Missing the Moneyball

The movie Moneyball brought to light something that has happens in a lot of areas of our culture: We make decisions all the time based on information that doesn’t really impact the result we are trying to get.

Two examples from today’s newspaper:

  •  Only 80,000 jobs added in October, but unemployment rate drops. The unemployment rate is accurately measuring an old standard while missing a cultural shift. Think about all the people you know in the past 5 years who have gone from gainfully employed to gainfully self-employed. The unemployment rate doesn’t measure people who are starting their own business. I think if we measured that you’d be encouraged by economic growth.
  • Home building spent another year in the cellar. This is an economic indicator? New home starts? Sure, the population is growing a little bit every month and this implies new homes should be built to house them. Because that’s what I’d do, right? Wrong. People don’t get married and live in an apartment until they have a kid and build a house anymore. Our society isn’t that simple, maybe it never was. We should measure the homelessness rate instead. That’s what really matters.

Other examples from this weeks news:

  • A lesbian couple at Patrick Henry High School was elected homecoming king & queen. I’m not even sure why this is a national news item. I know adults have an unhealthy fascination with adolescent sexuality and their interest in particularly peaked in the seemingly new phenomenon of LGBT students on campus. But this is measuring the wrong thing. Here’s a school that is safe and supportive of all of its students. Since when is that a bad thing? And what does this story have anything to do with education? Here’s a newsflash: Most people under 25 are completely over culture wars. 
  • Bank of America Eliminates Plan for $5 Debit Card Fee. Do people who work at banks think this has anything to do with $5? What they should be reporting is a trust index. The light bulb has gone off and people have realized that a $200,000 mortgage, some credit cards, some home improvement loans, some school loans, and a car payment is completely stupid financially even though banks says “good for your credit rating.” The real win was for credit unions. Measure the growth of credit unions vs. the decline of traditional banking and you’ll have an interesting index.
  • NCAA stipend not a lean towards “pay-to-play. This is a classic cover-up to get you to measure the wrong thing. While you’re debating the ethics of giving college football and basketball players $2000 each to offset living expenses, you’ll never notice that ESPN is the quiet majority voice dictating the changing landscape of conference play. (And blocking a playoff in football. Did you know they own a lot of the bowl games?) They have you measuring the wrong thing.

What are some things in your life that are measured using an index that doesn’t really effect the outcome? 


The weird side of Christians and politics

Preamble: Understand in reading this post that I’m a swing voter and my #1 criteria for voting is, “Can this person lead in the role they are running for?” Side issues mean almost nothing to me in light of that one framing question.

I cringe when I hear evangelical Christians being grouped together as a block of voters for two reasons.

First, it’s a self-indicting judgement in how we view ourselves that we would only identify people with a certain political ideology when Jesus has commanded that we reach all people, all neighbors, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Second, many of the solutions to issues Christian seem to care about from established political parties have been proven to both not work in society; the people who are elected because of their viewpoints on single issues often come with baggage that is distinctly against Christian values.

Some examples: 

  • Gay marriage is no more an attack on my marriage than the billboard for no fault divorce I pass on my way to work. Actually, the guy with the handgun next door is far more dangerous to my marriage than the gay couple across the street. Violent crimes in America are way, way down versus 2 decades ago. But handgun sales are way, way up.
  • There are millions of children in this country brought here as children who went to school with our kids, who have said the pledge of allegiance every morning next to our kids, and who have dreams just like our kids. But because there is no pathway to becoming a legal resident they are stuck. I can think of no fathomable reason Christians don’t advocate for them. Those kids aren’t dangerous– their homeland, the United States of America, doesn’t love them back. It’s heart-breaking. We are all immigrants to this country. We should be advocates for the Dream Act.
  • Health care costs are killing people. Literally. People are dying because they can’t afford basic health care. And yet, doctors are reimbursed less now than 20 years ago. Privatized, for-profit health care coverage and agressive pharmaceutical companies built on 19th century patent laws are bankrupting our society while getting tax breaks on their profits from the government and distributing tiny dividends into your 401k. You can’t argue for both a balanced budget and decreases in corporate taxation. The same companies that caused this current economic crisis are continuing to profit from it while trying to shirk their most basic responsibilities as corporate citizens. That’s what happens when you let the wolves run the chicken coup. They think about eating meat tomorrow with no source for tomorrow’s eggs.

What’s the point? 
The point is this, you can’t be a single issue voter and think you’re part of the political process. These are complex problems and deserve our attention. We can’t walk into a voting booth, in good conscious, and cast a vote over abortion or gun control or tax reform or the economy and think that we’ve done our part.

Doing our part means getting involved at the local level. It means advocating for the sick and oppressed on your block. It means standing up for the powerless in your life.

When you get to know the people these things effect your perspective will change. When you get to know the gay couple across the street you’ll see that they love each other just like you love your spouse. When you get to know the crazy guy with the guns you’ll see that he has guns because he has deep-seeded fears that a gun can’t fix, a counselor can. When your kids best friend can’t get into college because he has no way to get a green card, it won’t be an issue it will be Joseph’s story. When your next door neighbor dies because she couldn’t afford the medicine anymore it won’t be a matter of corporate rights, it’ll be an injustice.

Doing our part and doing the right thing might mean not getting what we want or doing what we’re comfortable with all the time. When we take things out of the rhetoric of issues and get to know the people they effect, we’ll see our perspectives shaped by a deep desire to help.

Friends, we weren’t called into ministry just to love the people who show up at our church or whose kids show up to youth group.

We were called to a messy ministry of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Church Leadership management Manifesto

Business Models in the Church

We celebrate businesses acting more like ministries.

  • We love TOMS Shoes buy one give one mantra.
  • We adore that Chic-fil-A is closed on Sunday in observance of the sabbath.
  • We show all our friends that In-N-Out has bible verses stamped on the bottom of their cups.
  • We got teary eyed watching Undercover Boss when the CEO of Frontier got involved in a co-workers homeless ministry.
  • We love when businesses embrace a holy inefficiency for Kingdom impact.

If you hang out with ministry types, you’ll discover that they celebrate ministries who make their churches more like businesses.

  • Churches hire HR professionals.
  • Churches lay people off.
  • Churches acquire other churches.
  • Churches hire MBAs to be “Executive Pastors.”
  • Churches hire CPA’s to run their finance departments.
  • Churches hire advertising executives to run their marketing departments.
  • Churches have departments!
  • Churches have board rooms, safe rooms, and even war rooms.
  • We love when churches a mantra of efficiency.

The Problem

Churches acting more like businesses has lead to reaching less of the population. (Read more here and here.)

Businesses acting more like ministries has lead to those companies growing in a down economy. (Read more here and here.)

Statement of the Obvious

Why don’t we celebrate ministry leaders who just want their ministries more and more like a ministry?

Let’s embrace some holy inefficiency and grow the Kingdom!


Getting away from pendulum thinking

Our culture is dominated by pendulum thinking.

We have a tendency to think in extremes. There’s something in our cultural make-up which makes it difficult to think about minor corrections as we default to massive swings.

It’s “either or” thinking… and it drives me mad.

It’s been going on for a while. In fact, it is engrained in Western thinking.

An Example

Nearly a decade ago, I worked at an Evangelical Free Church in Northern California. Part of the job offer was that I would pursue ordination within the denomination. As I began the steps in that process I was assigned to read a series of books about the denominations history. I was shocked to discover that deeply engrained in the history of the denomination was a protest mentality from the fringes of the protestant reformation. The very word “free” in the denominations name was a protest against Scandinavian Lutheranism. They were free from Lutheranism! The Lutherans had a hierarchical structure, churches were interdependent and structured into synods. In response, the E-Free world had a lack of hierarchy. The Evangelical Free Church of America won’t even call themselves a denomination. They are a group of  autonomous bodies tied together by historical culture and common beliefs. (Er, that’s what a denomination is, isn’t it?) Lutherans had ornate churches so E-Free churches tried to make their buildings stark white and plain in protest. Lutheran churches had a problem with pastoral abuses so E-Free pastors have virtually no power in their congregations. On and on... so much of what made the Evangelical Free Church distinct was actually pendulum swings from their past life in Scandinavia. I’d set those books down and think, “Only by God’s grace could such a rebellious attitude reach lost people.

More Examples

  • A church replaces a highly relational pastor with one who prefers books to people.
  • A company used to sell gas guzzlers, but now they just sell hybrids.
  • A country goes from electing a very conservative president to a very liberal one.
  • A person retires, having lived in Cleveland their whole life, and moves to Costa Rica, sight unseen, for retirement.
  • A family hates pets their whole life and on a whim they buy 3 dogs.

Pendulum thinking is interesting, isn’t it? It assumes that the only way to change is to go from one extreme to another! We don’t live in a culture of nuanced differentiation– we live in one filled with extremes.

In all likelihood the change you are looking for, the growth in your organization, the new product that will balance your budget, the educational principle that will revolutionize your classroom, and even the happiness you seek is not going to be found in the extremes.

One pendulum swing just leads to another.

What you are probably looking for is just a little bit to the left or the right.

Books Culture garden Manifesto

Why Americans are Going Local

Yesterday Kristen and I listened to an author, Andrew Potter, describe the American movement towards all things local and eco-friendly as conspicuous consumption.

It felt like an elitist slap in the face.

His book is called, The Authenticity Hoax. (I’ve not read it) You can see the transcript to the Marketplace segment, “The new holier than thou” here.

Basically, the author claimed that the real reason why Americans are going to farmers markets, growing their own food, shopping at locally owned business, and otherwise supporting their local economy is really to show off our wealth publicly. The entire tone of the interview seemed to mock and misrepresent a major shift in public opinion. (For a more reasonable interpretation of the same movement, check out this link in Business Week.)

I couldn’t help but wonder if the author was just a tool or if he was a corporate tool who didn’t understand how inverse relationships work? As people’s distrust in “global” increases, their trust in “local” increases proportionally.

Some examples of inverse relationships in the going local trend

  1. We are social creatures. With access to worldwide communication, its a natural human reaction to seek out local connections. People going local is an inverse relationship to a global society.
  2. Micro-economics makes sense. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand that if I choose going to a local eatery vs. McDonald’s more of my money stays in my community. People eating locally is an inverse relationship to a global economy.
  3. The general public is coming to understand that our food chain is under-regulated and unsafe. As I’ve written about before, thanks to some great documentaries the general public is now aware that corporations are more concerned with profit than public health. People growing their own food is an inverse relationship to a global, unregulated food supply chain.
  4. The food decision wheel is turning more quickly. Each time there is a flaw in the food chain it just emphasized what the general public is thinking already. Bad eggs leads to “I need to buy my eggs from a farmer I can trust.” Now that people understand that most of our corn products are genetically-modified, people are starting to look for products containing no corn product. Every bad news story about food spins the wheel a little faster for people and centrifugal force is tough to fight for long. People trusting local farmers is an inverse relationship to a distrust of mega-farmers.
  5. Conspicuous corruption leads to local consumption. Look at the case of “special foreclosure courts” being set up in Florida to supersede constitutional rights in favor of corporations making a quick buck. This isn’t some conspiracy theorist… it’s the New York Times! Apparently the 7th amendment isn’t the law when courts are busy? No one in their right mind would trust that the government will rule in favor of a common citizen right now. So, people are investing their money in local businesses and things they know they can understand and trust. People investing in local banks is an inverse relationship to our distrust of a global banking society and the governmental corruption it has inspired.

What are other examples of inverse relationships that are leading more and more of us to go local?

Do you think that the shift to local really is conspicuous consumption? Is this just yuppies finding new ways to show off?

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts Manifesto

Two views of the local church


There are two sides to every coin, aren’t there? I’ve had this post stuck in my head for several weeks– and I think the illustration says it all.

Church leaders: Complacency sneaks in. We surround ourselves with people who go to church. We spend a lot of our time at the church. Our perspective becomes that the community revolves around activities at the church. Pretty soon we become ambivelent about the neighborhood we live in. Our schedule is defined on what’s convenient to those who come to church. Our agenda becomes to serve them.

We perceive our ministry as a “city on a hill” when in fact the people living in our neighborhood are completely unaware of our existence. Before we know it, we are so comfortable with our programs, budgets, staff, and people who come to church we forget reality.

The reality is that in most communities about 5% of the population attends a church. And yet we are comforable with that. Go ahead do the math yourself. Spend 30 minutes calling every church in your community and get actual attendence numbers. Next, simply divide that number by the population of your community. In most places that number is 5% or less of people who attend church on any given weekend. And we all know that just because someone attends church on Sunday doesn’t mean they are Christians, right?

Why not take some time to get to know how 95% of the population views your church? Think of it like this. Count the next 20 cars that drive past your house. Only the 20th car will attend a church this weekend. In the illustration above there are 18 houses in view of that church. And none of them will attend that church this weekend. If your theology is like mine, you recognize that Jesus died for all 20 of the people in those cars and all 18 of the people who live in those houses. But who is our ministry serving? The 5% who show up. Most of our money and time is spent serving Jesus from the perspective of the 5% and not the 95%.

That perspective should change things. 1 in 20 people will attend church this weekend. Any church. Even that church that is so bad you won’t even meet with the pastor to pray.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. Romans 12:3, The Message

And yet church leaders reassure themselves that numbers don’t matter! This is the state of the church and people say we don’t need to fundamentally change how we do ministry. We worry about offending the 5%. We worry about changing too much too fast while our sworn enemy puts up victory statues all over. We follow leaders who look at this reality, shrug their shoulders, and move on with their lives. We go to denominiational meetings which agree to spend more money on organizations which are smaller every year. In short, we invest all of our time and energy in a broken model.

And then when someone really breaks through. And that community reaches 6% of the population so we flock to hear how they did it? Got a book? Teach a seminar? Our perspective is jacked up, isn’t it?

New leaders are needed. I dream of church leaders coming to the forefront who are drastically interested in the 95%. I long to surround myself with leaders who keep the 5% in perspective. We celebrate those lives changed! But I want to be with men and women who think differently. Where are the leaders who look at those 5% as just the beginning? Where are the people who recognize that a model cannot be built around an individuals talents? Where are the leaders who know they need to start a swarming movement?

Point me to those people. I am tired of those who are satisfied with the failure of 5%.