Church Leadership Politics

5 Things Church Communicators Can Learn from Michelle Obama’s DNC Speech

I don’t know if you watched Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention live or not. I wasn’t planning to watch it but kind of got sucked in during the speech by the mayor of San Antonio.

If you haven’t seen it, allow me to encourage you to watch it above.

What I saw the best political speech I might ever see in my lifetime.Which is saying something, because her husband has had some epic moments during the 2008 campaign. Anyone remember 1 million people showing up at Grant Park in Chicago? I mean Clint Eastwood says he cried. There are reports that Chuck Norris gave up round house kicks to the throat because of Barack’s speech there.

The speech above is amazing in a lot of ways. But, the real question for my fellow church leaders is… what can we learn from Michelle’s speech?

Here’s 5 lessons: 

  1. She was set-up well. The content of her speech was clearly part of the script for the night. Previous speakers didn’t hint at the content of her talk or step on her themes, they didn’t package a video intro highlighting the key words to listen for, etc. The video intro and the introduction set-up the audience for what they were about to hear. Lesson: Don’t make your services so thematic that the sermon doesn’t reveal something. If you are producing services in a theatrical manner (auditorium, stage, lighting, etc) than use that to your advantage. I can’t tell you how many times the person introducing the sermon has said, “the pastor is about to talk about ____.” I mean, really? Don’t do that! 
  2. She was prepared well. Trust me, this wasn’t a speech she practiced twice on Wednesday morning and then said, “I’m good.” That speech was a team effort. She knew where the cameras were, she knew where he emotive points were, she knew which lines were instant Twitter gold, and she was familiar enough with the content of the speech to get past forced gestures and have the whole thing come off as straight from the heart. That only comes when you really, really know your material. Lesson: Too many pastors depend on talent/experience, foregoing the positive impact of practice and preparation. If you are working on this weekend’s sermon this week, you’re not going to get that response. And if you are creating sermons in a vacuum, even with just your staff, you aren’t going to get that response. Prepare more for a better response.
  3. She stayed within herself. She spoke within a framework that her audience expects of her. Clearly, her speech was political as she tied her families story to the story of millions of Americans in contrast to her husband’s blue blood opponent. But she didn’t get into issues or stomp the stump. She played her part, she was an expert character witness, and you never felt like she was stretching to become believable. Lesson: One of the things I really like about our pastor is that he stays within what he knows well. Too often, I hear pastors preaching things they know little about. You are left to think… “Wait, what does he know about counseling… he has an MDiv, he’s not a licensed therapist.” When you get outside of what you know you start to look real dumb, real fast. If you need an element for something, bring in an expert or use a video. 
  4. She was centrist. For years I’ve talked about the 1-5-10 rule of content creation. Negative content gets a 5 times multiplier versus normal content. But truly remarkable content gets a 10 times multiplier. She didn’t get 28,000 tweets per minute by being negative. She got the massive response by telling a story every person in the room could identify with. Lesson: I’ve heard from pastors who say they preach in response to what’s happening in their congregation. Um, responding isn’t leadership. Leaders take people where they would not go by themselves. Remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE. If you are preaching to the choir than you are limiting your potential impact. Instead of aiming your ministry at the top 15% or the bottom 15% of the learning curve, aim for the middle 70% to maximize. 
  5. She was inspirational. Her speech reminded people that the American Dream is not just about financial success. (Certainly, the Obama’s are no longer poor.) Her speech took the audience somewhere. It started as the Obama’s story and morphed from personal pronouns of “my story” to our shared journey of “our story.” You were left not just cheering for the Obama’s but also for yourself. That’s impressive. Lesson: Take your audience somewhere. Help them see that their life with Jesus can add perspective, meaning, and purpose to their lives. Stop talking about the dreams of the individual and move people towards the dreams we can fulfill as a community of believers. I don’t want to  go to the mountaintop alone– I want to go with us. 
parenting Politics

So here’s the deal

In the dog days of summer, Washington D.C. is in the hottest place on earth.

This morning the Supreme Court issued their ruling upholding the major points of the Affordable Healthcare Act. (read the ruling, keep up with the New York Times live blog if your heart can handle it.)

By the end of the day both sides will claim victory. Both presidential candidates will make statements. Polls will be taken. Extremists will parade in front of cameras.

God bless America. (Said in a cynical tone.)

Here’s the deal. This isn’t the America I want to live in. This isn’t the America I want my kids dreaming about. This isn’t the America I read about in history books and biographies. United we stand, divided we fall.

Until we decide to unite, we are falling. It’s not the economies fault. It our fault. When we decide we, the people, will move forward. But right now we are stuck in inward-focused circles of bandaid application.

That said, I’m thankful that the courts are stepping in, pulling away from the politics far enough to help us move forward. I actually see today as an amazing day for those with aspirational goals in the legal field. (With the Jerry Sandusky decision last week it’s been a very big 7 days for the courts.) I am intrigued that Bush’s choice for Chief Justice sided with more liberal appointees. I think it shows the strength of Bush’s choice.

I’m tired of the divisions. I’ve got no pride or allegiance to a party. It’s not that I’m unwilling. It’s that I’m bored of it. Division doesn’t get me nearly as excited as forward progress.

I’m not naive. I know politics are brutal. But I don’t think our future as a nation lies in having elected officials stand opposed on everything just for the sake of standing opposed to every view. In this case the irony is really delicious. Obama passed a version of Romney’s law. So Republicans loved it when the conservative governor passed the law in a liberal state. But when the President passed Romney’s law at the federal level it became a liberal against conservative thing. Romney, the original author of the bill, had to stand opposed to his own idea for the sake of winning his parties nomination.

Republicans were for the Affordable Healthcare Act until Democrats were for it. Then they stumbled all over themselves throughout the primaries trying to convince everyone they were against it, and were always against it, even when they were for it in Massachusetts.

That’s what I mean. We need to stop disagreeing simply  for the sake of disagreement. We, the people, aren’t stupid. We hold this truth to be self-evident: Politicians will say whatever it takes to get lobbyists to write them checks. 

But this check of disagreement is being cashed by people like you and me. Both parties are guilty for the game is no longer Republicans vs. Democrats, but rich vs. poor. National politics has become the rich man’s WWE where both parties put on a show for the sake of getting the redneck’s inside the belt to write them checks.

Again, this isn’t my dream for our country. This isn’t the dream I want my children to aspire to.

I want my kids to see that two people who disagree can come together and make a joint decision for the good of others. Just like mom and dad make compromise after compromise for the sake of our family, I want them to know that compromise is a virtue.

This carries over directly to our faith, doesn’t it? I love that my kids are growing up in a home where mom and dad try to hold loosely to their personal convictions for the sake of the body of Christ. How pathetic would the Gospel be if we only worshipped with people we got along with? How pathetic would it be to only hang out with, be influenced by, and study things from a single perspective. Yes, we are conservative evangelicals. That’s who we are. But we make the conscious, hopeful choice to identify ourselves with Christ more than we identify ourselves with a theological heritage.

For the record: I’m in favor of a nationalized health care system. I’d like to see it illegal for drug companies to market to the public. And I  think all insurance companies should be not-for-profit, like the BlueCross system started as in the 1960s. So I’m not pumped about the decision today because I feel like it’s not the reform that is  truly needed.

Photo credit: Tosh at SCOTUS by Mark Trimble via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Taxation by Density

Last week the town of Buford, Wyoming was sold for $900,000. For that price they got an exit from the highway, a small business, some land, and a zip code. With the towns sole resident moving to Colorado… it’s safe to say Buford wasn’t purchased for it’s strong tax base.

The idea that you could buy a whole zip code or even an entire island in this country for the right price got me thinking about our income tax code. There’s a lot of talk about a flat tax or even a minimum tax for the super rich. We all want something that’s fair, and truth be told, we all want to pay as little as possible while reaping massive benefits when we want them.

In reality, we have a system that is exactly like the airline industries baggage fees. We are rewarding people for bad behavior. Airlines charge for bags which forces everyone to cram as much into their carry-on as possible. Then the airlines and passengers complain about overhead baggage space? If they wanted less overhead baggage space they’d make it free to check bags and charge $10 per item for carry-on. Duh.

It’s the same thing with our income tax system. We reward people with deductions for doing things they wouldn’t naturally do just to lower their tax rate.

But what if your tax rate was based solely on where you lived? What if we rewarded people who chose to live in less desirable places with paying the lowest federal income taxes while people who lived places highly desirable or overpopulated paid higher taxes? I mean, if you’re a bagillionaire and you want to pay 10% income taxes… maybe you should live in Yuma, Arizona? But if you want to live on 5th Avenue in a mega-penthouse, that’ll cost you at least 35%.

That way the rich can keep getting richer. They just have to make the holes of America a bit more fabulous.