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Book Review: Between Heaven & the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman

Steven Curtis Chapman tells his story of faith, music and life with an incredible honesty that challenges the reader in so many ways. I confess I have not read many autobiographies, and am not very knowledgeable about the professional music industry. Nonetheless, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for any person seeking to an interesting narrative about an artist/musician. He shares with openness about the challenges of life, marriage, and family for a performer, and handling the highs and lows of it all. If you are a fan of music, especially Christian music, this is a compelling and challenging book.

Admittedly, the opening chapters detailing Chapman`s growing up years, seem to contain a little too much detail. However, as the book continues, these details are important and referred back to frequently. As Chapman marries his college sweetheart, Mary Beth, and they begin to face the challenges of marriage and an increasingly public music platform. Then as children come along, these challenges multiply along with Chapman’s appeal and recognitions. The Chapmans adoption journey adds yet another uniqueness to their story and makes for more interesting challenges and opportunities.

Throughout the book, Chapman thoughtfully and with a powerful mix of vulnerability and clarity, shares his heart and faith. He has you laughing sometimes and crying at other times as he shares his life and faith journey.

I recommend this book highly!

To purchase this book, go to Steven Curtis Chapman’s website or Amazon.ca

Note: This book was provided at no cost to the reviewer by Graf-Martin Publications and Revell Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

Unique or Out of touch?

Recently we attended a presentation when a school division representative  proudly claimed, “We are the only school division in Canada that offers [such-and-such] program.” Wow! For a fairly small, rural school division in Alberta to be the “only one in Canada” sounded quite extraordinary!

traditional dorm pictureAnd then I stopped to think for a minute: I would never send my child to [such-and-such] a program. Maybe its unique because the program style has gone the way of the type-writer, last seen heading for the junk yard.

Maybe its not a unique program at all. Maybe its a program that is out of touch with the realities of the 21st century?

I have heard organizations of many types make such bold claims. Maybe your organization offers a unique program? Your restaurant offers special menu options? Your educational institution offers a one-of-a-kind program? Your church offers a “nobody else has one like it” ministry?

And maybe your “special” is actually not that special at all. Its just old-fashioned and every one else has realized it… except you.

How can you tell if you are truly unique or actually out-of-touch?

Are there any clients?
Numbers may not tell the whole story, but they are often pretty good indicators. If you market your program to as many people as possible and you still only get 10-20 subscribers, it might be that your niche market is quite small. And maybe the number of people interested in your concept is fading rapidly. If the number of inquirers remains high but the number of buyers is down, this may point to another issue.

However, if the number of inquirers is consistently down, even after you’ve reached out to multiple markets, its possible you are marketing a product that is not on people’s want list. Almost every idea has a shelf-life and your product/service may be at the end. If your once popular offering is no longer that popular – and especially if others have ceased offering the program – to the point that you are the only supplier, it may be time to read the handwriting on the all that says O-V-E-R.

What is the age of the clients?
Unrelated to our first meeting, we also attended an presentation by a group of college students. They did a very nice job with their program… but it was only enjoyable if you were in the over 65 crowd. If a college student asked their grandparents where they should attend college, this school might receive a hearty recommendation.

However, if anyone under the age of 50 was asked, the report would say this college appeared to still be preparing students for life/work in the 1970’s. I would not recommend any young adult go there for their next step after high school, based on the students’ presentation.

If your clients are getting older and you are not attracting new and younger clients, your product/service appears to be on the way out. You either need to change your product, significantly update your product – if that is even possible – or close up shop kindly so that you are not the last provider. Unless of course, you want to proudly claim you are the only one offering the completely irrelevant service!

What is the mindset of the client?
It is partly an age issue, but even moreso is a mindset (or worldview) issue. Some programs were attractive 20 or 40 years ago because of certain social and/or political contexts. However, in an increasingly globalized world, the issues, concerns and opportunities are much different. Technology has made everything more available and accessible and people can be geographically spread out and yet talk face-to-face. If you don’t believe me, consider reading my post on Communicating and “new” Technology).

Technological changes have impacted social and relational changes. Because of the globalized world we live in today, a different mindset has changed the nature and even existence of many businesses. (Hello Kodak!)

Ask a group of millenials or GenerationZ to participate in your service/product. See how they respond and react to what you are offering. You might not like their feedback, but it probably will tell you if the product/service you are offering is truly unique – and worth offering – or out-of-touch. At the very least, you’ll have a better understanding of the younger generations mindset and the characteristics they value in a product or service.

Do you remember Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity?
Do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Maybe your program is amazingly unique! Or maybe its horrifyingly out-of-touch.
The truth might be painful to hear, but it will be much more painful to live.

Book Review – Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman

Kyle Idleman understands your question: “Do we really need another book about grace?” Rather than explain the concept theologically, he sets forth to write an easy-to-read book telling about the experience of grace. With his sharp wit (including a bit of sarcasm) and succinct writing, he accomplishes this goal and has the reader laughing one moment and then near tears the next as stories of grace unfold. In explaining the book’s origin, Idleman practically and pastorally accepts the challenge of Hebrews 12:15. Not afraid of some self-deprecating humor, his honesty about the struggles we all face to forgive are equally challenging.

If you are looking for a theological treatise on grace, go elsewhere. Yet when Max Lucado (author of Grace) recommends a book on grace, its probably worth considering. Kyle Idleman’s Grace is Greater is worthwhile reading for any person, whether someone seeking to understand this new idea or a mature believer looking to sharper their faith.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer free of charge by Baker Books for an unbiased blog review.

Book Review – Your Next 24 Hours by Hal Donaldson

In 1994, the Hal Donaldson decided to try to answer the questions, “What if a person was led by kindness and took his eyes off himself and focused on the need of others? What difference could he really make?” He felt the answers were immediate and amazing, leading him to found the non-profit organization that became Convoy of Hope in response to a situation he encountered.

Following from this experience, Donaldson discovered more interesting stories involving recognizable celebrities (eg. Jennifer Aniston, Josh Donaldson) as well as everyday citizens you would never hear of otherwise. These people demonstrated some form of kindness and thus made a significant difference in their sphere of influence. Your Next 24 Hours is Donaldson’s attempt to categorize these stories of kindness and challenge others to live the same.

While the stories Donaldson recounts are inspiring and convince the reader that one person’s action can make a difference, the range of stories and personalities involved seems to be counter-productive to any underlying or foundational reason for why individuals should be kind. Its a “nice” book, something enjoyable to read when there is so much horrible and sad in the world, the lack a clear explanation as to why individuals should be kind to other people, or animals, or either (or both). It quickly becomes a book of neat but random anecdotes.

I can see junior high (middle school) or high school teachers using the book to challenge and encourage students to think about their actions and how one person can make a difference. Nonetheless, the teacher would need to accompany the stories with a strong rationale for why a student should behave in the suggested ways other than the polite “be nice.”

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer free of charge by Baker Books for an unbiased blog review.

Leadership in the Wave Pool

wave pool.JPGHave you ever been to a wave pool?

If you’ve been to the ocean, you know what waves are like, but once you have watched the ocean for a few minutes, the waves can be predictable. Admittedly, in a storm, they can surprise you, but usually you can see the storm coming – either on the water or in the sky – and plan to be on shore.

But in a wave pool, the fun happens when the waves surge fairly suddenly – but within a confined space – and you either learn to ride them or you momentarily sink under them.

There are many times as a leader, you feel more like you are in a wave pool than an ocean. Seemingly out of nowhere, waves come one after another after another and they don’t stop. For days. For weeks. Maybe even for a few months. What should you do when you are in the middle of the wave pool as a leader?

  • Acknowledge the Risk

It’s not really a sense of life-threatening danger, like it might be in an ocean undertow. Your life or your business or not in immediate jeopardy. Yet the wave seems to be crashing fairly suddenly and fairly strongly. You can’t pretend it is not coming or it will overwhelm you. Those you are leading may not have your perspective on the waves, either minimizing its’ strength or fearing its’ power. You need to clearly identify what the wave is, where it is coming from (if you know), and remind people it is a temporary challenge. If possible, remind the constituency of a previous wave you faced and how your organization came out stronger.

  • Ride the Wave

While you may be able to minimize the wave’s impact and how much it sets back your business and operations, don’t try to squelch or squash the wave in your own power, or a temporary challenge could become a dangerous obstacle. As much as possible, ride the wave… carry on with regular operations (as much as possible) and let the wave crescendo, and then eventually dissipate.

In a wave pool, unless the operator flips the switch off, you are not going to stop the waves unless you get out of the pool. Your only choice is to ride the wave and let it carry you safely around the pool. If you fight it, it will cause you trouble. The same is true in an organizational wave pool.

  • Look for Support

Our children are at ages (9, 7 & 5) where they enjoy wave pools. We love them because they can experience waves in a safe context… and living in central Canada far away from any real bodies of water, that is the main way they will experience any real waves!

However, they have also learned to look for a supportive adult (parent, other relative, lifeguard) if they feel the waves getting a little too wild for their comfort.

Likewise, a leader need to be humble and wise enough to call out for help when they find the wave pool getting overwhelming. Whether it is a mentor, another leader in a similar organization who may be facing parallel waves, or a spiritual advisor/counselor, a leader should look for support. You are not alone, even when it feels lonely.

  • Celebrate the End

When the waves finally stop, our children are ready to come out of the water and be congratulated and for the good job they did surviving and enjoying the waves. As a leader, you may be tempted to simply take a deep breath and enjoy a minimum stress week(end) for a while when the waves stop. And while this will be necessary, first you need to let your team know the waves have ceased (or been dealt with appropriately), the problem has been fixed, and then express your appreciation to them for riding through the wave with you.

Your team will value the affirmation and will also be ready to ride through the next wave pool with you when it comes again in the future.

What lessons have you learned riding through the waves of organizational leadership?

Leadership Lessons from NHL Trade Deadline Day

jarome-iginla-avalancheToday is NHL Trade Deadline Day – the last day for NHL teams to make any player moves involving another franchise until the NHL playoffs are complete.

As General Manager’s weigh their options and consider potential moves, they are required to assess at least three areas. Each of these balcony perspectives are necessary in all kinds of organizations unrelated to sports. A General Manager must honestly assess…

Where the team is at…

Some teams already know they are not going to be in the playoffs when they begin in just over a month’s time. They may not mathematically be eliminated, but it is clear they are not in the race. So they are “sellers.” They may choose to trade current players for future assets. It may be trading a veteran player for a draft pick(s) or for a young prospect who they believe will help them in the future.

The situation is even more challenging for those general managers who believe their team is closing to making a good run for the Stanley Cup. They may have just one or two pieces to add to the puzzle of their team, but of course it has to be the right pieces.

Yet other general managers know their team could make the playoffs, although that is not guaranteed. Yet any success in the playoffs would be a surprise, and so they do not want to give up assets that are building blocks to a championship team in the future. So they do not make moves, and the fans (and maybe the team) are disappointed, even disgruntled.

The financial situation…

General Managers not only have to assess their team for its current chances, they also need to take into account other factors such as finances, especially in a salary cap era. They may want to acquire the veteran player, a missing piece of a potential championship puzzle, but in order to do so, they may need to trade away a parallel player, or even slightly stronger player, in order to make the financial situations work.

In addition to team financial matters, the GM also needs to work with individual player contract situations, specifically those who will be free agents after the playoffs. It may be easier if your team is clearly out of the playoffs to sent a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent to another team for a future asset, but if you are in the middle or top end group, do you risk losing a free agent after the playoffs and getting nothing in return, believing you are going to have success in the playoffs, or do you sell your rent-a-player for a longer-term asset, that could also help you in a playoff run.

The team culture…

Is your team ready to win? If not, what skills and personality are needed to push them over the edge? And what is the price to get that grit or leadership or finesse? Can the character player, the person that will fit with your team’s culture be a rental player and only cost you a future draft pick or will it cost you a current roster player? If the latter, what will that deletion mean to the team culture?

As a leader, you may not be faced with a specific day where you must complete your assessments before the playoffs. But do you regularly assess these factors on your team?

One more challenge: You may assess all of the following accurately and have an asset you are ready to move, but since the other GMs also know your selling position, they do not make you any good offers. They want you to give the asset away. Do you have the courage to hold on to the asset and the risk associated?

Book Review – Meet Generation Z by James Emery White

Despite his multiple books on reaching new generations with the Gospel (including Rise of the Nones and Rethinking the Church), and his role as former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I had never read any of James Emery White’s work. I am eager to go back and read others after reading this concise, readable and practical introduction to the generation born after 1997 and how to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Drawing on research from the Pew Research Center, White summarizes in the first three chapters the demographic and religious (or lack thereof) characteristics of generation Z, in contrast to previous generations of North American Christians.  The reason White believes this generation, which began  college in 2015, is significant is because they represent 25.9% of the American population and are the first truly post-Christian generation (though late Millenials, ie born after 1990, could also be described as post-Christian). Thus, a new approach to evangelizing Generation Z is necessary.

Chapters 4-8 describe this Acts 17, rather than Acts 2, paradigm shift. Not only does White present a good theology of the Church (as one might expect from a pastor and seminary president), he also provides insight with sensitivity. Furthermore, his examples are incredibly practical. He illustrates the need to define church language that previous generations understood, by drawing on a movie scene that perfectly depicts the ignorance of prayer. In speaking of the need to translate the gospel into the language of Generation Z, he shares about Mecklenberg Community Church presented the Christmas story using emojis. These are just two of the thoughtful yet concrete ways he shows the church composed of believers of all ages, can build bridges with Generation Z.

I highly recommend this book to all Christians, especially church leaders, seeking to understand and connect in meaningful ways to Generation Z. As a professor who teaches students of this generation, I also find it stimulating, challenging, and inspiring.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer free of charge by Baker Books and by Graf-Martin Publications for an unbiased blog review.

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