I am ready to share two secrets that only my family knows.  The first is that my four-year-old grandson has called me Crazy Grandma since he could talk.  That is to distinguish me from his other Grandma Lauren.  Ezra has heard other family members calling me crazy because of the unusual races in which I have participated in recent years, so I take it as an endearing nickname.

The other secret is that I have a special sports hero.  Along with millions of other people around the world, you were probably watching the Super Bowl last night and spent the afternoon preparing food and following all the hype.  On the other hand, I was cheering on my all-time favorite athlete, Phil Mickelson, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament yesterday with four phenomenal rounds of golf.  I affectionately call him “Crazy Phil.”

Phil Mickelson

 I’ve never admired another athlete like I do Phil although I’m not really on a first-name basis with him … yet.  Nor do I cheer for any sports team or individual athlete the way I cheer for Phil.  I confess that I have a natural affinity for “Lefty” because I am also left-handed, and I am an avid golfer (duffer).  That crazy Phil.  You never know what he’ll do next.  Here’s what I love about Phil.

  • He’s the most creative shot-maker in golf.
  • He has the vision to see the changing nature of every golf course and adapts his game to the conditions.
  • Phil’s always smiling, has fun on the golf course, and engages the fans as he plays.
  • He is well known as a risk taker, attempting crazy shots that no one else would ever attempt.
  • At age 42 Phil battles psoriatic arthritis, a chronic auto-immune disease, but he continues to persevere and play at the highest professional level.
  • When his wife and mother were both receiving treatment for cancer, Phil became an outspoken supporter for breast cancer research.
  • Phil understands the importance of giving back to the community.  The Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation was formed in 2004 to focus on a variety of youth and family initiatives.   The Mickelsons are also heavily involved in the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides support to special operations military personnel who have been wounded and to the families of soldiers who have died.
  • Phil does everything with enthusiasm, passion, and heart.

Most of all, I respect Phil Mickelson because, as an athlete, he displays the qualities that enable leaders to be successful in their chosen field.  I am convinced that children who have the opportunity to perform, whether in sports, music, art, or drama, learn early lessons that give them an advantage later in life as leaders.  By contrast, children who are only spectators and never get their feet wet in the fire of performance do not always gain the necessary skills and experience to become the best leaders.

I spent most of my childhood playing sandlot games and later organized sports.  At the same time my parents (bless them) made me take piano lessons.  I still remember sitting at the piano at my teacher’s house, which was a block from the elementary school.  For some unknown reason my lessons were during recess, and I vividly remember looking out the window at my classmates having fun on the playground and longing to be there.  That round of piano lessons was short lived.

By performing I learned the necessity of preparation.  It is impossible to count the hours I spent in practice rooms over many years learning to perform on the organ.  Two to three hours a day in college and graduate school, plus many more hours spent mastering the art of choral conducting, singing, composing, playing scales, sight-reading, and analyzing classical music.  Without careful and focused preparation performance was not possible.

The same was true of sports.  Every afternoon was spent with whatever team I was on at the time.  We did endless drills, sprints, and scrimmages, all meant to prepare us for the rigor and intensity of game situations.  The key was disciplined practice, gaining the mindset of a performer.  Today’s leaders have the same focused intensity of musicians and athletes.

By performing I learned the importance of creativity and vision.  When children are encouraged to be creative performers instead of simply mimicking their teachers and coaches, they develop a unique style that sets them apart.  “Make the music your own,” my organ teacher in graduate school said over and over.  That freedom of expression liberated me from the rigidity of playing Bach in a cookie cutter Baroque style and allowed me to create my own musical personality.

In the same way when children are encouraged to just play instead of always participating in organized sports, they naturally experiment, tinker, attempt crazy things, and discover their own uniqueness.  The best leaders see what others can’t see and know when to color outside the lines to get from point A to point B.

By performing I learned the value of risk taking.  Playing it safe was never in my vocabulary as a child because my parents allowed me to explore the world and my vocation without criticizing or second guessing me.  I was never labeled a failure, even when my first wedding as an organist was a disaster.  And when I was always playing touch football with the boys, I ignored the name calling and followed my heart.

Teaching children how to perform in a supportive context, whether in dance or music recitals, soccer games, writing poetry, or reading the scripture in church, allows them to fail as well as succeed.  The greatest lessons children can learn happen when they are in vulnerable situations where it is safe to experiment, fall on their face, try new things, and excel.

Even when all doesn’t go well, children who live in a secure environment discover that perseverance, overcoming obstacles, and putting oneself out there lead to success.  They also learn how to receive and give feedback and what it takes to assimilate their learning and go to the next level.  Likewise, the greatest leaders are formed in the crucible of disappointment because they attempt crazy things, have faith in their skills, become wiser through their failures, and never give up.

By performing I learned about teamwork.  Most of my early athletic endeavors were team sports where success depended not on one superstar but on the cohesiveness of a team that played seamlessly and selflessly.  I also learned about the importance of flexibility and adaptability.  Sometimes my coach would ask me to shoot more, other times my job was to pass or rebound.  There is no “I” in team, I heard repeatedly.  Eventually, I learned how to build effective teams by observing excellent coaches and teachers.

Great leaders understand that their success depends on the quality of the team that surrounds them.  As a leader, I’m in good shape if I am the weakest link on the team because that means that everyone else on the team is smarter and more skilled than I am.

Finally, by performing I learned about passion, courage, and being part of something larger than myself.  For that I thank Phil Mickelson as well as a host of mentors, preachers, coaches, and spiritual guides whose deep desire to make a difference in the world has inspired me to attempt great things for God.  The greatest asset of a leader is his/her ability to rally people around a cause that will make a positive difference in the world even though others might call it crazy.

I am convinced that God wants us to become performers, not mere spectators.  God wants us to jump right into the thick of life and not watch on the sidelines.  God want us to risk all for the Kingdom rather than sit back and judge everyone else.  At the same time anyone who performs has to be a bit crazy because we open ourselves to all kinds of criticism.

Phil played one of the most amazing tournaments in his career.  The first day he shot a 60 and came within one stroke of tying the all-time lowest round ever in a PGA tournament.  By the third round he came within one stroke of tying the lowest 54-hole score ever in a tournament.  Phil said in an interview after his win, “I wasn’t playing so well at the beginning of the day but regained control of my thoughts so that I could see what I wanted to do.  All I cared about was doing what I had to do to win.”

The crowds adore Phil Mickelson more than any other professional golfer today because he loves his vocation with a passion and feeds off the energy of the crowds.  They call Phil crazy because he generates excitement and expectation.  Great leaders are also crazy because we never know what amazing things they will do next.  Jesus was even called crazy (i.e. he had a demon) because no one knew what would come out of his mouth.

Last November Ezra and I were walking hand in hand in Florida when he suddenly turned to me and said, “Grandma, you’re not really crazy, are you?  You just like to do crazy things.  So I’m not going to call you Crazy Grandma anymore.  I’m going to call you Run Grandma, okay?”   Crazy!


Make Things Happen

Tomorrow is the day! Thirty-one-year-old Adam Greenberg has been given a one-day contract with the Florida Marlins, who will be playing the New York Mets in an end-of-the-season baseball game that will not affect the playoffs. But it’s going to be the coolest game of the entire year. You see, Adam Greenberg is the only person in Major League Baseball history to have his career end on the first pitch.

On July 9, 2005, Greenberg made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs, but in his very first at-bat he was beaned in the head by a 92 mile-per-hour fastball. Adam never made it back to “The Show.” He has bounced around the minors for the last 7 years and was also on the Israeli National team. Greenberg always had a dream to get back to the majors, though.

This summer documentary filmmaker Matt Liston heard about Adam’s story and started an online campaign called “One at Bat,” hoping to enlist as many people as possible to support Adam’s return to the majors for one “at-bat.” Liston’s campaign took off and attracted the attention and advocacy of other professional athletes. Last week the Florida Marlins front office decided to make it happen for Adam. The very team whose pitcher beaned Adam Greenberg 7 years ago has guaranteed him one at-bat.

What fascinated me as much as Adam’s story is Matt Liston’s role. Liston said that he always wanted to play Major League Baseball but knew that he wasn‘t good enough. When he heard about Adam, Matt was determined to make that dream happen for him. Liston figured that his online “One at Bat” campaign had about a 1% chance of being successful but was convinced that if he could attract enough media attention, Adam might be given an opportunity.

This story is not only about baseball and the courage to follow dreams. It’s also about leadership. If I could summarize the essence of leadership in 4 words, I would say, “Leaders make things happen.” Leaders find a way. Adam’s dream wouldn’t have happened without Matt’s leadership in creating a vision, developing a plan, and then executing it.

I’ve discovered over the years that leadership cannot be reduced to a certain style, philosophy, or theology. Leaders cannot be pigeonholed, labeled, or put in a box. Simply put, leaders are able to empower groups of people to accomplish goals that move forward the mission of their organization.

So where were the leaders during the 3-month lockout between the National Football League and the NFL Referees Association? Last Wednesday the NFL finally announced a deal with the Referees Association to increase salaries and improve pension benefits. Admittedly, labor negotiations are extremely complex. Yet NFL owners have never been richer and rake in billions of dollars every year. Why did both sides fail to reach an agreement, leaving pro football games to be officiated with replacement refs from lower division college, high school, and semi-professional ranks?

As the season began, it became clear that the replacement refs were in way over their heads. Their inability to perform at a high level compromised both the safety of players and the integrity of the game. The tipping point came last Monday when a “Hail Mary” Seattle Seahawk pass was deemed a game-winning touchdown when others felt it was a Green Bay Packers interception. The player, coach, and public outcry was so immediate and vehement that the NFL and the referees reached an agreement 2 days later. Where were the leaders to make things happen before everything got ugly?

James Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society, wrote last week in Faith in Action about his uncle, who was an entrepreneur and traveled all around the South selling one thing or another. Jim remembers his father telling him, “Uncle John used to say, ‘There are three kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who stand around and ask, “What happened?”’ I intend to make things happen.”

Likewise, leaders in the church don’t watch things happen. Nor do church leaders ask cluelessly, “What happened?” Leaders in the church make things happen. There is no one certain clergy type that is successful in pastoral ministry. However, all effective clergy have one characteristic in common: they have a passion for making things happen. And all healthy, vital churches have one trait in common: their lay and clergy leaders don’t just talk, they make things happen.

Ten Rules for Making Things Happen in the Church

1. Know your context.

What worked in your 2 point charge in the country probably won’t work in the large downtown church, and what worked in your wealthy suburban church likely won’t work in a struggling inner city mission church. Context determines action. Therefore, analyze your ministry setting well, know your demographics, understand the community around the church, learn about your congregation’s history, and get to know your parishioners. Then develop a ministry plan and make it happen.

2. Make full use of your strengths rather than lament your weaknesses.

Leaders who make things happen build programming and ministry around their own greatest assets and the unique gifts of their staff, lay leaders, and congregation members.

3. Encourage others not to wait for permission.

Leaders who make things happen empower lay persons to discern their passions, develop ministries that fit with their congregation’s mission statement, gather similarly-committed people around them, and go for it!

4. Be flexible but always follow through.

Leaders and churches that make things happen are adept at adapting plans on the fly. They are invested in outcomes, not in following the letter of the law. “Whatever works” is their mantra. Such leaders and churches are agile and able to change direction at a moment’s notice.

5. Be alert and find clues everywhere.

Great leaders read widely, spend time in God’s world, and make room for prayer, Bible study, and discernment. They seek wisdom from secular organizations, observe the work habits of leaders who produce, and pick the brains of those who are successful in their jobs. The church has much to learn from the world about how to make things happen.

6. Surround yourself with people who are much more gifted than you are and trust their instincts.

Excellent leaders align their ministry with God’s mission and are acutely aware that they can do nothing apart from God. They focus their energy on equipping others to realize their potential by deep and generous listening, offering space for vision and creativity to emerge from chaos, and selflessly giving others credit. Leaders understand that in Christian community our collective gifts create a mysterious synergy that unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit.

7. Light a fire in others by your presence and example.

Leaders who make things happen are connected with and present to their constituents. They are totally invested in the mission of the church and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Because their inner and outer lives are integrated, they inspire by example.

8. Accept feedback graciously.

Leaders who make things happen seek continuous improvement, regulate their emotions, don’t waste time being defensive, and are eager to enhance their effectiveness.

9. Make sure everyone has “one at-bat.”

Leaders who make things happen understand that every individual is important, unique, and essential for the church to function at its highest level as the body of Christ. Inclusivity at every level of congregational life creates a highly effective community of disciples who demonstrate the fullness of the kingdom of God.

10. Don’t give up the dream.

Adam Greenberg will have his one at-bat tomorrow because he never gave up his dream. Greenberg lit a fire in Matt Liston, Liston lit a fire in thousands of fans, and those fans lit a fire in the Florida Marlins to make it happen. Greenberg doesn’t see his one at-bat as a mere gimmick and hopes this might be a springboard for a major league career. But even if it never happens, Greenberg knows that it will be enough to have that one at-bat.

Leaders and vital churches make things happen. How will you light the fire?




Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want to Go

September 3, 2012

“Don’t look where you don’t want to go.”  My friends Libby and Bruce are teaching me how to ride a mountain bike.  After many years of road biking, I gave in to their encouragement to give it a try.  There are many differences between road biking and mountain biking.  There are only certain places where skinny, little road bike tires will go, but mountain bikes can plow through sand, gravel, mud, underbrush, and over rocks.  The primary danger in road biking is CARS and DOGS, while mountain bikers are constantly vigilant about steep hills, sharp curves, tree roots, boulders, and unexpected obstacles.

Road bikes can travel a lot faster, but you have to stay on paved roads.  Mountain bikes are slower, but they can take you to places you’ll never see on a road bike.  But here’s the primary difference between a road bike and a mountain bike according to Libby.  “When riding a mountain bike, don’t look where you don’t want to go.”  In other words, in whatever direction you allow yourself to look, your subconscious will likely steer you.     

Road biking is predictable, but you can’t daydream on a mountain bike.  You never know what you will encounter next, so you have to keep your eyes focused on where you want to go.  If you fixate on the huge tree in front of you rather than the narrow path, you may very well crash into the tree.  And if you are spooked by the sand dune ahead, you won’t have the reflexes to get into the proper gear to glide effortlessly through the sand, and you’ll probably tip over.

After failing to navigate an overgrown 2 track last week and falling into a bed of poison ivy, I said to Libby, “It’s a great mantra, ‘Don’t look where you don’t want to go.’  But it’s not as easy as one might think.  In fact, it’s a great metaphor for life.”

Anyone who has struggled with addictions, compulsions, or obsessions understands the analogy perfectly.  If you need to lose weight, don’t keep ice cream or potato chips in the house because you won’t be able to resist “just one bite.”  If you are trying to kick the Coke habit, don’t put Coke in your grocery cart.  If you can’t stop at one beer, don’t go to the bar with your friends.  Either go somewhere else or find new friends.  If you are attracted to pornography, block the sites on your computer, and don’t look where your heart tells you not to go.

Case in point.  A few weeks ago Prince Harry found himself in a bit of hot water with the Queen and his father.  Pictures were released of 27 year old naked Harry carrying on with one or more naked women during a strip billiards game in a Las Vegas hotel on August 21.  Harry has always been the most fun-loving and mischievous of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s two sons.  He’d gotten into trouble more than once growing up, but it seemed in the last few years that Harry was maturing into his role as third in line for the British throne.  Just recently Prince Harry represented the Queen at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and comported himself well.

Prince Harry has no doubt been told numerous times, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.  Remember who you are.  You are a prince at all times, not just when you want to be.  Even though Las Vegas prides itself on its slogan, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’ it doesn’t apply to royals.  Therefore, you must be on guard at all times because there are certain things that princes just don’t do. ”

Royal aides requested that Britain’s newspaper watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, urge British newspapers not to publish the photos.  Of course, millions of people could already see the pictures online, to the great embarrassment of the royal family.  Most Brits seem amused by Harry’s antics, which have endeared him to the world over the years.  At the same time Harry’s family has undoubtedly instilled in him the fact that there is no such this as a public and a private royal life, especially in the 21st century.  “Harry, everything that you do is subject to scrutiny, so even if your desires tempt you to get sidetracked, don’t look where you really don’t want to go.

Prince Harry had a talking to by his father and grandma and is now safely back in the British Army where he is a captain and pilot of an Apache attack helicopter.  Meanwhile, many in Las Vegas are capitalizing on this incident of indecent exposure by attempting to increase their own exposure.


Lest you think that Prince Harry’s royal woes don’t apply to you, 1 Peter chapter 2 gives us some sobering advice, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  The Haller edition of my Bible also adds these words, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.  Think before you act in a way that would disappoint God.  Don’t for a minute assume that others are not looking to you as an example and model of a Christ-like life.”

All clergy know that they are role models, set apart for the professional ministry.  We receive formal training on boundary setting, sexual ethics, pornography, and responsible use of technology.  Less clear are guidelines governing smoking, swearing, spending habits, alcohol consumption, and misuse of prescription drugs.

We constantly struggle with what it means to be human and clergy at the same time, to be holy when we know that we can never be perfect, to have both a private and a public life, and to be an example at the same time as we don’t always get it right.  Perhaps the best advice for clergy is, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.  Make sure to hold yourself accountable to a spiritual director, covenant group, or other support group.  Stay calm, repent, and ask for forgiveness, and carry on as changed people.” 

The apostle Peter’s words were not simply meant for clergy, however.  They are addressed to all who attempt to live as faithful disciples and represent Christ.  One of the primary reasons that young people today are turned off by the church is their perception of Christians as poor examples: aka hypocrites.

  • We say one thing and do another
  • We proclaim grace but withhold that very grace from those who do not think like us
  • We advocate for peace and justice at the same time as we fail to demonstrate inclusivity in our churches around gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sexual orientation, religion, and handicapping conditions
  • We have big ideas about transforming the world but resist transformation in our local churches and denomination as well as in our own spiritual lives
  • We tout the fruits of the spirit but when push comes to shove in our local churches, we turn our eyes away from Jesus and resort to power plays, name-calling, criticism, pressuring, clutching, and quenching the Spirit

The solution?  It’s quite simple.  Get naked, but not exactly like Prince Harry got naked.  Allow God to penetrate your hard exterior and expose yourself for who you are, with all your flaws, fears, and phobias.  Admit both your vulnerability in wanting to look where you don’t want to go and your inability to resist temptation on your own.

     Recognize where God is not leading you, and don’t focus on what will lead you astray.  Then discern where God is calling you to go, and get on your mountain bike and move.   Leave your road bike behind because the kingdom road is not smooth.  The way of the cross is full of hazards, bumps and bruises, low hanging trees, and huge roots, but there is no other path I’d rather take.

Don’t look where you don’t want to go, keep calm, and carry on.  That means you, too, Harry!