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Skin in the Game

There’s only so far a good heart and good intentions will take you. If you’re going to work towards significant and lasting change in a community you need to have some skin in the game. 

Ministers are so… transient. We move from ministry to ministry and in many cases we move from community to community. The people in our churches know it and our fellow staff people know it.

I think this is one of the reasons why associate staff people get fired so easily. Because churches can. Rather than wrestle with the tension of putting up with you, like churches have to do with people who live in the community and voluntarily come to the church, if you are a staff person who is out to change things it’s relatively easy to get you to move away.

If that church lets you go your house will be on the market in a matter of months. Take that, sucker!

Skin in the game? Pfft. Not if its tied to your job.

Of course, it’s not just ministers who infamously don’t have skin in the game. Here are some things that surprise me.

  • School teachers who don’t live in the neighborhood their students come from.
  • Church leaders who don’t live in the neighborhood immediately around their church.
  • Locals who complain about a lack of local businesses yet buy from big box stores or Amazon.
  • Community leaders who say they are all about school yet send their kids to private school or homeschool. (I once knew a principal who homeschooled, er.. what?!?)
  • Police and city employees who don’t live in the city they work in.

Ultimately, when you don’t have skin in the game what you are doing is either just a job… or you are depending on good intentions and your heart to be right.

But everyone else, whether they verbalize it or not, knows you’re not fully invested. And it’s a big reason you can get anything lasting done. Until you put your skin in the game you’re just a short-timer.

Here’s how you get skin in the game:

  • Invest locally. Did you know you can use money from an IRA to invest in a local small business? Yeah, talk to your tax person. If you can’t buy a home where you live, get some skin in the game by investing in a small business you like. Don’t know how to have that conversation? Get to know the owner of your favorite local spot… and ask them. “If I were to want to invest $20,000 in this business, how could you improve it?” It’s that easy.
  • Buy locally. Look, here’s Economics 101. If you don’t spend your money in your neighborhood that money is going somewhere else. Want great places to eat? Eat locally. Want a great grocery store? Shop at the local guy. On and on. Every time you buy something from Amazon or go to a big box store you are sucking money out of the local economy and sending it somewhere else.
  • Live locally. Get over the excuses. (They are just obstacles) Until you live with the community you want to impact you’re just kidding yourself about making a lasting impact. You’re going to care about where you live more than where your work is, bottom line. So if you want some skin in the game your zip code is going to need to match where you want to impact.
  • Educate locally. If I hear one more person talk about loving his neighborhood but sends his kids to a Christian or parochial school, I’ll scream. If you want to make your local schools better the ONLY way you’re going to make lasting changes is if your kids are there. Yup, our kids go to a charter school. But it’s also a charter school that saved a neighborhood school from getting shut down. Almost all of the kids come from within walking distance.
  • Get involved locally. Start attending a board which directly oversees the stuff you care about. Into community gardening? You better be at that planning committee meeting. Care about schools? Get your butt to the school board meetings. Love your neighborhood? Find a local neighborhood board and be a part of it.
Photo credit: The Carpetbagger by Mirror Image Gallery via Flickr (Creative Commons)

14 Responses to Skin in the Game

  1. Mike F May 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Adam —

    There are some reason why church staff can not live in the area of the church. In the case of the church I attend which is in Hermosa Beach, CA next to Manhattan Beach. Most home in the area are close to $1,000,000 and up. I pass homes that start at 4 million on my walk on Wednesdays. We had one pastor who lives in Hermosa, but he inherited his house (his family are long term residents).

    Our senior pastor lives in Redondo Beach which is a mile or so from the church, but again he has lived there for years.

    The point is sometimes you have to do the best you can.

    • Adam McLane May 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      @abd6e272ed01d8cd3f8aa0a7743dbf86:disqus I don’t know how what I said disagrees with your statement. There are other ways to invest in a community besides owning a home. That said, I think the parish model that existed for nearly 2 millennia is a pretty good one. In fact, much our the current tax code effecting clergy assumes you live in a parsonage, right? 

      • bgrace88 May 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

         “Get over the excuses. (They are just obstacles) Until you live with the
        community you want to impact you’re just kidding yourself about making a
        lasting impact.”

        THIS is what disagrees with his statement.

        • Tony Vasinda May 21, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

          So adam is saying live “With” not “in”.  Not a contradiction or disagreement.  I live 8miles from my parish for the same reason. I still live with my community even if I do not live in it.

  2. Steven May 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Love everything you say. Of course I’ll take issue with your jabs at Christian Schools. Many of us at OCS live less than a mile from school support our local community and use our school to invest back in our direct and surrounding communities. Be careful of your generalizations about a world you are not part of.

    • Adam McLane May 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      I think  you’d agree that if a person was on a board for a school (public or private) that you’d expect them to have their kids in that school. 

      If I were a prospective parent for a school and the administrator said that he homeschooled… I’d be out of there. (Unless we’re talking about a handicap that required it. But the person I referenced above didn’t put his kids in school because he thought they’d be better educated at home!) 

      Likewise, if you’re an inner city pastor and you live in the suburbs? Yeah, you’re kidding yourself that you’re going to help that community. 

      • bgrace88 May 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

         What about people who don’t have children to put in the school? What if they’re already grown? Or, yeah, what if the school just stinks at educating? I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my children to help others. That principle found a way to love both his kids and the neighborhood children.

        I tutor at a school 20 minutes away from me rather than the one two minutes away. Why? Because someone connected me with the farther school and now I personally care about those kids. Yes, the other children live closer, but I don’t know them better than the kids I’m with now, and my goal is to see kids come to Christ and learn how to read. I don’t care what neighborhood they’re from.

        As far as your idea that an inner city pastor can’t live in the suburbs and be effective, that’s just… something you’ve made up. There are lots of effective pastors who live in towns other than the one their church is in. Prove me wrong.

        • Adam McLane May 16, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

          @7e8ab759770efd19c40257e780b0afb2:disqus “I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my children to help others. That principle found a way to love both his kids and the neighborhood children.” 

          So it’s OK to send my kids to school there, just not yours? Got it. Like I said… that tells me what the principal thinks of his work. If it’s not good enough for his own kids than it isn’t good enough for my kids. Any board worth its salt would fire him for a lack of leadership. 

          A leader takes people where they would otherwise not go on their own. If you aren’t invested in the thing you’re trying to change you’re just interested or its just a job. That doesn’t mean you can’t do good things, it’s just not the same as someone who is invested. When you own a piece of it, when you can’t walk away, when the only option is to make it better… then you can make change happen.

          There’s a whole lot of people masquerading as leaders in the Christian world. Sure, they built fan bases… but once you go around the block a few times you see that 6 months after they leave they didn’t make a lasting difference on a community. They just built a fan base that walked away as soon as the show ended. Jesus talks about this phenomenon in John 6. To paraphrase Jesus, “Unless you’ve got skin in the game you aren’t following me.” What happened in verse 66 when Jesus told them they needed skin in the game?

          I’m closing in on 36 years old. I want to not just talk about making an impact in my community, I want to have skin in the game. Come for a visit… I’ll show you churches where the pastor lives a few blocks away and they reach their neighborhood. Then I’ll show you churches where the staff all live 20-30 minutes away. Wanna know where those people come from to my neighborhood? The suburbs. Wanna know where they go the second church is over? The suburbs. Why is that happening? 

          • bgrace88 May 17, 2012 at 4:59 am #

            Schools are under more and more regulation from sources outside the actual school these days. It’s perfectly understandable that a principle, frustrated that his students are ignorant because they have to learn how to take a test–rather than just learn–would work to change things, but give his children a real education in the meantime.

            Besides your post wasn’t just against principles who don’t educate locally. It was against *anyone* who claims to care about his neighborhood and doesn’t educate locally. That cuts out every homeschool family that has ever volunteered their time. It doesn’t matter how many hours they *actually* invest by volunteering because they couldn’t possibly care.

            My frustration is not that you think “having skin in the game” is good. I agree with you. But I disagree that someone can’t be effective somewhere without following all your rules. And I would even say that plenty of people who *do* have skin in the game aren’t effective in their ministry because their heart isn’t right. (And could it be that their hearts aren’t right because they thought proximity would fix all their problems?)

            I just wish you weren’t so didactic because you’re cutting out a lot of good, effectively ministering people.

          • Adam McLane May 17, 2012 at 6:06 am #

            Actually, it’s just a principle. If I’m so didactic, why are you reading? 

            You’re probably reading your own life into my words or something. Your homeschool situation has nothing to do with a principal who works at a church but wouldn’t send his/her own kids to that school. That’s the difference between having the title of leader and actually being seen as a leader by the people. 

            Come to my neighborhood and I’ll show you the difference between caring and investing. Here’s one example.

            There’s a church who sends people over to the park 2-3 times per year to clear brush and repaint things. Last year they even partnered with the city to reseed a large area where people play soccer. It was cool and I’m glad they do that.

            But are they invested in the neighborhood? Nope. Do they show up and invest in relationships with the Sudanese refugees who use that field to play soccer? Do they hang out with the 200+ families who spend each Sunday there watching community-run, unofficial soccer leagues? 

            Nope. They don’t. 

            If they were here for the investment and truly cared, they’d befriend those people. They’d help run out the gangs who take it over every night. They’d do something about the 20 or so people who call that park home. 

            Because what do the people who use the park say about the church doing that? “Yeah, it’s cool. But they just want a nice place to have their picnic every year.”

            That’s the difference between hanging out with church people and hanging out with people who have no connection to the church. (And, there is a church plant which regularly meets in the same park, invests their lives in the people who use the park, and is doing more than painting and using a weed eater.) 

            The first step in getting to know your neighborhood is observing what’s really going on. That means intentionally stopping, spending extensive time listening and asking questions, etc. 

            If this is too didactic for you, I’m sorry. All I’m saying is there is a difference between doing some good and being Good News in the neighborhood. 

          • bgrace88 May 17, 2012 at 6:54 am #

             I agree that in your example, the second church is doing far more good. But that’s an issue of what they’re doing, not where they live. From what you said, it sounds like the first church is local, and yet they aren’t doing very much for the community. Obviously, having skin in the game didn’t affect anything. But, maybe they aren’t actually part of that specific neighborhood, so let me ask you this:

            Let’s say everyone from the first church lives in that area, but all they do is seed the park. Then we have another church, local, but not all its parishioners are local. Its own *pastor* isn’t even local. But God has given them a heart for this area, so they planted a church, and every Sunday, they hang with the soccer players. Throughout the week, the church doors are open, and members volunteer in various outreaches to help the community. Which church is doing more? And do you honestly believe that none of their ministry will last for the long-term?

            The truth is, as this second church grows, they WILL have people from that community because that’s where their new members will come from. But it’s not wrong that that growth had to begin–or even continues–with people who live somewhere else.

            There are apathetic people living in bad neighborhoods across America. Proximity does not automate fervency in ministry. Love does.

          • bgrace88 May 17, 2012 at 7:09 am #

            And I guess I should just state that I really don’t disagree that living in a community is a good thing. It’s just that I also know that it’s not the only effective and legitimate way to improve a community.

            I work with national missionaries, and it’s a very effective way of reaching people because those missionaries know the culture, language, and local religions and needs inside and out. My entire job is to tell people how effective the ministry is and what its benefits are over sending western missionaries.

            But here’s the thing: Does God still call western missionaries? Yes. Can those western missionaries have an effective ministry, even as those strange white people who don’t live like us? Yes. Are they kidding themselves about having a long-term impact if they don’t hail from Bangalore? No!

            You’ve found an effective form of ministry. So have I. But that doesn’t delegitimize everyone else who does things differently.

  3. bgrace = no grace May 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Alright. Who’s muddying the friggin waters here? 

    “A leader takes people where they would otherwise not go on their own. If you aren’t invested in the thing you’re trying to change you’re just interested or its just a job. That doesn’t mean you can’t do good things, it’s just not the same as someone who is invested. When you own a piece of it, when you can’t walk away, when the only option is to make it better… then you can make change happen.”Living in requires skin in. This takes on many forms, as Adam has previously said. The principle is just a single example, probably one that is pulled out of many. This is just one example. Just one. There are tons. The root issue here are pastors and so called leaders who say one thing and live another. Making obedient disciples first requires you to be an obedient disciple. Therefore, the person who so desires to change their church and community through missional relationships, yet lives aloof and distance is like a fart in the wind: here to speak the first note and blown away by the crappy modeled life they live. 

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