I Cried When I Saw This Happen

I saw this happen this past Sunday morning as we celebrated our 6th birthday as a congregation at Munger Place Church.  I know these people; I know their stories; they are my friends.  As I watched them share their cardboard testimonies, I couldn’t help it: tears ran down my face.  (And I’m not a crier.)

2016 Munger Cardboard Testimonies [VIDEO]

As I watched these people share their stories, I kept thinking, “I am so grateful, God, that I get to be a part of this.”

2016 Munger Cardboard Testimonies from HPUMC on Vimeo.

 

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General McChrystal and the Butterfly Effect

In fall 2003, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, giving him authority over what were the best-trained, best-equipped, and most-lethal special operators in the history of the world.  And yet, these elite soldiers (Navy Seals, Delta Force commandos, etc.) were unable to stop impoverished jihadists from using the most basic technology to create mass murder in Iraq.  Why?  McChrystal’s answers have a lot to do with the realities of leadership in the 21st century.

 

Stan McChrystal

Like most Americans, I’d heard of General Stanley McChrystal from his time in the headlines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I’d seen a TED talk he’d given on leadership, but a few months ago I stumbled across a couple of interviews with General McChrystal on the Tim Ferris podcast that made me think: “This guy is impressive.”  (You can find the long interview here and the much shorter follow-up here. Recommended.)  On the podcast, General McChrystal and his former aide-de-camp Chris Fussell mention a book they’d written called Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.  I read the book, which confirmed my impression: these are impressive guys.

The Problem with Al-Queda

When General McChrystal became commander of the JSOC in 2003, he was frustrated by his force’s apparent inability to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  McChrystal may have had enormous resources at his fingertips, but his special operators always seemed one step behind AQI’s terrorists, and the result was a bloodbath in Iraq, exemplified by the September 30, 2004 bombing of an opening ceremony at a brand new water treatment plant in Baghdad that killed 41 people, including 35 children.

The U.S. military easily defeated Saddam Hussein’s army during the invasion, but, in the occupation, a small number of impoverished terrorists were literally destroying the country.  How?

The answer, General McChrystal learned, had to do with complexity.

Complexity and the Butterfly Effect

In everyday usage, we tend to use the words complicated and complex interchangeably, but in Team of Teams General McChrystal points out that in chaos theory complex refers to situations that are made up of innumerable possible causes and effects such that correctly forecasting or planning for an outcome is literally impossible. Weather, for example, is an example of a complex system.

The famous butterfly effect refers to the idea that, in a complex system, a very small change in input can produce a great difference in output: the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Africa might (but not necessarily) result in a hurricane in Brazil.  The weather man can forecast the next hour’s weather with relative accuracy, but forecasting weather a week from now is just a guessing game, because weather is a complex system: there are just too many variables.

The modern world is a complex world, which means that small inputs can make a great difference.  The problem for McChrystal and the U.S. was that AQI was set up to thrive in a complexity, whereas JSOC, for all its power and wealth of resources, was not.

Team of Teams

On the small level, the individual SEAL and Delta Force and intelligence teams at McChrystal’s disposal were excellent, but the organization of JSOC itself hindered cooperation and made adaptability impossible.  The main strategic advantage of AQI, on the other hand, was precisely in its ability to adapt.  McChrystal’s insight was that if JSOC was going to defeat AQI, it would have to become as adaptable as its enemy.

The individual SEAL and Delta Force and intelligence teams were already capable of adaptability, which is why there were so effective; McChrystal’s reform was to get them working together as a team of teams.  He did this by constantly pushing authority down the chain of command, even when that meant relatively junior officers were making decisions with huge national security implications.  He required each of the various groups in his command to send one elite operator to work with the other groups, so that trust began to be built between teams.  He conveyed a daily briefing that involved hundreds of participants (via video) from all over the world so that information could be shared as widely as possible.  Over time, these and other reforms began to enable the JSOC to effectively adapt to AQI’s tactics, and one of the stories McChrystal tells in the book is how these reforms enabled JSOC to track and kill Zarqawi in 2006.

Conclusion

Team of Teams is an interesting, thorough book (I’ve only referenced a very small part of its content here), but I’m not totally convinced by its argument.  General McChrystal and his co-authors argue that in our complex world, a great team or team of teams is a greater strategic advantage than a great leader.  I agree with that, as far as it goes, and I think the insights in the book about how to create an organizational culture that is adaptable and resilient are helpful.  But, I can’t help thinking that part of the story of the book is also that it takes a great leader to create that kind of organizational culture.  Maybe the kind of leader who could lead that kind of change would end up thriving in any situation, complex or not.  The Admiral Nelsons of the world might just make any team successful.  A team is important, but a team requires a leader.  As Bill Hybels likes to say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  As I said, the more I read General McChrystal’s book, the more I thought, “This guy is impressive.”

 

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex Worldby General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell

★★★         worth reading

 

 

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“3 Words To Transform Any Relationship” [VIDEO]

I was interviewed on the front steps of my church a few weeks ago by Jane McGarry of Good Morning Texas, and the interview aired this morning on WFAA Channel 8 (ABC) in Dallas.  We did the interview in one take, and the good folks at GMT aired it in its entirety.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a message I really believe in: 3 words that can transform ANY relationship.  [Click the link below to see the 3 minute video.]

http://www.wfaa.com/entertainment/television/programs/good-morning-texas/soulful-stoop-munger-place-churchs-rev-andrew-forrest/224681060

 

 

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What I Read

What do you read on a regular basis?  We are what we eat, and that includes the words we consume.  Today’s post (part 3 of a 3 part series) is about the magazine, journals, and books that make up my media diet.

Print Subscriptions

In addition to The Dallas Morning News (mentioned in part 1), I subscribe to the print editions of the following periodicals:

  • First Thingsa magazine founded by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus that, while including Protestant writers as well, tends to come at things from a conservative Roman Catholic perspective.  First Things is hit or miss for me: some of the long essays are just first-rate, while others are either over my head or boring.
  • The Atlantic, a magazine that I’ve been reading since I was in middle school and that used to be much better than it is.  (I guess I subscribe out of loyalty.)  In the 90s and early 2000s when Cullen Murphy and then Michael Kelly (who was killed in Iraq in 2003) were editors and William Langesweiche and James Fallows were writing frequent longform pieces for the magazine and Benjamin Schwartz (especially Benjamin Schwartz!) was editing the Books section, The Atlantic was one of my favorite magazines.  I’d receive a copy in the mail and read the whole thing, almost in one sitting.  In recent years, though, The Atlantic (founded in 1857!)  has seemed to me to foolishly chasing “relevance” and adopting the perspective of the sort of 25 year-old secular graduate student in the humanities who gets his wisdom from The Daily Show.  (This is not a perspective I share, if you couldn’t figure that out.)  Although The Atlantic published some great longform pieces from time to time, I get each new copy of the magazine out of the mailbox with much less enthusiasm than I did 20 years ago.
  • Outsidea glossy adventure magazine.  I wish Outside devoted more space to book reviews, as I’ve ready some really excellent novels the past couple of years that I first read about in Outside, e.g., The Dog Stars and The Abominable.
  • Texas Monthly, which has enough ads to fill JerryWorld™, but also includes in each issue something I find worth reading about my adopted home state.
  • Plougha small Christian journal that, while ecumenical, draws on the Anabaptist tradition.
  • Books and Culturea newspaperish magazine that covers, from an evangelical perspective, exactly what the title suggests.  Like First ThingsBooks and Culture is hit or miss for me, but I recently resubscribed because I really believe in its mission.
  • The American Conservative, a magazine that I discovered from reading Rod Dreher’s blog.  I don’t know of any other place online or in print that is similar to TAC: small c conservative, isolationist, contrarian, and realist.  (I was pleased when Benjamin Schwartz, whose work at The Atlantic I referenced above, joined TAC last year as national editor.)  For a good example of the kind of stuff TAC covers that no one else does, see this piece from April on suburban sprawl and walkable cities called “Cities for People–or Cars?”.

The Dallas Public Library

Where would I be without a good public library?  Well, I’d have a lot more shelf space, that’s for sure.  Here is my current library shelf in my home office:

FullSizeRender 10

Don’t be impressed–I have a habit of hearing about a book, placing it on hold at the library, and then stockpiling a bunch of great books I haven’t yet and probably won’t ever read.

And Most Importantly, Real Books!

I love reading, and I love reading physical books.  I have aKindle and I use the Kindle app for iPhone; I like the way I can quickly annotate an ebook.  But, despite the convenience of the ebook, I still think the regular old book is a pretty great form of technology, and reading a good book can quiet my mind better than just about anything else.

I read books on theology and leadership for my job, but what I really like reading are books on history and especially long novels.  I try to vary up the books I read: something on one topic, and then something completely different.  (As an example of something really different, I read a very long novel this summer, completely unlike anything else I’ve read in years: Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset’s 1100 page masterpiece about a woman living in 14th century Norway, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.)

In Conclusion: I Need to Make Some Changes

As I’ve been thinking about my media diet these past few weeks, I’ve once again been confronted with the fact that I fritter away too much of my time on unimportant online content that cuts into my time and ability to read books that matter.

My goal is to read 40 books this year, which would be more than I’ve managed in the previous 2 years.  My current total: 29.

Maybe I need to stop watching so much Arrested Development.

 

 

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My Daily Media Diet

What are the books, podcasts, websites, blogs, and newsletters that make up your media diet?  You are what you eat, and that includes the information you consume.  Today’s post is about what I read daily as part of my media diet (part 1 of a 3 part series).

What Is a “Media Diet?”

“Media diet” is a phrase I came across several years ago in a web series by The Atlantic.  A reporter would interview public figures about how they stayed informed and what they regularly read and watched and make a simple post out of it.  (I still remember Malcolm Gladwell‘s comment about his daily reading habits: “Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime.”  I totally identify….)

In part 1 of this series (parts 2 and 3 coming on the next two Mondays) about my media diet, I’ll focus on what I read daily (or at least regularly).

What I Do First Thing in the Morning

I’ve written before about the importance of the First 15, i,e., spending at least the first 15 minutes of your day in prayer, scripture, and silence.  So, I’ve been getting up really early recently in order to have an unhurried time of prayer first thing, before I workout.

Currently this is what I use in my prayer time:

FullSizeRender 9

 

Breakfast: The Dallas Morning News and NPR

After working out and while eating breakfast and getting ready:

  • I get the print version of The Dallas Morning News delivered at home, and read it every morning (except Sundays, when I don’t get to it until late afternoon, if at all).  I have come to really like The DMN and get more locally-focused and sports news from it than anywhere else.
  • I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition radio program most mornings.

Blogs: Rod Dreher (and Not Much Else)

I used to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog almost every day.  Now that he has stopped blogging, almost the only blogger I read regularly is Rod Dreher.  Rod Dreher is a fascinating and unique writer: a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy living in his native rural South Louisiana who writes about culture from a social conservative point of view.

One of the topics Rod Dreher writes about that I find most intriguing and persuasive is the so-called “Benedict Option”: the idea that Christians in the West today may need to follow the 5th century example of St. Benedict and spend less time participating in politics and the culture wars and more time deliberately cultivating the practices that will “thicken” our faith and deepen our witness.  Here is a post from Rod’s blog in July that summarizes his thoughts on the Benedict Option.

Websites I Read Almost Daily

  • I read The New Yorker almost every day.  I like the short form pieces from folks like John Cassidy and Amy Davidson, but I really prefer The New Yorker for its long-form essays like this one about Northern Ireland that I wrote about in April.
  • I also browse The Atlantic‘s website regularly, though I believe that The Atlantic is a much worse magazine since it expanded its online footprint.  Many of the online articles seem to be merely a slightly (sometimes very slightly) more serious version of the kind of thing that I suppose you find on Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post, and I do not mean that as a compliment.  The Atlantic these days seems to feature quick-reaction pieces on hot-button topics that lack nuance and wisdom.  (I’ll say more about my complaints with The Atlantic in part 3 of this series.)
  • I browse the Yahoo! main site and scroll through the headlines, particularly about sports and politics.
  • I check out the BBC Sport’s soccer page almost daily.

Online Newsletters and Other Sites

  • I read movie reviews on Plugged In every few weeks or so.  I’m interested in movies, but I like reading reviews from a conservative Christian perspective (a perspective you don’t get from mainstream reviewers).  I rarely have time to see movies in the theater anymore, so I find myself reading many more reviews of movies than actually seeing movies.
  • I’ve recently discovered Book Notesa free newsletter from Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds bookstore in central Pennsylvania.  Through Book Notes, I’ve stumbled across books that I would never have heard of elsewhere–it’s a great resources.
  • I read articles and watch videos the videos on the CrossFit main site several times a week.

Coming in Parts 2 and 3….

Parts 2 and 3 will be about what I regularly listen to and watch and read in print.  The above is what I read online on a  regular basis.  What about you?  What makes up your daily media diet?

 

 

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We’re Hiring a Youth Minister

Want to come work with me and my team at our great church? Know someone who does?  We are looking for a youth minister to lead our ministries to middle and high school students. Our church has been blessed with a lot of growth in the past year (our worship attendance is up 36%) and we’re reorganizing our staff, which means we have a great opportunity for the right person to lead our youth ministry. Is that you?  The job details are posted below.  (Please note that job applications do not come to me; in fact, I’m not involved in the hiring process until the final interviews.)

midvale school for the gifted

Director of Youth Ministry – Munger

Responsible for all aspects of Munger Place Church’s ministry to youth in grades 6-12, to help families raise their middle school and high school students to love and follow Jesus Christ.  This person will work within Munger Discipleship ministry and with a team of volunteers to plan, coordinate and execute the ministry.

Location:  HPUMC’s Munger Place Church in Old East Dallas

Responsibilities include the following, with additional duties as required or assigned:

  1. Pastoral:  Minister to youth and their families through Sunday school and other church programs, being present in their lives outside the church walls, available for common concerns and in crisis situations, and through pastoral care visits.
  2. Leadership:  Recruit, training and nurture Youth Ministry and Confirmation volunteer teams; lead adult volunteer leadership meetings, trainings and retreats; participate in the research, design, and implementation of a ministry to parents of youth.
  3. Administration:  Manage the planning process and coordinate all regular ministries to youth and their families, which includes youth Sunday mornings, Confirmation, special events, trips and retreats, parent meetings, etc.; update Munger Youth and Confirmation web pages.
  4. Stewardship:  Ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of youth programs/events and reacting accordingly; manage youth ministry budget; collaborate with Confirmation and youth ministries at HPUMC.

The Director of Youth Ministry – Munger is expected to maintain high Christian values and professional integrity in order to provide an example for the youth and families of our community.  This position will also encourage all youth and families of the community to strive for the same standards.

HPUMC/Munger Place is a high-performing, fun and supportive environment where your work is appreciated!  We provide competitive pay, full benefit package and generous holiday schedule.

WE REQUIRE a Christian (preferably United Methodist) committed to living a life that reflects the Gospel who is comfortable working in a United Methodist church and has the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree; seminary or other formal religious education a plus
  • At least 3 years experience in church ministry as staff or lay leader
  • Ability to build, lead and empower volunteer teams
  • Ability to implement a ministry vision
  • Familiarity with United Methodist doctrine required; must be comfortable teaching it and representing the church
  • Proficient computer skills using applications such as MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, database, email, Internet and social media
  • Supervisory experience preferred
  • Ability to evaluate and adapt curriculum preferred
  • Must have excellent organization, communication (verbal and written) and listening skills, with a high degree of initiative and accountability
  • Exceptional interpersonal and relational skills required, with sensitivity to church members and visitors
  • Understanding and enjoyment of youth and families and guiding their spiritual development
  • Familiarity and comfort with diverse socioeconomic populations
  • Good driving record; ability to drive church van with passengers
  • Physical demands include sitting, standing, walking, seeing, hearing, lifting approx. 10 lbs.

To Apply, please email all of the following to jobs@hpumc.org, specifying Munger Youth in subject line:

  1. Your resume and cover letter/email
  2. Your pay requirement
  3. Your religious/church affiliation & statement of faith
  4. Your philosophy of youth ministry

No calls, please.

– See more here.

Why I Blog

Leadership is about influence, and it’s primarily about the influence of ideas.  I started blogging because I believe that ideas matter, and I want to be engaged in the public wrestling over which are the true and which are the false ideas.  Ideas matter.  In fact, as John Maynard Keynes reminds us, history is driven by ideas.

 

F. Verhelst [http://goo.gl/jXjUOP]

[F. Verhelst http://www.gettyimages.no/detail/photo/old-fashioned-light-bulbs-royalty-free-image/121133961]

[Ideas], both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back…. Soon or late, it is ideas… which are dangerous for good or evil.”

John Maynard Keynes from the conclusion of his General Theory [1936]
(quoted in “Lessons in Statecraft,” by George Weigel, First Things, May 2015)

“Less, But Better”

Sure, we’re busy, but what are we actually getting done?

8129tiBbfeL._SL1500_

Rather than getting more done, what about getting the right things done? This is Greg McKeown’s suggestion in his book Essentialism. If you are anything like me, asking yourself the question “Where can I make the greatest contribution?” is embarrassing, as you’ll be forced to admit that though you are very busy, much of your effort is expended in activity that takes you sideways more than it takes you forward.

“Less, but better” is the shorthand summary for Mr. McKeown’s book–who could argue with that?

Like many of these sorts of business/leadership books, Essentialism is a bit too long and contains a fair amount of filler–as if the author had a page quota he needed to hit–but I still found it worth reading. I particularly liked Mr. McKeown’s insistence that every part of life involves a trade-off; instead of thinking we can avoid problems altogether, we ought to be asking ourselves, “Which problem do I want?”

Short, easy read. Recommended.

What can you say “No” to this week? (Very politely, of course….)