Building a Team

Go TeamIn my role as the Dean of Nebraska Christian College, I am in the middle of several staff changes. Some people are leaving and we are interviewing and hiring others. I was reflecting that I have probably hired over 100 faculty members (many of them adjuncts) and a dozen administrative assistants over the years (along with many church staff members). Most have been good hires, but I have certainly had my share of bad hires, persons who make you regret ever agreeing to employ them.

There are many things to consider in a potential employee, but there is one thing I have found will always make a person a regrettable hire: inability or unwillingness to be a team player. Team players are folks who work well in all three spheres: with supervisors, with peers, and with those they supervise.

Years ago I was in a Cascade Symphony rehearsal with my friend, the late Frank Nielsen, conducting the practice. In a moment of frustration with us musicians, Frank gave a little pep talk. He said, “There are two great sins in playing symphony music. The first is to play the wrong note. The second is to play at the wrong time. And yea verily, the last sin is greater than the first.” I could not agree more. In an orchestra, if you play together, the blend of many instruments will minimize intonation problems to some degree. But when you do not start or stop together, when one section begins to rush while another section lags, or when a single player holds a note too long in an exposed place in the music, everyone in the audience notices.

And, yea verily, so it is with organizational teams. Yes, you need to be playing the same note (or as we usually put it, be on the same page), but more importantly you need to play together. Beginning an entrance half a beat early doesn’t really matter if every single player does it together.

two-trainsI remember doing a reference check on a potential faculty member in which I contacted a former dean about his performance. The dean said, “In our organization we strive to get everyone on the train and then get the train moving in the right direction. The problem with your applicant is that we would get the train rolling and I would look out the window and see him on his own train going a different direction.”

The issue is that such people often see themselves as important innovators and catalysts for change. Maybe this is true at times, but more often they are just poor team players. They see themselves as somehow above rules of workplace behavior that apply to everyone else. I don’t want anyone like this on my team.

This is not a vote for incompetence or mediocrity. Team players can be highly competent. Talented people can be team players. I want both characteristics on the teams I build.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The views represented in this blog are solely the responsibility of the author.
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Black Lives Matter: Some Reflections

Neal Blair, of Augusta, Ga., wears a hoodie which reads, “Black Lives Matter” as stands on the lawn of the Capitol building. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As we near the long, long homestretch of the political season, it is hard to ignore the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has been primarily a disruptive factor as far as politics goes. Those who think this is just radical, left-wing liberalism in new garb should remember that Black Lives Matter activists shut down campaign events for Bernie Sanders in protest. There is something else going on here.

Why would anyone want to promote a slogan that claims “Black Lives Matter”? The answer is pretty simple. There are some who wield government power or who have influence over opinions who do not think that black lives matter, at least not as much as some other lives.

My contact with the black community is not as strong as it has been in other locations, but I have seen various reactions from the non-black community concerning this movement. Here are some of them:

Black lives matter, but we should be saying that all lives matter. Yes, that is the point. All lives do matter including black lives. We should not stand for those who devalue people of color, whether overtly, covertly, or through neglect.

This is really about maintaining law and order in the community. Black lives matter, but the so-called martyrs of the Black Lives Matter movement were criminals and thugs. Do the lives of those who run afoul of the law not matter? Some of the black people who have been killed by the police were less than model citizens, but not all. Some seemed to be just law-abiding Americans.

Black lives matter, but the tone of this movement is fueling racism in America. Sorry, I don’t think it needs any fueling. If exposing long-standing racist attitudes and practices is dangerous, we might as well admit that the American proposition of “all men are created equal” is dead and not an ideal for which we strive.

Black lives matter, but …………. yes, black lives matter to me. I don’t need any “buts”. Ah, now we are getting somewhere and can begin to have productive dialog.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The opinions of this blog are solely those of the author.

Leadership Lessons from Drivers

red light runnerNebraska is the 7th state from which I have had a driver’s license. Each place has had different driving styles: Seattle (highly caffeinated), Tennessee (rural), Los Angeles (aggressive), Chicago (competitive).

It took some time for me to acclimate to the Omaha driving habits. Many times my wife would remark on some driving maneuver by saying, “Mark, you are not in California any more. You don’t need to drive like that.” I like to think of myself now as a thoroughly seasoned Nebraska driver, but there are still several things about Omaha driving styles that irritate me. I would like to offer three of these that I think could give us lessons for leadership. What can we learn about church leadership from analyzing poor driving practices?

First, you don’t need to slow to a near stop to make a turn. Many times I have been in a lane that inexplicably slowed to 5 mph. Why? Often this is explained by a person who apparently believes his or her car cannot execute a right hand turn into a parking lot or side street without nearly stopping. Maybe they have a full coffee mug on the dashboard?

Leadership is never a straight road into infinity. It requires course corrections, turns. But organizations are like living organisms. They cannot stop, paralyzed, while leaders figure out new strategies. Momentum lost is difficult to regain, so it is better to slow a little, execute the turn, then step on the gas. Don’t be oblivious to a whole lane full of cars/followers behind you who are bewildered by your inaction.

Second, if someone wants into your lane, let them in. The biggest single difference between Omaha and Los Angeles drivers is the difficulty of changing lanes on a crowed freeway. In LA, even under very crowded situations, if you signal, other drivers make space for you to join their lane. In Omaha, more often than not, a signal causes a car in the other lane to speed up and block you for some reason I do not understand.

As leaders, we often block others who want to come into our lane, especially if they want to be in front of us. Why? Shouldn’t we want them to join us? Are we threatened by other leaders on our turf? Church leaders, when others want to join you, let then in!

Third, running red lights causes accidents. There is an intersection about 2 miles from my house that is one of the busiest in the Omaha metro. About once a month there is an accident there caused by someone speeding up to get through a light that has already turned red. Some of these accidents have caused fatalities. I know I have gone through yellow lights (maybe even orange) and observed one, two, even three cars follow me on what is obviously a red for them. Many times I have stopped for a yellow light and been honked at by the car behind me. I have seen several letters to the editor of the Omaha newspaper commenting on the seriousness of this common but dangerous practice, but there seems to be no effort to enforce the law in this area.

Leaders, sometimes we need to stop for red lights. We need to recognize when our chosen course is ineffective or putting our church in peril. I know this seems to go against my first point, but this is not just a course correction. Sometimes leaders need to leave a toxic situation. Sometimes staff members need to be fired. Sometimes programs need to be discontinued. And in most of these case, the red light is pretty obvious.

You learn a lot about people by observing how they drive. Let’s be excellent drivers and excellent leaders!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Yogi Berra R.I.P.

Yogi and Jackie

Yogi attempting to tag Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series, one of the most famous plays in baseball history.

A great cultural icon, Lawrence Peter Berra, passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 22. He was better known as “Yogi,” a nickname attached to him for the crossed arms and legs posture posture he often assumed, giving some the impression of a Hindu holy man.

Yogi Berra was a fascinating person to me growing up, partly because he was so famous that one of my favorite cartoon shows was a derivative of his name. But Mr. Berra was nothing like the sneaky bear of Jellystone Park, always scheming to steal a pic-a-nic basket despite the watchful Ranger Smith. Yogi Berra was strong, honest, courageous, and faithful. He was one of the greatest major league baseball players of all time and endured in the public eye as a celebrity because of his lovable personality and quotable malapropisms long after his playing days were over. He attended school only through the 8th grade, but his name was known by virtually everyone in America in his heyday.

Yogi was the son of an Italian immigrant, born in the great city of St. Louis, a second generation American. He attended Catholic schools and was a devoted Roman Catholic until the day he died. I heard the story of Yogi and his wife traveling to Rome and being given a private audience with Pope John XXIII. Walking in and apparently not having been briefed on protocol, Mr. Berra began the meeting by saying, “Hi, Pope!”

But he was also very brave. He never bragged about his military service, but he was there on D-Day, June 6, 1944, seeing action on both Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. He was there for one of the most horrific days in the history of the world. Nineteen years old. We owe him.

Many baseball teams do not expect much offense from their catchers, seeing them as primarily defensive players (Jesus Sucre, the current catcher for the Seattle Mariners has a batting average of .132 right now). Yogi Berra was a key hitter for the great Yankees teams of the 1950s. When playing in the minor leagues, he once batted in 23 runs in a double header. The man could hit. One the defensive side, his career percentage for throwing out players trying to steal second base was 49%, one of the highest of all time.

Yogi was a family man. His beloved wife, Carmen, died last year shortly after they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They had three sons, one who played Major League baseball (Dale) and another who played in the NFL (Tim).

Yogi is most known now for his ironic and oxymoronic quips. Some have become standard in Americana: “It’s deja vu all over again,” “When you come to fork in the road, take it,” “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Here are some others I like:

  • Even Napoleon had his Watergate
  • He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.
  • You can observe a lot just by watching.
  • It ain’t the heat. It’s the humility.

And maybe that last one sums up Mr. Berra. Humility. He seemed so genuine, even puzzled by his celebrity. He did not try to be anyone but himself. Yogi Berra, Rest in Peace.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Ministry Personality Types: the Extroptomist Index

What sort of person is most suitable, most stable,  and most successful for ministry leadership? I spoke not long ago with the CEO of a large and successful church planting organization who answered this with one word: pragmatist. He was speaking of the type of person his organization was looking for to plant and lead successful churches. They were not necessarily looking for people with correct theology or even good people skills, but leaders who would follow the path that leads to proven success.

I know it is not this simple (and wasn’t for him either). Brutal pragmatism may have its place in church leadership, but if it is the only criterion, it tends to leave piles of damaged persons in its wake. Yet church leadership does need to be smart enough to quit doing things that are not working, especially if they are consuming enormous amounts of energy and resources. Church leaders need to be willing to plow new ground and claim new territory, and this means doing new things.

I want to suggest another evaluation. My colleagues and I have been joking around recently concerning which among us is an extrovert and which is an introvert. Colleges tend to collect a lot of introverts as teachers, and this is not bad, but a mix of the two types is more healthy. I think our faculty at Nebraska Christian College does have a mix, and I intend to continue this balance in the future

But there is another factor I have toyed with for a long time: the optimist/pessimist scale. We might connect introversion with pessimism, but that has not always been my experience. I have known both optimistic introverts and pessimistic extroverts.

I would like to suggest that there are limits, though, to define a healthy church leader. Too optimistic and plans will never be realistic or successful. Too pessimistic, and no risks will ever be taken. Too introverted and effective leadership will be difficult. Too extroverted and the danger of coasting on personality rather than hard work will always be a temptation.

Bear with me. I’m suggesting a combination of the two that I call the Extroptimst Index. Don’t laugh yet. Hey, people have written best-selling leadership books with less substance than this!

There are many online tests that will give results for Introversion/Extroversion on a 100 point scale. That is also true for Optimism/Pessimism. If we combine them, it might look like this:

 

Scale

If we define a sweet spot within this continuum, excluding the 20% extremes, it would look like this:

Inner

Where would you fit on this grid? Where do you think the pastor of your church would be? Where do you wish your pastor was? I will admit that I score high on both extroversion (75) and optimism (72). My place on the grade would look like this:

MK point

Fortunately, I am within the recommended inner grid. This is especially good since I am the one who cooked this whole thing up! But I do think this index shows a certain leadership type, perhaps one that is not really measured in other indices.

It might be fun to think of where biblical persons would be on this scale. I would think that David would be high on both extroversion and optimism. Jeremiah would have been high on introversion and pessimism. I tend to think that Paul was something of an introvert, but very much an optimist. Solomon seems to have had extrovert qualities, but a strong pessimist streak (if Ecclesiastes is any indication). God used all of these persons, but in different ways. Where are you on the Extroptimist Scale?

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Garage Production Church for Millennials

hyperlinked lifeI haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. Sorry. No excuses. You get out of the habit quickly.

I am in Florida at the ABHE meeting, and the plenary speaker this afternoon was David Kinnaman, the new president of the Barna Group, a Christian research organization. He spoke about the challenge of biblical higher education to engage the millennial generation, but for ministry training and church in general.

David told a particularly applicable story. He was watching a classic Star Trek episode with his 14-year old daughter. Spock, Kirk, Scotty, etc. His daughter made it about half way through and said, “Dad, can I just go to bed?” “What’s wrong, honey?” “Was this made in someone’s garage? The makeup is horrible, the sets are lame, the dialog is bad. My little sister and I could do something better than this with iMovie.”

Kinnaman’s observation: she was right. Yet that is what we do with church a lot. We are still producing church the way it was done in the late 1960s, and don’t understand why millennials don’t appreciate it.

Why is this? My answers are a little different than his. I have been in about 20 different churches in the last year. Here are some of my observations, and they may seem harsh:

1. We often assume everyone shares knowledge of the Bible that is simply not true. This shows when a preacher tries to catch his listeners up on the necessary details of a Bible story he wants to tell. This is usually done in a minute or two, and frankly this doesn’t make much sense to those who really need it. We need to assume very little Bible knowledge in our preaching, and offer it in small bites. By this, I don’t mean we dumb it down. In some ways we should ramp it up. We don’t need to treat the Bible like children’s Sunday School stories alone.

2. We also assume that our audience assumes a “biblical worldview.” This most often shows up when a preacher is talking about what goes for a creationist worldview. For example, most preachers would think that their listeners were rooting for Ken Ham rather than Bill Nye in the recent debate, but I can assure you that was not the case among millennials.

3. We belittle or dismiss aspects of technology that are a normal part of life for millennials. We make fun of them being hooked to their phones, but that is who they are. Can’t we accept them for who they are, even if we don’t understand it completely?

4. We are still using the proof-texting method of preaching, assuming that the more Scriptures we can find to support our point, the more right we will appear to be. Let’s just stop doing this. Get a good text, find a solid biblical lesson in it, and preach it. Millennials are not impressed by a mountain of texts that say the same thing. They want to see how a text has purpose and value for their lives.

I could list a few more, but I’ll stop now. BTW, they gave us a copy of Kinnaman’s new book, The Hyperlinked Life. I have not read it yet, but will probably blog when I do. It is very short. Here is a link.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

 

Victorious: the Book of Revelation

masthead2.indd

This summer my wife and I will be attending the North American Christian Convention in beautiful Louisville, KY. The Theme for the convention this year is “Victorious,” with messages to be based on the book of Revelation. I always enjoy the NACC as a place and time to see old friends, make new friends, be inspired by outstanding speakers, and visit the displays of innovative vendors and service providers. This year’s speaker lineup includes Joni Earekson Tada, Amani Mustafa, Kyle Idleman, and Wayne Cordeiro, among many others. Matt Proctor, an outstanding speaker in his own right, is this year’s NACC President, and I look forward to his keynote address.

Many of your know that I love the book of Revelation, and I am currently beginning a project for a Bible commentary series where I will serve as the New Testament editor and write the commentary on the book of Revelation. The theme of the NACC captures the message of Revelation well: Victorious.

One small comment here, though. I have often heard it said that the theme of Revelation is “We win in the end.” I guess that is sort of true, but the real message is “God wins in the end, and we are on the winning side.” I guess we can be like the Louisville fans who said “We won!” after the Cardinals slugged out the NCAA Final Four triumph, but like them, we are going to be more spectators in the final battle than angelic warriors. Still, I take great comfort from this timeless prophetic message. As the NACC banner says,

When life seems hopeless, read the end of the story.

There are days when this world seems to be on a hopeless trajectory. Insane people with nuclear weapons. Insane people shooting up elementary schools. Selfishness and self-centeredness touted as virtues. Immorality paraded and celebrated. But it will not be like this forever. God’s promises and judgments are true and sure. Victorious indeed!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College