The Missing Ingredient (Leading Change)

The Missing Ingredient (Leading Change)

I’m a new part of a church organization that is in the midst of finding itself. It is what a mentor called an identity discovery phase.

Another way of describing this unique place and process is leading change. Though I have not read John Kotter’s preeminent 1995 book by the same name, I have read the executive summaries and I have participated in models that mirror his principles and prescriptions.

The ethos, and indeed mandate, of leading change is critical for all leaders and organizations (who are striving for any degree of health or impact in the world, that is.)

A strong leader once told me that great organizations should experience change every 8 months (just to keep up with culture, technology, economy, etc etc) and that made sense to me.

The problem, of course, is that many of us don’t like change and then for the rest of us who are open to change it’s a painfully slow and difficult process.


Let’s handle those 2 obstacles right off the bat:

1. For those who are change averse: you maintain an extreme sense of irony.

At a certain point you must admit that very world around you is constantly changing; and not just a macro level either.

So you can go on “not liking” change all day long and even keep screaming it from a mountain top if you like, but with that attitude and posture you will always being sitting in immediate juxtaposition with the natural world around you.

2. For those who believe it’s just too hard or too late to change: you have chosen the poorest excuse.

If people succumbed to “it’s too hard” mentality we would not have a single lick of innovation from the last century (let alone since the beginning of time). What if Lincoln would have said, ‘reconciliation is too hard’… if Ford had said, ‘building a “car” is just too complex’… if MLK had said, ‘this thing will never change.’ I think you get my point.

To cease tackling a thing because it is too hard is to cease doing the very central thing we are called to do: live well.


The fact of the matter is: all organizations and systems (even the family system!) are in need of change.

How do I know?

Because all organizations experience stuckness.

In their good intentioned pursuit to diversify, spread out the eggs, reach into new markets, industries or niches organizations get stuck for so many reasons-most of which we are not here to discuss today.

I think one of the most important reasons people and organizations get stuck is this:

a loss of focus.

On the why, the win, the action and execution.

You can imagine the snowball effect above, but lets take a closer look at the importance of each…

1. The why: the mission; the vision; the values…

If you don’t have them, if you don’t hold tightly to them, if you don’t have them at the top of your performance dashboard then what’s it really all for anyway-it’s anyone’s guess and it’s up for grabs and when its up for grabs people will create their own why.

2. The win: how we know what success looks like…

First of all have you defined it? Second of all, have you defined it BEFORE you execute (run the event, program, marketing campaign). Most people and organizations operate in the opposite order, ‘lets just do it and see what happens.’

3. The what: this constitutes the bulk of your working hours…

What kind of action are you taking? Is it the right action at the right time? And is it focused action? If you’ve set a target (the why and the win) then you should be able to filter every working hour through those first two things. When we fail to do this, we are now facing a stewardship (management) issue (i.e. How will we be judged by the way we invested every waking hour of our lives?)

4. The execution: the final delivery.

If you are a manager or leader of people and you can’t account for why your staff, team, people aren’t producing better results than you need to seriously evaluate the above three. Odds are: all this lack of focus in the why, the win and the what are leading to a high level of stuckness at the execution level.


Committing to Change…

We have only to first admit that we are stuck.

Therein lies the first principle from Kotter’s work: change will be most successful when the greater percentage of your leaders carry a mutual sense of urgency around change.

It was not an intentional plan of mine, I have to admins, coming into my new organization but I found myself saying the same thing over and over again to key staff and volunteers.

In my envisioning to people about this new season at the church, with just as many competing ideas, programs, initiatives as the marketplace, I found myself encouraging our team that it may be time to say a healthy “no” to the options and ideas out there.

…to forgo doing several things very half-heartedly and inefficiently and, in the end, poorly. And instead to focus on one thing, and here’s the mantra:

We are committing to do a very few things, very well…

As to what those things are-that’s our plan and our issues. You probably just need to work your plan. But make sure people understand the why, the win and the what. Whether its your family or your startup, hold fast to these things and you will not only bring about focus, you will have a great shot at bringing about change.

Book Review: Monday Morning Atheist

Book Review: Monday Morning Atheist

I’m going to try a little something new this time and cover the great learnings that someone else has thoughtfully and excellently elucidated.

In other words, I’m reading about 6 or 7 books simultaneously right now (I know just the nastiest habit… call it A.D.D.) and I’d like to share those outcomes with the world.

The first one is from Doug Spada and Dave Scott’s great little (just over 100 half pages) book called “Monday Morning Atheist.”

First of all, props for a great title; it definitely caught my eye and I’m a total victim for book marketing-in titles and in cover artwork (one reason why I’m messing around with more than 5 books at once right now).

But more than that, the book title caught my eye because I have been hounded by the challenge of what it takes to carry the Sunday morning church experience into the week beyond.

I feel the burden (and danger!) of church simply being relegated to 90 minutes of information transfer, lukewarm musical engagement and surface level community.

I want to be a part of a generational movement where Church is defined as so much more than that.

But the principle has to do with physically being the church and carrying our faith outward.

That’s the essence of Spada and Scott’s great work in this book.

I will briefly highlight their 3 challenges for us as people who leave the church Sunday and go into our workplace Monday (as always, whether that place takes you to corner offices or kitchens):

1. We tend to leave God back at church because we are still hung up on this sacred/secular spiritual divide

I love this reminder so much.

And there are scriptural references left and right but a few of my favorite are:

(God Speaking to Peter in a dream about Jewish/Gentile reconciliation) “The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”- Acts 10:15

(God Speaking to Moses giving him his mission to free a people from captivity) “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” – Exodus 3:5

All the ground on the earth is God’s ground; everything on heaven and earth belongs to God so how can you call it unclean, “secular,” or unholy…?

The major challenge put to the believer is to stop compartmentalizing our lives into sacred/secular, holy/unholy, spiritual/non-spiritual…

As believers we have the Spirit of God within us, that means that wherever we go we at least have the opportunity to make it sacred… to make it holy… to make it spiritual.

2. We tend to take matters into our own hands because we leave God out of our work lives, which results in us feeling alone, isolated and separated from God in our work.

This is your basic truth about how we always try to control things. Since birth we are bent toward this reality.

Because we feel like work is ours to produce and manufacture and manipulate, just like everything else in our lives, we end up refusing to let go and let God.

We don’t give to him what rightfully belongs to him in the first place (the plan, the circumstance… destiny!) and when we do that, the result is actually a greater sense of loneliness in the world.

3. We tend to buy the lie that because our work doesn’t have the coolest mission or vision, that it’s all a waste

This is one of the saddest and most grave of all and it hits my generation with unusual poignancy. 

The millennial generation is particularly plagued with finding meaningful work and purpose.

We have this desire to be change agents and cultural movers and shakers, yet when we feel like our minimum wage job doesn’t chalk up to that, we slack off in our pursuit of making a difference or we just up and change jobs altogether.

God wants us to delight in everything we put our hands to, because he delights in it and because when we do, ultimately, that’s an incredible example to the world around us.

The way that Spada ties all of this together is through this very consistent thread around light and darkness.

We have the greatest opportunity, and indeed call to action, to take our faith and our God into our work week and yet most days we walk around like the light of the Lord is virtually non-existent in our lives.

The idea comes most clearly from Matthew 5:

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

That’s the bottom line.

We have to enter into our work week with a newfound sense that we have a very bright light in our lives and others want and need to be a part of that too…

Go ahead and let them in by proving by the way you act, talk and live that its a worthy endeavour, that it’s a beautiful thing, that it’s a life changing force for the greatest good and transformation!

Doing What Matters Most (And the People Who Pull you Along)

Doing What Matters Most (And the People Who Pull you Along)

Ever feel scattered brain and divided in your work load? Lack of clarity in your job description? Or simply what you’re trying to accomplish in a given day?

Ever felt slow or stagnated in seeing movement toward your personal or corporate goals?

Today marks the end of my first month at our new church job.

Looking back I can see some instructive moments on these subjects already…

First, a few words on my job description and position. I’ve been hired on as an Associate Lead. At a smaller church with fewer resources and staff this means I wear many hats and fill a very generalist role.

Knowing this would be the case before I began work, I had a few hopeful goals: get clarity around the most important hats to wear the majority of the time, which would dictate my highest priorities thus leading to more focused action.

Let me break that down once more:

major hats > highest priorities (which dicatates hours in the day by the way) > focused action (which leads to better execution by the way).

Whether it was the role or the task, the principled expectation I had coming in was: you just focus on what’s important now (or W.I.N. for short).

As a generalist I knew that I could not focus on 15 different things at once. I wanted to pick 3-4 things and do those well.

Two of those W.I.N. projects have been within the realm of mission/vision clarity and leadership development.

But before (or simultaneously) chipping away at these two great and worthy endeavors I knew that I would have to just sit with people. Sit with the paid staff, sit with volunteer staff and then sit with pretty much anyone who has influence at this organization.

Sit, hear their story, listen to their heart for this place, receive feedback and build trust.

Then at the end, give just the tiniest insight into how I would love for them to consider participating in our upcoming leadership initiative.

These meetings have been amazing, encouraging, clarifying and uniting. What I’ve learned from sitting with 15 different people (in as many work days) is:

That they are all hungry for something new;
That they all have a heart language for the needs of our communities and;
That they are all ready to play a part.

It’s a pretty neat thing to witness because as the “new guy” you bring very particular culture and DNA all to yourself. And the 500 pound gorilla in the room is whether what you have, are and bring will sync up with what’s in the place you are entering. 

I’m hopeful that through these meetings with people they are encouraged and together are spirits are being knit together.

And that’s one of the key and timeless principles that you have to remember:

It’s all about people; people matter most; people build things-especially highly invested and highly influential people.

Meet People. See People. Hear People.

It all begins and ends with people; human to human sync up and send! 

Actually this is so paramount that I would be willing to make the following bold statement:

The what and how don’t even matter yet; even the big WHY doesn’t matter yet. It’s all about the WHO that matters most (right now).

I could have the most compelling mission & vision (the big why) you’ve ever heard, but if you don’t even know me, if you haven’t met me, if we haven’t heard each other just eyeball to eyeball, it’s not gonna mean much. AND we’re not gonna go very far…

Who is a person within your organization or circle of influence that you could really use a reconnection with? *Hint: you may have some unresolved stuff with this person OR you might just be vital for each other in the joint pursuit of some grand mission or vision!

If this is impacting your life or leadership, please feel free to repost and share!

So Embarrasing it Must Be True (1 Way to Test Your Calling)

So Embarrasing it Must Be True (1 Way to Test Your Calling)

Have you ever felt so isolated or rogue in a certain decision, direction, mission or calling in your life that it was almost embarrassing to speak it out loud…?

Out of the many proofs for Jesus’ resurrection there’s this 1 that is commonly referred to as “The Embarrassment Test.”

Basically it says that-at the expense of telling the story as truthful and precise as possible-an author of history will include even the most embarrassing details.

There are several facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection that would fall under this category including the following:

  • That a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious Elite high council-the same one that carried out the very execution of Jesus) asked permission to give Jesus’ body a proper burial.
  • That, after Jesus was arrested in the garden, and again thereafter when Jesus is brought to the temple (Peter and his thrice denial of Jesus), all of his disciples turn tail and run.
  • Finally, the fact that the very first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb are recorded as having been women!

And it’s this last one that gets special attention…

They say the fact that Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary were present there at the tomb to testify how Jesus was risen is such a ludicrous and embarrassing element to include in the story because of one key thing:

The testimony of a woman in 1st century Greco-Roman culture was considered WORTHLESS! In legal proceedings it was considered equal to that of a robber. 

Women (and their word) were considered morally and intellectually bankrupt in that time. So as it pertains to the proof: because this detail is a major part of the narrative, then it is unlikely that someone is simply making this up.

I’ll give a more personal illustration…

My wife and I love dreaming about having another child. We have 5 as it is and I don’t have to be sitting next to you as you read this to imagine what your face looks like right now…

I know what your face looks like because I’ve seen the looks and stares and comments every time my wife and I go out for a walk with the 5.

Some people literally stop and stare. Some people stop us and say something. Most people just ogle and whisper to themselves as we walk by.

It’s not mean or nasty, its by and large probably just awestruckness… people ain’t never seen a family of 4 or 5 before… apparently… these days.

And my mom reminds me: it’s not just that we have so many but how close in age they are (5 under age 6)… which I submit is true.

In our town, in our context, in our community and even in our family and friends my wife is straight up embarrassed to even utter a word about her dream for giving birth to one more baby.

The other day she was processing, as we have done a dozen times before, her hearts cry… ‘are we crazy… is this wrong… can I do this…?’

In this moment, driving on the 5 freeway in the carpool lane (obviously) I was reminded of the embarrassment test of history, and I told my wife:

You know how I know this is right? Because, unless God was calling us to this, unless god himself had planted this desire deep in your heart, you would have to be a mad, crazy, weirdo to propose carrying and then delivering another baby whilst caring for 5 others!

I went on to say that the voice that matters now (besides God’s) is mine. And that, as hard as I try, I cannot come up with a reason, a hesitation or even a strong doubt that we couldn’t or shouldn’t do this.

I went further still and I affirmed our calling as parents-that we are both gifted in our wiring as mother and father to these children… and so long as God is willing to grant another one to us, it will be for the purpose of growing them up in one stinking righteous household.

So if God’s voice is clear

And if my voice is clear

Then there is only one voice left… the collective voices of this world.

And friends, I’m here to tell you (like I told my wife that morning on the freeway) that this voice is the one that matters least of all.

(FYI: if you’re not married find that one trusted mentor, friend or family member who knows you, your strengths and at least some of your true identity.)

If you’re looking to test if a certain thing is true, right or believable just try and get a sense for how embarrassing it might be or rather how much easier it would be to just leave it out.

I like to think of it like this: it’s so wrong it must be right. (Otherwise the author or originator of the story would have left it out!)

Now change gears from my calling to yours…

You’re currently the author of your life’s story. Well God is more the author, writer and director of the grand story, but as an actor in that story you are given a choice for the roles you play and how you play them.

My challenge question to you is: do you feel like you are seizing the decisions, directions and overall grand mission that God is nudging along through his Spirit?

If God is calling you to something, you have an obligation to walk into it… even if it would be considered worthless or embarrassing through the eyes of this world.

The question that remains is: what is it… what is that God-sized, God-breathed, outside this world mission, vision or calling that is beckoning you?

If you’re enjoying this blog; please repost and share! Thanks!

 

I Ran a Marathon, So Here’s What I Learned

I Ran a Marathon, So Here’s What I Learned

This may be some of the most important writing I’ve ever put down, let me just start that way.

A couple of weeks ago now I ran my first full marathon-it was a terrible and tremendous experience that I am still a little “mental” about even now weeks later, but I thought I would share my takeaways with you.

I do firmly believe that these learnings will serve you all he days of your life in an incredibly profound way. In your leadership, in your relationships, in your darkest hour, the following 5 takeaways will mark you if you take them to heart.

What I want you to understand about what follows it’s that everything I’ve written below is as true for life as it was for the marathon. I’ll say again: it’s as true for YOUR LIFE, as it was for me in this marathon experience.


  • As much as I try to get around it, chose the right attitude about it, I simply can’t deny the fact that I’m resenting myself for not committing to my goals…

I had two goals going into the race: 1, to not take any walking breaks and 2, to finish by 4 hours. I failed to see either of those goals through.

As of now, I won’t ever run that race again and so that was my chance. There’s a lesson here about going for broke because there’s “no looking back”-that’s the mentality I should have had on the last 3 miles of the race.

Literally that’s where I fell apart, that’s where I walked the most, that’s where I picked up the extra 8 minutes-finishing 4:08:59 officially… I feel like I will be forever staring down those extra 9 minutes.

So here’s the 1st principle:

Honor your commitments so you don’t have to ever look back.

  • It hurts but I wasn’t hurt.

As a runner in this type of game, at least in my mind, I was expecting some kind of injury toward the end, just one misstep that would have me really really uncomfortable-like beyond the normal stiffness-and this would be the true mental battle of finishing well or finishing at all.

An injury like something pulled, something popped, something even chaffed badly enough to forge through.

The truth was far less complicated than that: yes, I was sore and stiff, but I was not injured in any way. My discomfort was marginal.

I walked simply because I didn’t want to run anymore. I just wanted to stop. I was having almost a toddler tantrum. That day I learned something very serious about my mental toughness.

You are tougher than you think. You are tougher than even you body tells you or your circumstance tells you or whatever input you’re being given; don’t always buy the input or at least question where the input is coming from.

  • You can’t do this thing alone.

I knew that I would want some people to come out and support at some basic, self-deprecating level, but I grossly underestimated my fundamental emotional need for moral support that day.

In addition to the $100 entry fees, I would have paid people to be at several strategic locations to cheer me on and give me that emotional boost. And I would have been counting on them.

Actually I would have liked to be surprised by some and counting still on others. At a marathon, at really most any organized race, there is this fabulous league of volunteers who hold out mini water and Gatorade cups and they cheer and hoot and holler and it’s pretty cool.

And then you even have your fellow runner standing next to you (perhaps the few unlike me with headphones buried in their ears), which brings a certain emotional solidarity and camaraderie-and seriously even this one can’t be underrated because when you’re pacing, you stay around some familiar faces for quite a time.

But still I needed more. And that’s what I realized about myself… I desperately needed people to be there…

…at mile 19 right before “the wall” and then truthfully at the middle of every mile till the end of the race… mile 22, mile 23, miles 24 through 26 and don’t forget the .2

You can’t do this race alone.

  • Expectations are not reality. If I could somehow insert an audio loop of that phrase repeating over and over again in your head right now, whilst simultaneously getting louder and louder each time, I would.

I ran and I trained and I sweat and I prepped and I practiced-mentally and physically! I told myself all the things I would need to know, I trained really as much as I could, but nothing prepared me for the unexpected turns, distances and feelings that lied ahead.

Why? Because by and large expectations-good, bad or otherwise-will never match reality. So what’s the positive learning?

Always expect the unexpected. 

  • Find a mantra and like a psycho repeat it to yourself (out loud if you’re able). 

Talking to myself, out loud, with headphones in was literally the only thing that made me cross that finish line at a “run” rather than a walk (which to me was the image of actual failure-to pass the finish line walking).

Something remarkable did happen because of the person running next to me, I was walking and this guy about my size and stamina was jogging but just this slow and steady pace, so slow it was barely above my walk and I thought to myself, ‘maybe I should try that’… And so I did.

Mind you I had already totally caved on whatever “pace” I was aiming at before so whatever level I was attempting before this point was already near a crawl, but there was something about this guy’s slow and steady march that I decided to try it on.

And then for no reason at all I just start repeating to myself out loud:

‘just stay right here… just stay right here… just stay right here…’

I’m just telling you folks: this was the moment… this was the emotional (spiritual) breakthrough for me.

This was the moment when my entire life would be served by this one lesson. I said to myself, ‘slow and steady, just small short little steps, just keep trotting, that’s it, that’s it…’

In that moment I was coaching myself, in that moment I was the encouragement, in that moment I was two people: the one running and the one talking to the runner.

My biggest regret is that literally this second person didn’t come out earlier, just 2 miles earlier even and then who knows what happens to my finish time goal. But that’s still not the point, the point is the life lesson:

There is immense power in the mantra, with some positive self talk you can do almost anything. 

One week later and I’m still having a hard time thinking about the race because I did not meet my goals. However, there are pride points too…

I finished just in time to make an appearance 30 minutes later at my new church job. 3 days later it was my 9-year anniversary, a reminder really of what that marriage has produced… FIVE KIDS!

And to have trained and finished a race at this point in my life was actually the whole purpose to begin with.

And then someone said something to me recently that shook me to the core that hopefully gives you equal pause: my unmet goals were still within the plan of a totally sovereign God so dwell on that instead.

I think my ultimate realization is this:

In life, in leadership, in work, you can have an unmet goal and still achieve your purpose, but it’s critical to keep the bigger learning and mission in mind.

Please repost and share if you think there’s someone who needs to read this, thanks!

My Last Day

My Last Day

Something happened on my last day at work that I think is rather incredible…

Early on when I started at the church (that I’ve now transitioned off staff) we had a service where we invited people to get baptized-just right then and there.

There must have been over a 100 people that weekend-not that the number is the point. The point was how many unchurched people that day said yes to Jesus and as a result decided to get baptized in that same moment.

The reason someone should get baptized is pretty clear in the Gospel of Luke…

Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.

That’s what these people were proclaiming and I was awed frankly to be a part of it. I had maybe only baptized a couple of people up to that point and on this Sunday morning I was in the water taking turns with 2 other pastors as we baptized over 100.

It was an incredible and humbling experience to be a part of and I was wide-eyed for every minute of it.


This one powerful weekend happened very shortly after I was initially hired… my feeling then was ‘holy crap, I’m the new guy… are you sure I should be in the water?!’

Well a couple of weeks ago on my very last Sunday at The Crossing Church, we held baptisms again and I had the honor of getting in the water and walking people through this amazing act of proclaiming new life.

The only difference was that this time instead of 100 people there were 3.

A teenage boy from my (adult!) volunteer team, the mom of one of my former youth ministry students and one more surprise guest-another teenager… a girl… actually the above listed boy’s twin sister, who we will call Gemma.

I didn’t know Gemma wanted to get baptized, in fact I had never even met Gemma before, and I also didn’t know that she was in a wheelchair (she has cerebral palsy); she was very nervous about getting wet and very nervous about the whole public ‘show’… understandably so.

So the first two I invited to meet me down in the baptismal while onlookers watched and supported from above and then I got out of the water to check on Gemma.

She was a few steps away under the shade of a nearby tree and it appeared that she was giving the ‘go ahead nod’ after the encouragement of her parents and no doubt the amazing courage within her own self.

I ran back to the baptismal and grabbed a handful of water. I stood in front of her, while the droplets of water slowing dissipated from my cupped palms, and spoke the same words of life that I proclaim over all people who make the decision…

I told her how the immersion into water represented Christ’s stay in the tomb.
I told her how emerging from the water represented Christ’s defeat of sin and death.

I told her she was dead to sin, alive in Christ.

And I said that it was in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that I baptize her.

I dropped the remaining cup full of water on Gemma’s head and she smiled while her family and I all cheered, gave hugs and exchanged many unspoken words about what had just occurred.


It was just a few short moments later that I realized that there was more going on here than meets the eye.

First, I took the experience to be a prophetic symbol for my conclusion of one chapter and my beginning of another.

In fact there is tremendous precedence for this. If you take one particular Biblical reference of baptism, the baptism of Jesus for example, you may see what I mean.

You see at least from what we know of, baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Based off what was recorded in the Gospels, Jesus was about 30 years-old when his his “public” ministry began and before anything, he was baptized.

Before he multiplied one loaf of bread, before he cured one sick little girl, before he gathered the disciples and went viral, he was first baptized.

It’s recorded in many gospels but this one from Matthew is a little more descriptive:

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

In this way you could interpret (as I have many times as I dictate the many impacts of baptism to those who I have had the privilege of “dunking”) that baptism has a way of launching people into the new and next. 

Well this was and is true for me. It was true when I baptized that Sunday nearly 3 years ago at the new church, new position, new experience and new season.

And it’s true for me now as I end one chapter of an incredible season of ministry and begin another new one.

But that’s not all of what was revealed to me in that moment…

You see it was the juxtaposition of that young girl’s courage (to allow me to splash water all over her in front of her family and these strangers) sitting perfectly alongside the prophetic call of God in my life.

His call. Her courage.
His call. The courage required for me to leap well and dive deep for what’s next.

I’m thankful for a God who still speaks. If you have questions or comments about anything here or particularly about how to hear God, post below!

I Went to Jail Last Week (Fostercare and Freedom)

I Went to Jail Last Week (Fostercare and Freedom)

Last week I had the very unique privilege of visiting the birth mom of our most recent foster baby at the OC women’s correctional facility.

It was an experience I’ll never forget because of the sights and sounds, but really because of one moment in particular…

I was sitting at one of the visitation windows (with the concrete stool and phone-just like the movies) with my back to the glass looking at the view.

It was a very small box of an outdoor gated yard. I don’t think it’s used for anything (though it has the look of a prison yard break area), because although there is a high-rising gate, there is no doorway to enter from the building into the yard.

Stretching high above this outdoor area you can get a view of the face of the correctional facility. It’s a grey, non-descript, concrete, dreary looking facade with only slits of what must be windows cut at various places into the concrete… I am assuming these upper corridors are were the inmates are actually housed.

A place with no windows and no doors… a concrete mass as tough and hard as rock itself… from this vantage point you get the feeling like the building can’t breath…

Well imagine the people housed within it.

And that was my epiphany in this moment-sitting there with my back to the visitation window:

this place is the physical manifestation of no freedom.

For most people reading this you probably think, ‘duh there’s no freedom… it’s a prison… that’s the definition and essence of a prison…’

You may even be thinking: ‘architectural success!’ (If you’re particularly out of touch with humanity), but I assure you in that moment all the freedoms and privileges that I have been granted were suddenly thrust into penetrating pellucidity.

The week prior my wife had made the visit and came back shook to her core.

For starters, she had no idea what to expect… from parking to paperwork to grumpy prison guards, dirty, worn and cold passageways all the way down to the moment that she would meet our little foster baby’s momma.

The woman, for starters, was white. (Our foster baby is black). And from there, a list of subtle facial features and personality traits that spoke to the very hard worn path this woman must have walked. That we know she’s walked-from her own admission, court filings and the testimonies of social workers, etc.

The experience was harsh. And it’s safe to say that after a very trying couple of days already for Rylee (sick kids, sick herself, massive scheduling conflict with her husband) it was the straw that broke the camels back.

And my wife is one tough cookie mind you… she’s the same one that, while in college, did a home stay with an, I’ll say “complex,” family in Compton (while she lived in LA for a whole semester).

If that weren’t enough training and exposure to the context of how others live, she spent another stint living alone in Uganda where she spent her days tucked in crammed vans, riding on the back of motorcycles with foreign men and going to the bathroom in a whole in the ground (literally).

The prison and the people had rattled her.

Whatever Rylee’s expectation was, I had enough data points to go on for my visit the following week.

And not only that, but during the past 3 years a combination of working in our particular neighborhood of Costa Mesa while being a large church facility, has drawn in a very wide array of people from the street.

Some addicts, some mentally ill, some just merely transient. Over the years I’ve sat with them and prayed, sat with them and tried to find local services, sat with them and said, ‘no, sorry we can’t give you any money.’

But more than that, sitting with all those people I have this collection of faces-toothless and scarred and dirty and worn that have probably given me a unique insight into this mostly unseen community of people.

These folks… they’re not free. Not any more or any less than baby’s momma who’s locked up isn’t free.

Here’s my point: freedom is given and it is chosen. How we use the freedom we are given determines the future boundaries of that freedom. It can run unfettered or it can be restrained to a drop. It’s all a matter of how we invest the freedom we’ve been given.

And of course I would argue-using a Biblical worldview-that all freedom comes from God. The closer we are to him and the closer we pursue His suggested way of life-the closer we are to the purest form of freedom imaginable.

But most of us, not just these folks listed above in the more extreme examples, like to fiddle around and throw away our God-given freedoms.

Here are some ways I think we toss our freedom to the wind and some things that all leaders must be aware of in their own self-leadership:

  • We are free to chose our identities and yet they somehow are never fully committed. While we are not free to chose our race, gender or ethnicity we are totally free to chose the core convictions that form our life legacy. All leaders who wish to lead themselves well must understand that those 3 (race, gender, ethnicity) are only the foundation for everything else to build on.
  • We are free to chose the way we exercise our calling and yet most of us never really pick up our gifts and use them. How many of you even now-reading this post-resent 40 hours a day/5 days a week? Is that a joke?! Do you know what that amounts to over years, let alone a whole lifetime?!
  • We are free to channel our time, talent and treasure for the good of others yet most of us seldom ever do. Whether it’s allowing our finances to flounder into eventual garage stockpiles, endless goodwill clothes runs or even eating out 20/30 days in the month… whether it’s sharpening our God-given talent into weapons for world change… or whether it’s the ultimate irreplaceable commodity-our time. Turning all of these things into overflow so we can radically bless people outside ourselves seems to never make it onto the table.

  • We are free to build a family around a radical vision (much bigger and more complicated than to ‘ensure our species goes on’) yet most of us are content to let our kids grow up on the ‘non plan plan’
  • We are free to pray for and visit those who are sick, naked, hungry or imprisoned and yet we will go our whole lives before lifting one single finger.

The ball is in your court. What freedoms are currently being wasted in your life… or at least strongly under-invested? I would love to hear about your honest processing in this!