The Big 10 for personal and organisational development

I am passionate about personal development and growth, and it never ceases to surprise me how the same personal growth principles apply to organisational development. Organisations are human systems, so it makes sense that this would be the case.

We are built as human beings to grow and develop. We feel fully alive when we learn and grow, even when growing involves inevitable pain. It makes life meaningful. To not grow and develop is to feel flat and uncommitted. The same is true of any organisation: for profit or non-profit.

In my reading and study of growth and development I came across three essential systems that made a world of sense to me: 3 major questions from Simon Sinek, 3 functions of the brain from Dr. Henry Cloud, and 4 core skills from Dr. Scott Peck. These form the Big 10 for personal and organisational development. Here they are, in a brief overview through my own lens:

– Three Questions: Why, What, How

1. Why?

This is where it all starts, according to Simon Sinek. We have to start with figuring out why we are doing what we are doing. This is true of individuals, and of organisations. The why is related to the most basic values and beliefs that govern who are we as individuals and organisations. This is also something we keep having to go back to, evaluate and ask questions individually and as a collective. It has to be clear what our purpose and goals are. In the words of Simon Sinek “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Clarity is paramount here, as is the need to keep going back to the question. As a human being, what do you believe in? What is your purpose in life? As an organisation, what are the common values and beliefs that define you? What is the company about? And: do all members own it, or is it shared across the board? Continue reading

Worship – a collaborative responsibility

For the last few weeks public worship has been very much on my mind. As a minister responsible for leading worship every Sunday it is good to take time occasionally to think about the meaning and practice of worship.

If we were to widen the reflective circle and have a public discussion about the experience of worship, what would we be talking about? As I was sharing with some members of the Mission & Discipleship Council during last week’s Conference, a discussion on what we want, we like or dislike in worship is bound to get stuck, unless we are able to go beyond these issues.

Preferences are important, and we should discuss them, but there is a danger in setting any discussion on these terms alone, lest we end up fostering consumerism. A long discussion about what kind of music we like, or what kind of structure we like is likely to run into difficulties. The symptoms of such a narrow perspective is reflected in what people sometimes say about worship: “I didn’t get anything out of worship today”, “I didn’t like that hymn”, or a more positive “The minister did well today.” These reflections are more reflections of consumers than participants. Continue reading

The security obsession

I have every reason to be obsessed – strike that – concerned with security. A few weeks ago burglars broke the glass panel on our front door with a large stone, stole the keys which were in the door, and then stole both our cars using the keys. The whole thing happened at 3am, while we were asleep. Before we knew what happened, our cars were being driven away by the thieves. Not a pleasant experience, especially after we just moved into our new home.

Then we went through quite a scare with one of our insurance companies (Allianz), who sent a letter suggesting that they may not pay out, because it looked like we were in breach of one of the terms – not taking reasonable steps to protect the property. I was warned this was a standard letter (?!?!), but the anxiety in me didn’t want to listen to that. The police officer laughed when he heard what they suggested, but we were not amused. It took something like two weeks until we heard that Allianz would pay out.

All in all, this experience would make anyone concerned with security. I bought another car, and now I have a GPS tracker installed. Both our cars will have this. I’m looking into CCTV, upgrading the alarm on the house, possibly some trap doors, pressure sensitive guillotine, barbed wire fence, and a crocodile invested moat around the house.

I was also looking into installing a paralysing gas or electric shocks system in the cars which can be triggered if the driver doesn’t key in the security code within 10 seconds of starting the engine. Not the kind of thing you find at Asda on a ‘2 for 1’ deal for £3.99, sadly. Even though, perhaps a gas that suddenly awakened the morality centre in the burglar’s brain would be better than a sleep inducing gas that could cause a crash or drooling on my leather steering wheel. Yuk! The problem with that system is that gas leaks would make me accidentally make embarrassing confessions to people out of the blue… Not good.

All these security fantasies are just that: fantasies. Security is a fantasy. It does not exist. The truth is, that if someone wants to steal your car, they will probably succeed with enough determination. You think your website is secure? It’s not! You think your email is secure? It’s not. You think nobody listens in on your phone calls? If you talk about anything worth listening to, your phone line is NOT secure. That’s because security does not exist. We like to indulge in this fantasy, because it soothes our rampant anxieties.

There’s a reason Jesus talks about ‘treasures on earth’ which can be stolen by thieves. You want security and not have stuff stolen? Store different kinds of treasures; you know, the internal kind. Gather and store treasures of wisdom, depth and knowledge, not stuff. You don’t need CCTV and alarms to protect those: only God has access there!

I was watching a material on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” where he talks about how indigenous translators in Afghanistan and Iraq – who risked their lives and their families lives by working with the US Army – find it almost impossible to immigrate to the US. The red tape is monstrous. You can watch the clip by clicking here!

What struck me in this material was how a country can go to all lengths to protect its interests and its security at any cost, including any human cost that someone else pays. The amount of money spent on the military in the US is immoral. I just don’t understand how people who claim to be Christians support such outrageous practices in the name of security, when Jesus NEVER promised security on those terms.

On the contrary, Jesus said that if we follow him, we’ll be persecuted. He didn’t follow that up with “And if you’re persecuted, you can totally bomb the daylights out of foreign countries and risk killing innocent women and children. You can totally use people for your own interests and then leave them to pay for their service with their lives and their families lives. Totally. I got your back! Because I obviously can ONLY bless America.”

No, sorry, Jesus never said that! Sorry to break it to you, but if that’s the Jesus you keep singing about being in love with, you’re singing to the wrong Jesus. That’s probably some Mexican superhero of the America Dream. Jesus taught us to be awake and vigilant, not to believe in indulgent dreams that make others pay for our prosperity and security.

And that brings us back to the fantasy of security, and how dangerous that is. We think we’re so entitled to security, that we’re willing to sacrifice others so that we may feel safe. I’m not talking about taking reasonable steps to protect your possessions, and being responsible. But where do we draw the line between reasonable steps and pathological steps? The truth is that with all the reasonable steps in the world – or whatever we think it’s reasonable – we are never going to be 100% secure in this world. Never!

And that’s something we need to learn to live with. Because if we continue to spend increasing amounts of money and energy on security systems, we will discover that the effect is not increased security, but rather increased crime. What you resist persists. The more we feed our fear of loss – which is manifested in increased security spending – the more our fear will grow. The more sophisticated we get in protecting our stuff, the more thieves learn to bypass our security systems.

What if we could take loss as a part of a larger picture that we are too limited to see? What if we can simply accept reality as it is, and instead of ignoring what Jesus said about possessions, we would actually focus on growing our souls instead?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to order my second GPS tracker. Because that’s a reasonable step.

Before change, letting go

We all know “people don’t like change”. Of course they don’t. I don’t like it either. Change causes stress and it feels like an extra burden, because it often is. Organisations should really stop talking about change as a starting point. Something else needs to happen first.

Change basically means adding something new to what is already there. Since both individuals and organisations live and function by using 100% or more of the resources available to them, adding something new on top of already stretched resources is bound to cause resistance and headaches. It is bound to fail even when the change is good and necessary.

I believe the first step should be to assess what is currently not working and needs to stop. Before change can happen, before new things can be added, old things must be ended. This applies to individuals and to organisations: if you want to do something new, you have to first decide what you are willing to stop doing. After the space is created and resources thus become available, only then something new can be added.

One should not underestimate the difficulty of stopping old things that aren’t working anymore. Human beings and organisations have a bad habit of confusing hope for wishful thinking, as Dr. Henry Cloud aptly points out in his fantastic book “Necessary Endings”. Ending old things can be very hard, but without this essential step, any new thing will fail.


Conversation with Natan Mladin: “Of work and ‘Christian work’”

Natan Mladin writes on his blog:

Below is another attempt to immortalise and, at the same time, paradoxically, carry forward a conversation about the relationship between Christian work (what I here call ‘Word-ministry’) and all other types of work.

Feel free to join the conversation:

My initial question was: from a theological perspective, is Word-ministry (the study, exposition, explanation and application of the Word of God in ecclesial, para-ecclesial, academic settings) a more important type of work that all others (e.g. writing software, banking, plumbing, knitting etc.)?

It was initially highlighted (by Daniel Manastireanu) that the answer would be affirmative only if the Kingdom of God and the Church were identical, but since they are not, all vocations are important. The question however is: Are they equally important? Before answering that question we honed in on the relationship between Kingdom and Church – a difficult and controversial topic.  Daniel pointed out that, “the Church is an outpost of the Kingdom of God. The church is the visible body of Christ in the world, setting an example of what the Kingdom could be for the whole world. The Kingdom is a wider concept. It is basically whereever God’s will is done, wherever God’s justice prevails, wherever there is obedience to God’s vision for life. Sometimes it happens in the church. Sometimes outside of it, sadly.”

Read the entire article here

New design

After almost 4 years, I decided to change the design of my blog. So, there. This is the new design. I will change the photo regularly. And by that I mean that I will TRY to change the photo regularly. I’m not making any promises. So far, I love the bumblebee. I think I’m going to keep that for awhile. I took this photo last year during a photo workshop with Stuart Duffy. What a day that was!

Sermon – “Salt and light”

I wrote this sermon to be read out to the congregation by the Session Clerk in the traditional service, and the Sunday School Superintendent in the All Age Gathering. I couldn’t be there because I had a sore throat. What an interesting experience to write a sermon for other people to deliver!

Sunday 9th February 2014, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Salt and light

As I’m writing this sermon to be read to you, I’m reminded of the way things used to work in the Church of Scotland a few centuries ago. In the 16th and 17th centuries there were few ministers available, so each minister had several churches under their supervision. This is also why many churches still have quarterly communions instead of monthly or weekly ones. The minister used to write a very lengthy sermon, and then send it on to the readers in each congregation. They stood in the pulpit and read the sermon, unless it was their congregation’s turn to have the minister in their pulpit. Some suggest that we may be going back to that model soon, albeit without the ‘lengthy’ part…

Last week we began a journey through the sermon on the mount. The passage known as ‘the beatitudes’ deserves a whole series of sermons, as each beatitude is so rich in meaning and implications for our daily lives. We should take time to reflect on each of them.

We were invited last week to look at happiness from God’s perspective, which is always surprising and counter-cultural. How can those who are persecuted be happy? How can one be happy when they are insulted, persecuted and slandered because they follow Jesus? The challenge was to look in our own lives at one issue or situation that we would rather do without, and reflect on the opportunity it could provide for us to deepen our faith, and to learn to live more fully in God’s grace. Continue reading