Church Leadership

Lessons from the Cloud

I have a fundamental belief that the problems we experience in church leadership are technologically based. It’s not that we have the wrong mission or wrong people, it’s often that we are working on the wrong technologies. (Programs, agendas, projects)

You might not see the connections between this presentation and your church. But the parallels are stunning. 

  • Just like at this company, there are lots of committees and their agendas at play.
  • Just like this company, we have legacy programs which are expensive to maintain.
  • Just like this company, there are people who work at your church doing things deemed mission critical that aren’t actually critical to the mission of the church.

A grocery store company isn’t in the IT business any more than a church is in the building maintenance business. Contextualize that for your church. There are lots of things that each church does which are deemed mission critical but aren’t actually critical to the mission of the church.

Yet, when we talk about foundational changes in the church, getting back to the core mission, there’s tons of fear internally. Fear is what stops all change. Fear is what stops all dreaming.

Here’s what we learn from this talk that transfers right into the church.

  1. Different people buy into change for different reasons. The CFO wants to hear you’ll save money. The user wants to know you’re making their life better. Fiefdom owners want to know their fiefs are respected.
  2. End-users are wondering what’s taking you so long.
  3. The hardest shift is within the staff, it’s all about control.
  4. Continuous improvement is an expectation of the end user, even old people. And it changes the culture of the staff.
  5. Spend the time not on making changes but on change management. The changes themselves can happen quite quickly.
  6. Real-time collaboration is a better learning and leadership tool than presentations. (Though presentations still have a place.)
  7. Changing the focus back to our core mission helps the whole organization dream about new ways to live out the mission. Thousands of brains and hearts focused on the same thing is so much more powerful than a handful of leaders guiding the mission.

Left alone, you are weird

Our society celebrates the lone wolf. We have a unique ability to pin the success or failure of a group effort on an individual.

  • Drew Brees led his team to a win.
  • All Stephen Spielberg films are brilliant.
  • Thomas Edison invented thousands of things.
  • Barak Obama is the most powerful leader in the world.
  • Bill Hybels leads Willow Creek Community Church.
  • Katy Perry is an amazing performer.

In all of those cases we celebrate an individual who has become the figurehead of a much larger effort.

Deep in each of those statements is a cultural lie. As we idolize those individuals and aspire to become them we look past the reality that none of them is a lone wolf, but we see that in order to get to those positions of “respect” we need to act alone.

Video games and smart phones

The posture of the individual

We’ve grown up celebrating the first person perspective. When Duke Nukem came on the market in the mid-1990s it revolutionized the video game experience because you, the player, became Rambo. Instead of looking at a strategy game from a 3rd person perspective they put you in the 3D world of first person.

Thousands of hours of acting as the lone wolf behind first-person shooters sends a powerful psychological lie to your brain, retraining it to believe that you can best control your destiny alone.

If there’s anything disturbing about today’s smart phone craze, it’s the new posture we take in public settings. While it was once considered anti-social behavior to seek isolation in a crowd, we are now a crowd of isolated humans staring at our phones. The flickering pixels in our pockets are more alluring than the real world around us.

These devices aren’t just statements of convenience or entertainment, they reflect a great cultural reference to the first-person perspective.

A call from individualism to communion

We don't celebrate individualism, we celebrate communion

As a Christian I know that individualism is the enemy of communion.

Communion is a powerful technology that changes everything.

While our culture celebrates and romantacizes the lone wolf, Jesus calls us into something greater. It’s reflected back to the Garden of Eden. God looked at his creation and one by one said, “It’s good.” But when he looked at the man, who was alone, he said “It’s not good for man to be alone.” So he made woman. We are so hardwired to think about the sex part of that statement or even the idea that God made a helper (completer) for Adam that we miss the first part… it’s not good for man to be alone.

Satan wants you alone. He wants to convince you that you are better off acting as a lone wolf. He whispers in your ear– “You don’t need them. You want to change the world, do it your way.

Satan’s technology is getting you alone where you are vulnerable. God’s technology is communion, where you are never alone.

Jesus’ life calls you and I into communion. We don’t merely take communion as a representation of our 1-1 relationship with God. We take communion as a representation of our 1 billion – 1 relationship with God. We actually don’t take communion… we ingest it as a rejection of Satan’s technology of the lone wolf and exchange it for God’s technology of communion.

When we stand, in communion, with a billion other believers we are an unbelievable force for change. We have the power to make a busted world right.

That’s why we share communion in community. You simply can’t do communion alone, it’s impossible.

Jesus isn’t calling you or I to merely take communion in remembrance of what He did. He is calling you and I to live communion together.

social media

New is dangerous, old is noble

The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring.  ~Warren Chappell (1904-1991)

I find that people have a curious attitude towards new ways of doing things.

If I were to tell you that part of my job is to remain informed by reading journals on the study of adolescence, magazines to keep up with the latest trends in adolescent culture, network with youth workers around the world to hear what’s going on in the field of youth ministry, and read book after book of youth ministry training materials… you’d likely have a noble attitude towards my lifestyle.

Wow, Adam McLane is a well-read, well-informed guy.

But if I were to tell you that I do all of that sitting in front of a computer all day, reading dozens of blog posts, networking with people on Twitter and Facebook, and reading hundreds of pages of stuff every day to find the very best stuff out there.

Oh, Adam McLane is addicted to the internet. [Make ugly, judgmental face]

People’s attitudes towards acquiring news information and reading.

6 hours of sitting and reading a book or digesting the latest newspaper = noble use of time.

6 hours of sitting and reading online or digesting the latest news online = evil use of time.

The same could be said of people’s attitudes towards mobile devices.

6 hours of sitting behind a desk pushing paperwork around = noble use of time.

6 hours of actively doing stuff in the field with 30-40 minutes of time away from that to send emails or communicating with co-workers = evil use of time.

The same could be said about interacting with ones friends.

I either see or call all of my friends nearly every day = noble use of time & energy.

I connect or exchange messages with all of my friends nearly every day on either Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging = evil use of time & energy.

What’s the point?

I find it disturbing that people say, “You need to manage your time online or with your mobile device. You are probably addicted.” But you will never hear someone say, “Pray for Adam, he’s addicted to reading books. Holy cow, he sits and listens to his friends way too much. I think he is addicted. He’s a communication-aholic.”

I’m not saying that there aren’t times when I’m horribly out-of-balance or that I’m somehow really perfect. (Because I’m actually quite messed up.)

What I am saying is that people have had negative attitudes towards people who do things in new or innovative ways for as long people have invented stuff.

Several thousand years ago there were probably people challenging villagers to not use this new thing called a “bridge” too much or you’d get addicted to it and not really appreciate walking around the canyon or wading through the icy river.

It’s always been this way.

Old is noble.

New is dangerous.

Video Clip Web/Tech

You Will (AT&T ads from 1993)

Intrigues the conspiracy theorist in me. Imagine how smart I would be if I could go back and make a commercial that everyone thinks they saw 30 years ago predicting everything we are currently doing.

Good idea?

HT to Gavin

youth ministry

Interview with Youth Worker Journal

That's me in the photo. That's what my back yard looks like. I only wear the wig on weekends.

A few months back I was contacted by Jennifer Bradbury at Youth Worker Journal about doing an interview on teens & technology. I’ve done a number of articles for Immerse, but this was the first thing I’ve done for YWJ, and it was fun for me. When the arrived at the YS offices I made sure everyone saw that my name was on the cover… and no one cared. My own children just kind of shrugged their shoulders. I’m big time in my own mind and I suppose that’s all that matters. Megan, my 9 year old, told me that I wasn’t a big deal unless I did a book signing at Barnes & Nobles. At least I have that to shoot for now.

Also in this panel discussion were 3 smarter people than I. Shane Hipps, (Mars Hill, Grand Rapids) Mark Bauerlein, (Emory University) and Peggy Kendall. (Bethel University)

Here’s my portion of the interview. Read the others responses here. I’d love your thoughts in the comments.

YouthWorker Journal: How is technology shaping young people’s spiritual lives?

Adam McLane: Technology always has shaped spiritual lives. What we’ve seen has been a change in devices that’s affected how people grow spiritually. People are involved in conversations via texts and Facebook that have devalued the interpersonal relationship.

YWJ: Which aspects of technology are most important to teens?

Adam: As they look for their own identities, teenagers tend to be attracted to things they can personalize—Twitter, My Space, Facebook. Those become extensions of their personalities.

YWJ: How do Facebook and social networking influence teens’ understanding of their identity?

Adam: It feeds our nature to self-gratify. Adolescents hunger to find out who they are from a third person perspective. Social networking gives them a false perspective. People are flippant on Facebook. It’s hard to distinguish between a compliment and what’s sarcastic.

YWJ: How does the information that teens have access to through technology impact their understanding of authority?

Adam: We should train students constantly to question authority in respectful ways. Technology allows truth to be validated because students can look it up.

YWJ: If much of technology results in instant gratification, how can we teach kids the value of waiting?

Adam: We have no concept of perseverance or what it means to wait. We get upset when we can’t access the information we want right now. This definitely affects how we process things spiritually—in a bad way. Youth workers and parents need to teach kids to be patient by teaching self-discipline.

YWJ: How can youth workers use technology to minister to teens?

Adam: I’m an old school youth minister, trained to do contact ministry. Go where kids are. Engage kids on Facebook and by text because that’s where they are.

YWJ: What else should we know?

Adam: The church always labels new things as the enemy. Today, it’s Facebook. Tomorrow, it’ll be something new. However, technology is never the enemy. The fact that people are talking about the church online—in positive and negative ways—is good.


Work in the Cloud

Storing important files locally is so 2008.

I don’t need Microsoft Office anymore. Actually, I’ve used it decreasingly less for a few years now. Instead, I use Google docs for that. (Or Evernote on my iPhone.) The first thing group of editors do when they receive a new article for Upload it to Google docs. When they are ready to share it, they don’t have to email it, they just share it and everyone on the team has it. When I need to write some copy on the fly, I just open a Google doc, invite a collaborator, and start writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been writing a paragraph ahead of someone who is editing. I finish writing the copy and 30 seconds later its edited and ready to go out.

I don’t need a server at work anymore. If you opened up my personal folder from work you’d only find a few old back-ups. Why store stuff there and go through the awkwardness of connecting to a VPN when I can access it anywhere using Dropbox? As long as I have an internet connection my office is accessible. My file cabinets are mostly for show. Well, I hide gear in them. But no file folders. If I need it, I scan it and save it in the cloud.

Photo by zarprey via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Speaking of Dropbox, when I’m making stuff for McLane Creative, I just ask anyone else on the team to save their stuff on a shared Dropbox folder instead of on their computer. Dropbox installs on a Mac just like a folder… so that’s a snap. No more “can you email me the logo” stuff… everything from the entire project is right there. They make a change, everyone already has it. They want the creative brief? Done.

I’m looking forward to more and more of my creative desktop applications moving towards the cloud. I don’t know that I’d like to be 100% dependent on a solid internet connection for everything I do with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, and Final Cut. But it would be pretty sweet to have the option of working off of a cloud-based drive and thinking about replacing the full version of them with a cloud-based version.

But with Amazon’s S3 getting cheaper and now Google docs getting in the cloud storage gameyou can see we’re headed there.

Why on earth would a start-up company buy a physical server (with ridiculous hardware and software costs at your scale) when they can store everything in the cloud for $.14/gb per month? I know I wouldn’t. And IT guys who flap their gums about security? They need to adapt their game. You’ll only be able to convince execs of those lies for so long. Remember IT guys capitalized on the Y2K lie, too.


Change as Technology

I love to track changes in technology. I can’t help looking my sons Nintendo DS, his prize possession, and remember what it was like when I received by Nintento Gameboy back in the day.

If you are anything like me you are also infatuated with tracking these changes. It doesn’t matter what you are into– computers, television shows, sewing machines– you can look back and remark on changes to the technology you love.

One of my favorite past times is talking about the change technology cycle.

But do we stop to think and think of change as a technology itself?

Wait… did you catch that?

Change is a technology. Absolutely.

Philosophically speaking we believe in change. Our society conveys it and our science confirms it. Change is necessary.

  • Change means innovative.
  • Change means keeping ahead, keeping fresh.
  • Change means alive.
  • Change means evolving.
  • Change means refinement.
  • Change means you are fighting against the effects of entropy.

Does it actually mean those things? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But we almost always believe change is either good or bad.

When we look at change as a technology we gain the ability to zoom out the lens and examine the underlying currents, reasoning, and relationships which change creates. When we see change as technology we are able to recognize where we’ve been, why we are where we are now, and potentially what will come next.

Church Leadership

Multi-Generational Communication

multi-generationWhen I was in New Jersey, I had an intriguing conversation about communicating to multiple generations during the Sunday morning sermon. Kristen’s uncle, Fred Provencher, is a senior leader and one smart cookie. I loved this conversation on a lot of fronts. Fred is a great communicator, he is a great pastor, and yet he is doing bucketloads of research to try to figure out… “How do I become a better communicator and pass on some best practices to others?” How many senior leaders are really wrestling with this? I think most feel that their messages aren’t that effective, but very few will actually take the time to learn why and how to fix it.

The task is nearly impossible!

When I was on staff at a church we always had this feeling that Sunday was-a-coming. Like clockwork. It was always in front of you like a ticking time bomb. The local preacher has to prepare 50 messages a year, keep the attention of loads of different communication preferences, evaluate the effectiveness of last weeks message, prepare this weeks message, begin planning for stuff 6 weeks out so the worship team is can prepare, on and on. On top of all of that the preacher must try to factor in a way to communicate to builders, boomers, and all the rest of the generations… all of whom have strong preferences for how the sermon should be delivered. You can see why some teaching pastors just give up and do what their talents and preferences dictate. Which is why I’m so excited for Fred’s research.

The task is wholly necessary!

For 2000 years the Sunday morning sermon has been the primary communication tool of the church to the church body. Going forward I think it’d be hard to argue that the sermon will be less important in the future. The real question is, will it be as effective in leading the church going forward as it has been to date? Or will it fade into a tradition we do but see little fruit from?

It’s about technology!

The sermon is not about video, audio, big screens, dramas, special music, or even a talented speaker. But it is about finding the right technology for each audience. A communication style is a technology. Adapting to your context is a technology. The words you use to convey biblical truth are technology. The Bible is the content and the technology is how the communicator delivers that content.

Context, context, context

As I think about this I think about it as 3 contexts.

Context of where you are: If your church is in suburbia and your audience is hooked on Facebook, YouTube, and are business people I’d think that you’d want to communicate differently than the church I go to which is mostly working class poor. I’m always shocked to see people emulating the communication styles and technologies of churches that just don’t fit the local context in which the church operates. That’s why Erwin McManus’s stuff is so powerful in his context but falls flat in other places. In the context and shadow of Hollywood, storytelling and visual arts are powerful technologies. I don’t think that would fly in rural Kansas.

Context of the passage: I’ve been shocked to see misuse of technology in relation to the passage of Scripture the preacher is teaching. How can you teach the beatitudes… blessed are the poor, blessed are the meak… while using a $100,000 A/V system and by hiring professional actors to do a skit? Sometimes we get so worried about being hip and relevant that we actually offend the context of what we’re trying to teach. Imagine you are a working-class poor person attending a service that is supposedly teaching me that its OK to be poor. How can I undertand that message in a $20 million building from a pastor who makes $100,000 more than me! Sometimes we forget to look at the context of the passage through the lens of the the technology we use to deliver it.

Context of who you are: Another shocker is seeing a communicator try to go outside of themselves. I’ve seen communicators put on a public persona or try to communicate in a fashion that just isn’t them. We visited a church in which a very type A, direct and to the point preacher tried to close his message with an artsy prayer experience. He fumbled through the instructions. He felt awkward telling people to get up. And he never stopped talking while people were supposed to be praying. The biggest thing a preacher should do is to be who they are. If you are hip, be hip. If you are a nerd, be a nerd. If you are artsy, show us. But if you can’t send an email don’t try to tell us you found this video on YouTube. When you do things that are out of context for you, it doesn’t matter if it was done to appease a generational expectation.. it just makes you look stupid.

It matters who you are the other 6 days.

The Sunday morning sermon is important. But it is validated by who you are when you aren’t preaching. Otherwise, they are just words. We live in a high expectation, low trust world. The true measure of your Sunday morning words must be lived out through your actions. That communicates to every generation that your message is worth listening to.

Funny Stuff

Telecommunications in the 1990s

This video is part of an elaborate hoax. Allegedly, it’s from a British video series from the 1960s about the future. There’s just a little too much social commentary in there to be believable. But it is pretty funny. And I can see how a lot of people could be fooled!

hmm... thoughts Music

Loop Artist

Not only is it cool how this artist creates his craft, I think his message matches the theme of this blog.

It is possible…