Hardware Store Haikus

I feel called to vocational ministry but I have bills to pay and a family to feed. I do this by working at my local hardware store as a salesperson and quasi-supervisor. I drive a forklift, cut keys, fill propane, mix paint. I also am responsible for training employees and merchandising the store. This isn’t ministry it’s just life, but ministry is the stuff of life. Here is a taste of my day-to-day:

I open today
My gaggle drives me to work
stuck behind  the train

“You got a thingy
that will whatchamacallit?”
“Absolutely, yes.”

“Doesn’t fit,” He sighs.
Package says universal.
Not this universe.

Can you cut a key?
Yes, if I have the right blank.
No. She leaves the store.

He asks,”EEEEE-poxy?”
Holding out the ‘E’ too long–
It stuck to his tongue.

“Sixteen Inches,” he says.
I measure eighteen. Displeased,
“Sixteen’s what I need.”

“It’s slow can I go home?”
The cashier asks, I respond:
we have work to do.

“Time for your training!”
She complies with verve and speed
grimacing at me.

Break time: I’m reading
He leans to see the cover.
Far too religious!

Running, I get gas.

His eyes scan the shelf,
What can I help you find? No
I was just looking.

It’s twenty to eight
I ride the pallet jack back
Almost closing time

Innovation’s Dirty little Secret: a book review

When we consider the life and impact of innovators (such as the late Steve Jobs), we are amazed by their vision and the ideas they had. But Larry Osborne says that innovators have a secret: most innovations fail. Well, actually that isn’t much of a secret. You knew that already, right? What serial innovators are able to do is fail forward without letting their failures derail them. Osborne tells the tale of why serial innovators succeed where others crash and burn and describes how to foster a culture of innovation.

Osborne is a pastor of North Coast church in San Diego County, California (the book jacket identifies this as ‘one of the most innovative churches in America’).  Osborne draws on his own experience as a leader and the insights from business leadership literature.  Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail  is meant to be applicable to either a business or ecclesial context.  Osborne does not offer a business plan or detailed instructions on how to implement this in your church. What he does do is identify some of the crucial elements of success through innovation.

The book unfolds in seven parts. Part 1 is about exit strategies. Serial innovators do not succeed through backing high-risk innovations. They do not put all their resources into an idea that could fail. They experiment before implementing significant changes. They hedge their bets.  Part two talks about how successful innovation is not about being  ‘avant-garde’ and endlessly creative. It is about finding the right solutions to the problems you face in your organization. Part three describes the importance of knowing your mission (i.e. through a mission statement) and having a bias for action . Osborne also  advises finding a champion to make a straight path for you (a John the Baptist figure, preparing them for your innovation) and the importance of planning in pencil (holding plans loosely).

Part four discusses the problems which undermine innovation.  Osborne mentions four problems: the price of failure,  group-think, surveys, and past successes.  Failures are fatal to our success when we fail publicly, overhype our innovations, and fail repeatedly in the spotlight.  Osborne advises humility and tact in implementing innovations–creating an experimental culture without over promising results on every innovation. On the other hand, he does not trust group-think or surveys because they tends towards the status quo. Innovation  tends to be the product of one mind and lead people somewhere they’ve never been (or thought of).

Part five discusses other organizational and personal challenges to innovation. Leaders cannot grow an organization beyond their competency.  in order for new innovations to happen, structural changes, adjusted expectations, and new advisers will all play a part in helping your church or organization become what they

Part six discusses the necessity of vision for the success of your organization. Osborne contrasts ‘vision’ with ‘mission’ by describing vision as your detailed business plan (mission is a pithy statement which describes what you are about).  The final section, part seven, talks about creating a legacy of innovation that goes beyond ‘just us.’

Osborne offers practical advice for vision casting and implementing new programs and opportunities into the life of your church (or business). I am glad I read this book because I gained some insights and some language to describe innovation in ministry.  I didn’t necessarily think it was the most eye-opening business book. Most of the information in said in other business-leadership books (i.e. Jason Jennings, Jim Collins, Steve Covey, John Maxwell, etc). What Osborne does is relate leadership concepts and innovation to his role as pastor. This gives this book a broad appeal; however I felt that it was missing the hard data of some of the best business books and the theological reflection of the greatest church leadership books.

However  the take away for me is the emphasis on ‘small risks’ and ‘hedged bets.’ This seems to me to be good practical advice for success in leadership, ministry and life.  Culture is always changing and there is no one-size-fits-all ministry plan (or business plan). Change is inevitable and that means an effective witness means trying new things to reach a community. The lab-learning small risks allows for the opportunity to discover which innovations will be impactful. This will be a good book to read and discuss as a church leadership team.  I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Zondervan and Cross-Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Doing Good is my Middle Name: a book review.

Peter Greer is no stranger to doing good. As president and CEO of HOPE International, he has invested his life in addressing both physical and spiritual poverty through microfinance. However he also knows the shadow side which can accompany good doing. When people give their life in service through activism, missions or ministry, they may end up serving from the wrong center. Some serve to earn salvation. Some give their life to a cause to prove their own worth. The Christian response should be to serve out of a response of overflowing gratitude for all Christ has done on our behalf. Unfortunately, we often louse that up and end up casting more shadow than light.

In The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good Greer shares his own journey  of ways he’s ‘done good’ but from the wrong motivation. At one point he devoted his life to ministry but ended up giving ‘leftovers’ his wife and family. He had bought into a sort of Christian Karma which declared if ‘I do this for God, God will do (fill in the blank for me). He has used the wrong measuring stick in defining success and has compared himself to others.  The lessons he’s learned along the way help us be aware of where our ministry might have slid into the danger zone.

Greer shares lots of stories of where ‘doing good’ can be dangerous for our souls. He isn’t trying to talk us out of doing good, but to examine our internal motivations. So he turns over the idea of ‘doing good’ and points to the places of possible danger.  We’ve all heard the stories of the Christian leader who blows up and blows it. Greer gets us to examine our own hearts in action before our own life falls off the rails.  The fact that he does it with humor and grace is an added bonus. 

Much of the advice in this book is practical good advice like: have friends you are accountable to, listen to feedback, being authentic and humble, don’t take photos of nursing gorillas or tell a room full of ministry supporters that you welcome them with open legs (a language error, in case you were wondering). These should be obvious and basic. Unfortunately life in ministry can sometimes reflexively fall into the category of ‘doing important tasks’ without doing the hard work of self reflection which should accompany ministry. Greer’s book provides a good diagnostic tool for Christian ministers. 

I enjoyed this book and give it four stars. It is a good read for active minded people who like to ‘get involved’ in ‘helping others.’ Greer’s recommendations will help us do that from a healthier place. 

Thanks to Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Rick and Paul’s Entreprenuerial Extravaganza: a book review

Richard J. Goossen is a new author for me.  As director of Transforming  Business  at the University of Cambridge, Goosen has authored five books on business and entrepreneurship. I haven’t read any of them yet. But I have been positively impacted by his co-author, R. Paul Stevens. I’ve read a few of Stevens’s books and  have heard him lecture  under the green roof at Regent College where he is an emeritus faculty-member (in the halls of Regent, I’ve referred to “R. Paul Stevens” as “Our Paul Stevens”). Regent College is a place indelibly marked by Stevens’s energy and vision and his emphasis on ‘marketplace ministry.’  In  Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making A Difference  Goosen and Stevens collaborate to explore the identity and distinctives of Christian entrepreneurial leadership ( incidentally they are team teaching a course at Regent this summer on this very subject).

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference by Richard J. Goossen and R. Paul Stevens

Goosen interviewed approximately 250 Christian entreprepreneurs on the intersection of their faith and life’s work.  His findings form the research basis of this book.  He and Stevens are apt at making biblical and theological connections as they explore the theme of entrepreneurship. They begin their book by defining the essence of entrepreneurship and leadership  (chapter one and two). Chapter three contrasts (secular) humanist models of entrepreneurship with the Christian model. While the secular model offers a  personal narrative,  a mechanistic view of the universe and a focus on personal fulfillment  the Christian approach to entrepreneurship  has a ‘God-narrative,’ a transcendent, supernatural view of the universe and a focus on serving God through God-given spiritual gifts.

Chapters four through seven explicate their particular Christian approach to entrepreneurship. In Chapter four, Goossen and Stevens discuss the nature  of ‘soul and spirituality.’  They present the soul as a whole ( both physical and spiritual). This means that the spiritual life cannot be compartmentalized from our work life. In chapter five they discuss the meaning of work and the satisfaction work brings (and does not bring!). Chapter six explores the Christian approach to risks and rewards while  chapter seven explores the nature of calling in relationship to entrepreneurship.

The final three chapters focus on how compelling Christian, entrepreneurial leadership is lived out.  Goossen and Stevens explore principles and practices that will nourish and sustain Christian entrepreneurs and the ways churches can support the entrepreneurs in their midst.

One of the gifts  of this book is that Goossen and Stevens baptize business as a Christian vocation and provide encouraging words for entrepreneurs of faith. They offer wisdom for  entrepreneurs about how to live faithfully to their calling and how to live  faithfully through their calling. This makes this a great book for business people and leaders. I would say it is one of the most thoughtful books of its kind.

The part of this book I found most helpful was Goossen and Stevens discussion of how the Christian understanding of entrepreneurship stands in opposition to a humanist understanding of it.  Too many Christian leaders approach business literature uncritically and apply ‘principles’ to the church without properly considering the telos of  a market-driven approach (where the bottom line is the bottom line).   By critiquing the humanist approach to entrepreneurship, Goossen and Stevens are able to replace it with something more theologically sound.  Sure, Christian entrepreneurs also want to be successful, but their vision for business is more robust than amassing personal wealth and security.  Christian entrepreneurial leaders are Christians who seek to be faithful to their calling in business (or the church and non-profit sector).  Business and entrepreneurship is not working for filthy lucre but an opportunity to participate in what the triune God is doing in the market and to live and act faithfully for him there.

For the most part I found their insights theologically and biblically rich. Occasionally their interpretation of the Bible is more evocative than exact (i.e. I thought their interpretation of  how Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness relates to Christian entrepreneurship was overreaching a tad). This is a small criticism. Most of the time I found their reading of passages legitimate;  there is only couple of places where my inner-exegete was bothered.

I recommend this book highly for business minded Christians who are looking for a theological understanding of business and what it means to be faithful to God in the marketplace. I give this book ★★★★.

Thank you to InterVarsity Press and Adrianna Wright for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

On not getting hired by Logos Bible Software (again).

So Wednesday afternoon I had a job interview  at Logos Bible Software. It did not go well. They waited until Thursday morning  to email my rejection, but it was not surprising. It was hands-down, the most awkward interview of my life.

This is no reflection on Logos. I use their software and  highly recommend it. The people conducting my  interview are all great at their jobs. I  respect them highly. The founder of the company and author of Fire Someone Today, Bob Pritchett, was there.  I had hoped for the sequel: Hire Someone Today.  It was not to be. I failed to impress Bob or any of the other major players in the room. I am not bitter and I think they made the right decision.

Was I qualified for the position I applied for? Yes. Would I have done good work there? Absolutely. Would I have risen to the challenges of that environment? Without a doubt. Was I the best person for the job? Nope. 

The most nerve-wracking part of the interview is forever burned in my mind:

Interviewer: You say you have attention to detail, do you mean grammar or something else?

Me: [Feeling that the hammer was about to fall]: While I’ve written a lot. . .

Interviewer: because I see three mistakes on the first page of your resumé. The third sentence is a run on sentence and needs a comma, you have a sentence with two spaces after the period when all other sentences have one and there is a missing period after your third bullet point when you have one after your first, second, and fourth.

Me: [Shock and embarrassment]

Interviewer 2: I also see some formatting issues here. . .

The rest of the interview wasn’t that bad, but I clearly did not wow the crowd.  When I recovered from the shock of the interview,  my only reaction was to laugh. They must have enjoyed watching me squirm.

I think I wanted this job to work out because I would be doing something related to my field of study. I have an M.Div and I sell animal feed and nipple extractors at the local hardware store.  It is good, honest work, but ultimately I don’t feel like it is what I was born to do. I believe my gifts lie in preaching and teaching and pastoral care.  I looked at Logos as a step in the right direction and something to do in the meantime. I would get to help craft theological and biblical resources. It seemed great. But parts of the job would have been a poor fit for me.

I would have been working on video lectures and preparing them for release by crafting online text which complemented the lecture. I could have done this but I’m not sure this work would have nourished my true self.  I long to nurture, to care for, to proclaim, to excite, to instigate.  I love to spend time writing, reading, studying and learning  but where it comes alive for me is when I get to share what I learn with others. I am relational to the bone. I would have loved aspects about the job and I am sure (even if Logos wasn’t) that I would have excelled at it.  But that work is not what I was born to do.

When we were done  my five interviewers all sprinted from the room, leaving me to show myself out.  So for the moment I remain the most theologically educated hardware employee in the city of Blaine.

An increasingly rare moment of self-disclosure.

I am aware that lately I’ve used my blog primarily to share book reviews. I like these and a few of you like reading them but I feel guilty that I have had few posts reflecting on church and society (these are my favorite posts to write). I have also not shared my stress, struggles and neurosis. Honestly, isn’t that what a personal blog is for? If it is, I have failed you.

Anyway I have a job interview today. It is a ‘final-round interview’ and I hope it goes well. It is not at a church but it would be closer to my field of interest than my current job selling gas-cans and toilet seats.   I will share a little more after my interview.  I am excited about the prospect and am now anxiously combing through my closet and deciding what to where (is this a power tie moment?).  Honestly the face-to-face part of the interview doesn’t stress me much and I’m glad to make it to a second interview. The whole job-interview process though is beastly.

So in the spirit of this blog, feel free to send to me your thoughts (although I’m not sure what I’d do with them). Or say some prayers for me. But it would be epic if you would sing songs of my victory over the forces of job interview.



Morrow’s Longing: a book review

Blaise Pascal said “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of ever man which cannot be filled with any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”  At times we sense the truth of these words as dissatisfaction, a dull ache, a longing. Other times we are restless and feel driven toward wonder. One moment we feel disenchanted, the next moment we are transfixed. But we carry this ‘yearning’ for transcendence with us through all of life.

Yearning For More: What Our Longings Tell Us About God and Ourselves

In Yearning For More: What Our Longings Tell Us about God and Ourselves, Barry Morrow examines the way this yearning manifests itself in our culture, in our routines, in our art and in our lives.  In nine chapters and a conclusion he surveys  the dissatisfaction we feel and where our longings take us.  The author of Ecclesiastes (Solomon or Qoheleth) articulated disappointment in investing his life in that which is fleeting. What Morrow points out in this book is that so much of what we invest ourselves in holds the promise of something bigger, greater and more lovely than we can  imagine. We feel isolated and desire connection, we have our mundane routines but long for more, we work for our daily bread but long for significance and impact and even our leisure points beyond a moment of respite from the daily grind. Literature and Film tell stories and point at another world. Our experience of pleasure and pain simultaneously causes us joy and makes us dissatisfied with temporal life.

Each of  Morrow’s chapters build on the last. This inquiry into our yearnings  opens our eyes to the ways each one of us long for something more, no matter how we invest ourselves. I really appreciate the depth and breadth of this book.  Morrow is an astute observer of  culture.  As human creatures we long for significance, community, eternity and God.  What Morrow does in this book is get us to pay attention to how these yearnings underpin how we spend our time and energy.

However this is a book which points, prods and hints. It does not ask for a plan of action. Morrow want us to examine life and find the fingerprint of God stamped there. He wants his readers to pay attention. But I couldn’t put my finger on who Morrow’s intended audience was. He does not  always articulate explicit Christian truths but hints.  In the end I decided that Morrow was speaking to all of us in the West who view the world materialistically and with a secular bias.  We reduce reality to what we can see, taste, touch and we fail to pay attention to what our longings, yearnings and desires teach us.  Morrow calls us to listen to where our yearnings ultimately take us.

I happily recommend this book and give it four stars ★★★★☆

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.