Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Loss Leader

It is a common practice in retail stores to put an item out "on sale" that is in fact a loss to the store financially.  The assumption is, if they can get enough people in the door, attracted by their "loss leader", they will actually buy other things at a significant enough markup for the store as a whole to make a profit.

Firms like WalMart and others have perfected this practice and have it down to a science.  They know exactly how much to mark something down and mark other things up to generate enough profits to keep their firms rolling, and more importantly, their stock prices rising.

But what about being a leader of a community that is facing real losses?  How do we do that?  When it isn't a gimmick to attract more dollars, members etc... but is actually the reality of the community.  When loss becomes real and can't just be wiped away by marking up other prices?

A couple weeks ago I commented about the loss Kendra and I suffered in our lives, and tonight our community (not our family, K, Annika and I are just fine) of Trinity suffered a significant loss.  This is new ground for me, how do I lead this community through its loss?  Attempting to make sense of what has happened, why it happened and where we go from here.

The good news here, and in any situation in which we are called to lead a community through loss is that we have a God who is a "loss leader."  This is a God who lead with Jesus.  Who gave all God had on the cross and counted not the cost.  Who claims us in baptism and gives us the name of "child of God and inheritor of eternal life."  This is a God who is a loss leader, who didn't just lead with the loss and then expect us to make up the rest with bigger margins, God led with the loss in order to make gain for all.  Romans 14:8

Monday, January 17, 2011

Belichicking Failure

In the total heyday of the New England Patriots, Coach Bill Belichick (pronounced Beli-check) was so known for his fanatic, frenetic attention to detail that it was known as "Belichicking".  He was obsessed to know every detail of the game plan, the organization of the team, who was responsible for everything that it became legendary, and the Patriots success was legendary as was his hooded sweatshirt he wore on the sidelines of every game (thus the nickname "the hoody").

They won 3 of 4 super bowls from 2001-2004.  And after "disappointing" seasons in 2005-2006 (they only won their division both years, but lost in the playoffs) they delivered finest regular season performance (sorry Dolphins) in the history of the NFL, going 16-0 and steamrolling opponents.

And then the wheels came off the bus.  The New York Giants shocked them in the Super Bowl, improbably winning (and saving their coach's job) in what must be one of the greatest upsets of all time in sport.

Since then, the Patriots have missed the playoffs once, and lost in their first playoff game twice.  For those scoring at home, that makes three consecutive playoff losses (despite fine regular seasons).  While the moving average on wins per year is still heading in the right direction (see graphic), one has to wonder if perhaps the gleam is off the Belichick rose.  And if so, why and what happened?

As a passionate observer of the Patriots I have a few thoughts.  But before I give my thoughts, here are my credentials and history here.  While my heart is with the Dallas Cowboys, over the past 10 years I have admired the Patriots organization so much that I am far more likely to watch their games than any other team. I like the way the team rotates players around, isn't afraid to make roster moves, ditch big name players in favor of a new younger guy, try new things and innovate.  All these pieces are still part of the Patriot puzzle, yet losing when it matters seems to be a new and disturbing trend in Foxboro.  Why?  I have three thoughts...

1) Failure to recognize scarcity: Several times last night Tom Brady simply threw the ball away when he saw the coverage had him foiled.  That works in the regular season, in fact it is a great strategy and use of time and energy.  But in the post-season, downs, series, possessions become much scarcer.  You just can't assume they will be there.  But they have been there so often, maybe they have forgotten that.  Their fourth quarter drive that ate up 8 minutes or so of clock, then came away with nothing to show for this.

2) Failure to RUN THE FREAKIN BALL: Their running attack is tepid, they utilize the short pass instead of encouraging the creative running of the ball on a regular basis (like they did on the successful 2 point conversion).  Those who know me, know anytime a team other than a service academy loses, I assume they should have run the ball more/better.  If Brady can sit in the pocket, untouched and still not find a receiver, you aren't running the ball.

3) Failure of Passion: The hoody should be feared, but I fear he is becoming a caricature.  Standing alone on the sideline, hood up, expressionless.  Now, I don't want Rex Ryan or his feet anywhere near a team I care about, but you cannot doubt he is passionate, involving others, getting input, giving input.  The hoody seems to be in his own world out there, befuddled by why they aren't winning and demonstrating little passion.

Overall, perhaps this is simply the result of setting the bar too high too fast.  As a leader, too much success can sometimes be just as bad as failure.  Early success brings resources, accolades and the assumption of others you are capable of anything.  But what happens when you come back to earth a bit.  There are many teams in the NFL who would love to have lost 3 playoff games in the last 4 years, because that would mean they were in three playoff games in the last four years (see Cowboys, Dallas; Chiefs, Kansas City etc...) but those teams aren't in Foxboro.

The Belichicking seems to have gotten off course somewhere.  The hoody has lost some mojo.  Where will they find it, will they find it?  The great thing about football, assuming you don't get fired, you get to play again next fall.

A post delayed

Less than a two weeks ago I set myself to a task, to blog each week of the new year, by tuesday.

I have 3 minutes to finish my goal for this week.  How quickly it is that we be derailed in our goals by reality.

This week has been one of the most intense, challenging and frankly disheartening of my life.  K has undergone more medical coverage than I would have ever thought.  We have lost a child just 13 weeks into knowing its existence and we are trying to find our moorings.

The most amazing thing is that K and I have been talking constantly.  We are in communication, on the same page.  We have been supported by our new community here in Fort Worth.  We have been loved and cared for by many, and we are grateful for God's amazing grace in the midst of loss.

This week has sucked beyond measure, been marked by gifts of grace, times of patience and times of great anxiety.  I give thanks, that tomorrow the sun will rise and that God will be there.  Romans 8.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Power of One Year

With the coming of January, we turn our faces to a new year and a new opportunity.  Certainly I am not original in believing that the New Year is a good time to make resolutions but I think this year I have a greater sense of the possibility of a new year. So often we can get caught up in a mindset of assuming that change must take multiple years.  That only incremental change is possible.

While certainly one must take care in leading communities not to change too much too fast, I also realize that I shouldn't limit the power of what the Spirit can do in a year by my failure to think bigger.  In the past year I have been reminded again and again of just how very much can be accomplished in a year.  How much can actually change in 365 days.

Since January 2010 Kendra and I have accomplished a great deal and also seen a great deal of change.  We have relocated from Wisconsin to Texas, begun new calls as pastors at Trinity (working together for the first time), seen Annika grow into a "real little person", K has finished a semester of PhD work and finally, we have become truly committed Horned Frog Fans.

But in thinking only about myself, I would also be missing profound change that communities we care about, family and friends have undergone.  Some of this change might not have been welcome (some change never is) but it is still impressive to think about how much can be accomplished when pain or necessity requires it.

While certainly DMLC would have preferred not to, they have said goodbye to their pastor, completed their MET process and formed a call committee.  Mt Zion has called a clergy couple, installed them and welcomed  them into their ongoing ministry and life together.  Trinity has gone through a self-study, fixed exploding boilers, interviewed multiple candidates and finally have called a clergy couple from Wisconsin as their pastors.

In January 2010, if you asked members of these communities if these scenarios would have occured, you would have likely been met with disbelief.  Yet they have done it, and so have we.

That said, here are some of my hopes and resolutions for change and process in my own life and the communities I inhabit.  These goals are the dreams, the vision that I have in addition to completing the normal tasks of my life as father, husband and pastor. In writing them down, I hope to create some accountability for myself so that in January 2012, I can think through why they did or didn't happen.  Although some are hard to measure, most of these are SMART goals and I believe they are doable...

1) Blog every week by Tuesday about leadership, reflections on life and theology.
2) Discern what future education I will engage in regarding leadership (begin program?)
3) Help lead Trinity through a Master Planning Team process, reporting by end of year
4) Create a personal website for my blog, coaching practice and general ministry
5) Gain experience by coaching 5 folks in 2011.
6) Run my final marathon in February and retire fully to 5K races
7) Lose 10% of my body weight.
8) Grow as a spouse, father and member of my family.

Happy New Year!