetings and we began to talk openly about some of these questions and our perceptions.  We had some lively discussion, but it came about because we were a group of staff who have thought about these questions due to the contexts in which we serve or due to the personal stories some had lived as Ethnic Minorities.  There weren’t really any staff not serving in an Ethnic Minority context in attendance.

Poet, Novelist and Civil Rights Activist Robert Penn Warren noted that “The past is always a rebuke to the present.”  And for current staff, it’s worth thinking and reflecting on the way our organization engaged the Civil Rights Movement and it’s definitely worth considering the present moment with a view towards how history will judge our contribution or lack thereof to the great moral and ethical challenges and invitations of the day.

As I’ve read up on our organization in that decade and talked to folks who have some memories from at or shortly after the 60’s, I’m going to present my assessments. But I do so humbly and I invite anyone who can speak first hand to fill in the blanks.  This is only what I can gather from the time I’ve put in.

The general sense I get is that the general issue of equality and justice for ethnic minorities in this country was not a front burner type of issue within our organization.  There does not seem to have been a lot of conversation or discussion about the Civil Rights issues and their implications for Campus Ministry or the future of the nation at that time within the organization.  Organizationally there was an internal insurrection of sorts during the 60’s at some point which may have distracted from having these types of discussions, but nevertheless there just does not seem to have been much  active engagement outside of personal evangelism.  The struggle and the dream that fueled the Civil Rights Movement was not really entered into or explicitly supported, though there were no doubt some that did engage on levels atypical of the norm. I do not know with certainty to what degree such activity was being encouraged, discouraged, or forbidden – and perhaps some of it was handled regionally or locally.

In learning about how the organization typically engaged other political movements during that era, the sense is that the issues were engaged pretty intentionally with the goal being to turn the conversation or redirect it to a spiritual conversation centering on the person’s salvation and the gospel.  Thus, the politics of the Vietnam war or feminism, or other causes were avoided for the most part, but engaged to the degree that it opened doors for personal evangelism.  This is how many were trained to do evangelism in the activist era.

But here’s the question that drove me to write this post.  Looking back 45-50 years into our organization’s history and seeing that the Civil Rights Movement was not a significant and compelling movement for our own movement,

“Who feels good about that now?”


Hindsight of course is 20/20 as they see, but honestly – when you see that organizationally we didn’t really engage the Civil Rights Movement all that much from a support standpoint, vocal or otherwise, are you proud of that? Is that a legacy you feel good about?

I’m aware of the evangelical landscape at the time.  It should be noted that while there has been an insistence that we do not get involved in politics, there have been plenty of organizational “alliances” of sorts that make the distinction between partisan and non-partisan very blurry.  Check the history of what speakers have been invited to speak at our staff conferences?  I personally witnessed Pat Robertson in 1997 speak in what was one of the most puzzling moments I’ve had in my CCC experience.  That is an example that is not blatantly supporting partisan politics, but it represents an alliance with politically motivated folks. There are other cases going back further.  There have been calls to actively protest abortion during some seasons of the organization as well as frequent speaking out against the threats of communism during the heart of the cold war.

Our stance as being non-partisan can be defended I think.  However, any self-assessment of ourselves as an organization as being a-political probably are not being totally honest. So political neutrality is not a card we can play to excuse ourselves as there are enough examples of us engaging things that were deemed to be moral or spiritual issues to keep us honest.

So the question of our presence and awareness during the Civil Rights Movement remains for us to think about and consider.  Are we bothered by our lack of presence?  Our lack of seeing the moment for what it truly was in American history?  What feelings does it surface for you?  It bothers me.  It bothers me probably more that I likely would have done what everyone then like me did had I lived in that era. I can only hope I would have seen the moment, but can’t know with certainty how I would have responded.

We can look 40-50 years into our history and see if our organization indeed saw and met one of the great challenges of the day in love and service to God and our neighbor.  It serves as a mirror of sorts of where we were and to what degree we’ve grown or changed since then.  In twenty to thirty years, history will provide some evaluation or even judgment on our own engagement into the critical issues of our day.  Do we see them?

Shall we use political non-affiliation as an excuse, as no few have over the years, for avoiding to enter in and identify with our neighbors in their struggle and in the great struggle of the day?

Our past does serve as a rebuke to our present, because today we continue to see big issues get set aside for the sake of personal evangelism.  How much really has changed as far as how we engage the struggles and stories of communities different from the majority and privileged culture?  I don’t know. I’m wrestling with this right now and my prayer is that you would wrestle with this too.

But our future can serve as our motivation. Knowing that others, and maybe we ourselves if we’re still around, will be evaluating the first decade or two from the 21st century as it relates to how our organization entered into the most important struggles of the day, should sober us.  It should fuel our urgency to look at the landscape of our present day, see the struggle, and respond in both love and with words.  We need not divorce our message from the great struggles of justice and morality.

I know this opens the door to some big questions and big discussions.  I hope you ask those questions and enter into those discussions.  But one thing is clear that we all should be able to agree on – it’s not ok to just ignore what’s going on in the world and just proceed in an execution of our own agenda as if we are untouched and unfazed by the struggles and at times crisis in the nation and the world. These are not just “strategic” opportunities for personal evangelism, though those opportunities may be there.

I can’t help but also feel like it has been hard to shake our posture towards the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s as we’ve tried over the past couple decades to carve out relevant and culturally connected ministry efforts among Ethnic Minorities.  I too often see folks with the same dichotomy as before – ignoring social realities and just wanting to focus on evangelism and our program of discipleship.  That’s not going to get it done if we still want to embrace the vision of fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation. Maybe we need to examine our understanding of the “good news.”

I appreciate you taking the time to read as this was a longer than normal post, but as a fellow staff member what does this surface within you – whether you are majority culture or of ethnic minority heritage?  What do you find yourself wrestling with?  What’s troubling to you and difficult and what gives you hope?  What are the great struggles of today that will hold up a mirror to us as the years pass by?

Feel free to post whatever response you might have.  I humbly acknowledge I don’t know all of what took place in the 60’s within CCC, not even close.  I’ve been intentional to a degree to learn more about it, but not nearly enough to make any dogmatic assumptions.  God was moving in many ways and honoring the work of CCC in incredible ways.

But there were issues.  As one staff member of over 40 years of staff experience told me…”Oh, we were marching during those days, but we were marching for Jesus” continuing on to describe how there was great enthusiasm for evangelistic driven activism – an enthusiasm that did not translate to involvement with the Civil Rights Movement in the same way.

Personally, I think it would be cool if we got the MLK Jr. holiday as an actual day off of work as a statement of where we want to be.  I don’t know what the issues with that would be, but it’s time.

How do you keep leaders from pressing the Eject button?

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

After some good dialogue in my last post on the Civil Rights Movement, here is Post #5 in my series on the Future of CRU and it was inspired by a post Michael Hyatt tweeted out on retaining talent. It’s worth reading because this is such an under-appreciated element of leadership and in ministry especially.  Check out the full post here:

This is the graphic I want to highlight which lists 5 biggest reasons people flee their jobs. I have a few thoughts I’ll share below.


In organizational ministry, we spend tons and tons and tons of hours ($ money) on trying to get more laborers and more leaders to join the organization.  But much less time is invested in assessing whether we’re retaining the right people and if our culture is helping those new leaders succeed.  It sometimes seems like we like to just keep moving ahead with the more leaders and more teams part and we don’t enter in as fully to the question of retaining leaders.  This isn’t a unique struggle to just my organization, but it’s a challenge across the board.

Of those reasons above listed as to why people press the eject button in ministry – #2 – #4 are fairly common I think (#2 & #4 especially):  Failures in empowerment, Politics (Power Games), & Lack of Recognition are often just as much evident in ministry as in other places. I personally think those of us in ministry, if we’re experts at anything, we should be experts in empowering others, stewarding power humbly and serving others, and encouraging others with reminders that they are seen, known, and believed in.  These three areas can make or break any aspirations for a true “leadership culture.”  They don’t seem to come naturally and seem to require great intentionality.

I wrote a paper about 5 years ago about why Ethnic Minority Staff leave my organization. I came across the organizational data describing the breakdowns of how many left the organization and why and the largest category by far was “Calling.”  People felt “called” to go elsewhere.

My response?  Of course they are.  If you’re leaving a vocational missionary organization what else are you going to say?  My observation was that we don’t work too hard to track the real organizational weaknesses or even failures that might contribute to losing real leaders. We settle for sometimes spiritual answers when there are more tangible reasons under the surface. We may indeed be called at times to go somewhere else, but there are usually real causes that open the door for a sense of calling that leads to a different place.

For the future of CRU, we need to spend just as much time thinking about how to retain staff and leaders that represent the FUTURE of where we need to go as we do about trying to recruit new staff and leaders.  So in that light, we need to put in just as much time working to RETAIN Ethnic Minority Staff as we do in trying to recruit them. Same holds true for women leaders.  That means a commitment to understanding what true empowerment looks like, what power structures and dynamics are preventing leadership reproduction in these contexts, and in recognizing and rewarding those people most needed to move towards the envisioned future.

A lot of organizations and ministries would serve themselves by thinking deeper about retention and give retention of talent (leaders) greater priority.  Sometimes in ministry I think we get lazy and we start depending on people’s “calls” and we forget that fundamentally we’re a volunteer organization in many ways.  People, especially volunteers, respond to being empowered, believed in, encouraged, and healthy cultures in which power is being stewarded for others. It’s a shame when we take volunteers (in which I’m including all staff categories in) for granted.

Here are some Practical Steps:

1.  Learn how to help your people succeed out of who they are (empowerment)
2.  Learn how to navigate power dynamics to serve others
3.  Get to know your people and communicate your belief in them and where you see their gifts and talents making unique and significant contributions

What are the factors that get you to start thinking about where the grass might be greener? What strengthens your commitment to your current context?

Organizational “Stuff”

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

I’m returning to my blog series called “The Future of Cru” which is essentially some of my reflections and thoughts about some of the things I see that either need to change for the future or things I see glimmers of in terms of helpful change that I think will be significant to its future.  This blog I’ll simply entitle, “Organizational Stuff.”

I love organizational “stuff.”  I read, study, and generate tons of “organizational stuff.” That means content, policies, strategy, and structures. I like it. I think I’m good at it.  And I’m in a world that’s good at it, perhaps prolific at it.  I’ve written before on the ways in which organizational structures can function in idolatrous ways and how “those who build them become like them.”   I’m not going to hate on organizational efficiency because it’s important, but it’s not the future.  It’s not what will bring about a compelling vision into contemporary reality.

Efficiency in some cases can be an idol as can be some traditions and some structures.  I see one thing in common is that all of these things can be used to control people.  And that’s not the future of any ministry or any endeavor.  So organizational stuff that lacks something else, something deeper, to give it parameters and shape is not the future.  Organizational “stuff” requires a deeper identity to it that allows you the capacity to see where and when your organizational “stuff” violates the very deep identity of what you hope to be and what you are called to.  Disconnects here are even more glaring in the ministry or church world than they would be in secular companies or organizations.

There are great tools and organizational wisdom I like…but without a greater context and identity these things can end up moving towards creating an altogether different reality and community life than what was originally hoped and what might be more true to the hidden deep identity of Christians. An example is when teams are in conflict.  I so often see organizational people so quick to make teams read Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team and work on “trusting” each other so that they could have the kind of communication needed for healthy functioning.  Sometimes it “works”.  But ministry or church teams, while benefiting from this book or others, primarily need to be reminded of who they are and what that means for how they will relate to one another. People can be told to “trust” one another all day long but if they aren’t developing an understanding of “how” to trust and “why” things like trust and vulnerability are important for deeper reasons than this kind of “team development” is just a crapshoot.

Organizational stuff gets after symptoms.  It keeps things moving.  It maintains order.  It insures ‘quality’ in some measure. It serves…the organization in many cases and the question of whether something serves actual people is something more fluid and dynamic.

It does not shape the future, though it will shape the future in the absence of intentional and identity based leadership.  What does shape the future?  Living out identity. Who we are. Who we were meant to be. What fruit we want to produce.

Tools must be used in context and consistently with identity and purpose. Otherwise we give them too much power.

So why put this in the context of my ministry organization. We’re big. We’re a behemoth organization where over time there’s just layer upon layer of “organizational stuff” that affects organizational culture and the ability to adapt and change in needed ways.

The future is not more organizational stuff.  It probably means less “stuff” and a renewed commitment to who we are and what we are wanting to see happen and the organizational identity and calling.  This doesn’t just mean “back to the basics” which sometimes is just code (and sometimes even propaganda) for just returning to the first layer of the “stuff” of a particular time and era.  It means remembering the deep identity and ultimate purpose and working through how each of those things impact how we lead in a given moment and season.

So how do you guard against “stuff” and keep your tools in context of who you are and who you must be in light of your ultimate purpose?

The Right Stuff

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Future of Cru

Who are the right people to build around?

What potential leaders have “the right stuff” and what informs your assessment of what makes for “right stuff” in the first place?

The world I serve in has had a nice strategic sounding phrase that has succinctly defined much of the leadership selection mindset as well as some of the general ministry philosophy in the history of our ministry.  That phrase is “Move with the movers.”

Move with the movers. Influence the influencers. Win the winners. Align the aligners. Lead the leaders…and you get the picture.

I don’t think such a commitment to the movers and influencers is a bad thing because everyone needs Jesus and it is important to be strategic about mobilizing people with capacity to shape culture.  But doing college ministry (or any other kind) where you primarily relate to a certain class of people with certain capacities can impact whether or not we see the broader formational consequences of putting so much emphasis on who we see as the movers and shakers. Strategic thinking is important and well…strategic, but what happens when one day we wake up and realize that we’ve built our entire philosophy of leadership or ministry around who we see as the beautiful people?

I’ve done college ministry at a church, I’ve served at an Ivy League level university, and I’ve worked in organizational leadership capacities in different ways.  I know what it’s like to want to build Sunday morning or a weekly meeting or a conference around people who will draw people in, who will impress, and essentially who are….”cool.”  Conventional wisdom is to get the coolest, most popular, and most impressive people to draw in others  “strategically” all the while subconsciously communicating in some way that this is the picture of who we think we are or who what we want to be like.

Athletes? Fraternity men? Sorority women? Wealthy? Charismatic? Funny? Tall? Well Dressed? Powerful?  All can represent “Above” and tap into people’s subconscious desires to elevate their own sense of worth and significance through association.   Is it wrong to “target” or focus on such people?  Not necessarily. But how often do we even think about it? Has it ever crossed our minds that “coolness” is a power and status endorsed label for what’s desirable and ideal?  It comes back to the question of how do we assess who has the “right stuff” to build around and platform as representative of who you’re called to be as a community and what you’re called to as a community.

I liked this tongue in cheek thought from Pastor Jonathan Martin in his recently published book Prototype:

“I wish Jesus had read Jim Collins’s Good to Great so He could have gotten the right people on the bus and then the right people in the right seats on the bus. At the very least, He should have run the Myers-Briggs profile on them to ensure that everyone had the right gift mix and He wasn’t accidentally putting an ESTJ together with an INFP and causing a personality conflict.”

I have a strategic orientation. It’s one of my strengthfinders themes so I can get with the right people on the bus philosophy.  I still think it holds.  It may be more of a question of what kind of bus we’re all on so we understand who the right people really are.  Though the bus analogy may get old, think about this.  If all the “right people on the bus” look a certain way, are impressive in the same ways, or are at a certain “status” or “above” then one of the realities will be that in no time at all there’s going to be a lot of people who look at the bus and realize that there’s either no room on that bus for them or worse, believe that they aren’t enough in who they are to be on the bus in the first place.  And maybe the “right people in the right seats” is more a reflection of what’s most comfortable for leaders and those with power than a true reflection of who should be sitting where (Luke 12:12-14).

So winning winners and moving with movers ends up reproducing winners and movers who in turn move with more movers and win more winners.  Sounds strategic right?  What’s the problem?

Most of us aren’t winners.  Not that most people are losers.  But most of us aren’t winners in the sense that we can’t be the package of charisma, ideal physical presence, looks, and whatever other status builders exist today.  Sometimes it’s social limitations, sometimes it’s marginalization based on gender, sometimes it’s marginalization based on ethnicity, sometimes it’s financial, and sometimes it’s character or life capacity – frankly few people can consistently claim they aren’t a mess in one way or another.

Jonathan Martin finishes his “Good to Great” thought saying,

Yet is seems as if everywhere Jesus went, the same people show up: those who had nowhere else to go and nothing better to do. In the Gospels, Jesus is called to be the light of the world. Apparently, whores and thieves and the sick and demon-possessed are the moths He attracts.”

Prototype, page 69

Why did these people flock to Jesus? The Scriptures are clear that there wasn’t “beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” (Isaiah 53:2)  The light of the world evoked this response from Simon Peter when asked if he would leave others after a hard teaching, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

They didn’t follow Jesus because he had “the right stuff” but because they saw the source of life, the power of God, and the fulfillment of Scripture clearly in Jesus and the community He was mobilizing and shaping.   When I think about the calling of the disciples I think of the great line from the movie Armaggedon when the trained and polished Astronaught played by William Fichtner sees Bruce Willis and his rag tag group of oil drillers and says condescendingly, “Talk about the wrong the stuff!”

I wonder how frequently we make “wrong stuff” assessments or the thoughts come across our minds.  I know I’ve been more than guilty over the course of my ministry years. My criteria, while strategic, has often primarily been about what it  takes to “grow” and I’ve been slow at points to realize that I’m skipping the questions about what it takes to “be” the type of place where people when asked if they would leave would say, “To whom shall we go?”

The thing about building things around “buzz” and entertainment or beautiful people or “coolness” is that it’s hard to sustain. Do our ministries reflect older celebrities or the many older women I see in this wonderful land of Orange County, California fighting what’s real and what’s authentic in favor of sustaining image and youth through botox and God knows what else in the effort of maintaining status as one of the “beautiful” people?  Some ministries and church services seem to be relying on “botox” metaphorically to keep drawing people and “growing” while failing to move deeper into what type of place and community reflects “the light of the world” and “the words of life.” That’s not a call towards just “right doctrine” though it helps to be theologically sound!  It’s a call to make sure that the words of Jesus and ministry of the Holy Spirit are concretely displayed in and through community.

It’s a “wrong stuff” judgment of condescension to believe that if you just focus on the cool and beautiful people then “everybody else” will just fall in line. It betrays the fundamental assumption, “Don’t you know that influence is all about power and status?” “Don’t you know that influence is earned through having superficial beauty and majesty to attract people to us?”

If you’ve read this and your thought at this point is, “Well then who am I supposed to have as my emcee at my weekly meeting or youth group?” or “Then how are we going to make our community the place to be?” then you haven’t connected with what I’m getting at.  Meetings need capable people to make them work and I’m a fan of gifted people serving out of their gifts and this is a way.  The question is about our assumptions about how we see power as a vehicle for achieving ministry results and the impact of that on who we reach and who we don’t reach with our message.  It affects who feels welcome and who feels unwelcome…or worse, invisible.  Power and status are only assets for the Kingdom through God’s sovereignty and when they are being used in “power-giving” types of ways. Yet we find a lot of ways to justify “strategic” ways to grow our ministries or even “brands” without taking hard and consistent inventory about what we are growing and who we are including or excluding in that process.

Visible and platformed individuals in community contexts can be quite charismatic, but Jesus himself and His mission calls us to at least think about how to ensure that Jesus’ accessibility and significance to the marginalized and powerless is platformed somehow even more so that people experience the light of the world…and also grow in their ability to recognize just what the “right stuff” for the Kingdom really is.

There’s times, because I work almost exclusively with college graduates and highly capable people – leaders, all the time, that when I find myself in other environments I end up with a wake up call that I’ve slowly developed an elitist paradigm of “the right stuff” because I’ve worked so often with “the best of the best” as it relates to skills and motivation. And even within that “class” there is often a more narrow class that is more closely associated with the “ideal.”   Those wake up calls are important for me to stay in reality of what it means to be part of a larger, global Church.  Kingdom leadership doesn’t get to be defined just by the best and the brightest. That’s what happens time and time again, yet the words and example of Jesus subvert that system every time.

In God’s economy He can make winners losers, and losers winners. So as I dream and envision the future, if there is to be a thriving future of any ministry and especially my own, I believe there will necessarily be greater focus on being people and movements that are both accessible to and powerful sources of life through Christ for those whom power and status has passed by in this world.

Frankly, we’ll have to become a movement that is known for that accessibility and the honoring of those that “coolness” labels the wrong stuff.  And maybe we’ll discover what the first century Christians discovered – that maybe the rejects of society, the low status and low “buzz” people can be the ones with “the right stuff” after all when transformed by and infused with the power and love of Christ.

So whether you’ve been viewed as “the wrong stuff” or “the right stuff” in your life (or both!), what are you reproducing in your own leadership and ministry?  Are you on a trajectory to only honor and include the beautiful people because it’s the fastest way to relevance and ‘growth?’ Are average men and women, or who you may see as “below average”, afterthoughts in your “strategy?”  How do you keep the vision and ethics of the Kingdom and the person of Jesus central to your community when the temptations are there to primarily build around “cool?”

It seems truly a counter cultural perspective that a sign that we are on the right track is perhaps reaching the point that we can celebrate as a community that fact that we “have no beauty or majesty to attract” others to us.  But is that too hard too stomach for us?  Maybe “dying to self” means dying to “cool” or “image” in ways we are too afraid to face.  Because at the end of the day, in our first world church context we seem to rely heavily on power and status for legitimacy – and maybe that’s why some ministries still fail to include others outside their “status” and thus fail to give proper and powerful witness to the One who sent them.

At the end of the day if we’re thinking we need to build around and focus on people with status and power for “growth” then maybe we have to face the hard truth that maybe we ourselves are not the right people to have Kingdom ministry built around.