Stop To-Do

          When Peter F. Drucker was alive, I tried to attend his Foundation’s annual leadership conference every year.  For me, it Screen Shot 2021-01-04 at 11.47.39 AMwas always a time to reflect and refocus on the coming year.  In 1998, Jim Collins, author of Built to Last, was on the conference program. During his presentation, he talked of his goal to read 70 books annually.  Up to that point in his life, he had read about 35 books in a year’s time.  Collins told us how he bought a new chair and lamp to facilitate his anticipated increase in reading.  At the end of the year, however, he hadn’t reached his goal – he still read “only” 35 books.

            Collins and his wife tried to determine why they hadn’t increased their reading and they came to the realization that they would have to make some serious adjustments to do so. They got rid of the cable television hookup in their home—and every year after that they consistently reached their goal.  “Most of us have a to-do list,” Collins said,  “but I think as leaders we also need a ‘stop to-do list.’ We can’t keep adding to what we do without at some point taking away something we’re already doing to make room for the new activity.”

            A “stop-to-do” list.  What a novel idea!  Imagine if you and I and the organizations that we serve began to evaluate our activities with a view toward eliminating those that were outdated. Or stopped doing some things because there were other opportunities that would or could produce greater results. Or had some mechanism that helped us recognize when an activity, even a good activity, no longer served the vision or mission of the organization. 

            Peter Drucker speaks the concept behind a stop-to-do list in several of his publications. I quote here from his book, Managing in a Time of Great Change:

What, then, needs to be done?  There is a need for preventive care—that is, for building into the organization systematic monitoring and testing of its theory of the business.  There is a need for early diagnosis.  Finally, there is a need to rethink a theory that is stagnating and to take effective action in order to change policies and practices, bringing the organization’s behavior in line with the new realities of its environment, with a new definition of its mission, and with new core competencies to be developed and acquired.

There are only two preventive measures. But if used consistently, they should keep an organization alert and capable of rapidly changing itself and its theory. The first measure is what I call abandonment. Every three years an organization should challenge every product, every service, every policy, every distribution channel with the question, If we were not in it already, would we be going into it now? By questioning accepted policies and routines, the organization forces itself to think about its theory. It forces itself to test assumptions. It forces itself to ask: Why didn’t this work, even though it looked so promising when we went into it five years ago? Is it because we made a mistake?  Is it because we did the wrong things?  Or is it because the right things didn’t work?

Without systematic and purposeful abandonment, an organization will be overtaken by events. It will squander its best resources on things it should never have been doing or should no longer do. As a result, it will lack the resources, especially capable people, needed to exploit the opportunities that arise when markets, technologies, and core competencies change. In other words, it will be unable to respond constructively to the opportunities that are created when its theory of the business becomes obsolete.[i]

            It’s the job of the board of directors or leadership team in any organization to see to it that the limited resources of that entity are directed to activities that are most consistent with the purpose of that entity. Leaders must make sure that the money and people are devoted to the right cause. But often the day-to-day leaders are more in touch with the pulse of the business than the board members and need to help the board understand reality. They need to educate the board members that just because the organization can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should do something. It’s at that point that leadership has to make the hard decisions, and that too constitutes the price of leadership.

            At other times, the founder or long-standing leaders have favorite, “pet” projects. They want these projects to continue because they like them, not because they’re effective or productive. What’s needed is some mechanism to evaluate activities that will clearly identify those that have outlived their usefulness. Leaders must also do this on a personal basis and learn to say “no.” It’s hard to say “no,” however, if you’re not sure what your “yes” is. One of my favorite stories is found in Acts 6.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-3).

            There are three lessons in this passage that will help you or your organization to stop doing one thing in order to do something new.

1. Face reality – As a leader, you must look at reality.  Often the phrase “facing reality” is used to refer to the downside of something.  But it can also be used for the positive.  The apostles faced reality.  The early church was growing, and that was good.  Growth brought problems, however, and this gave rise to a significant complaint from one of the groups in the church.

Look at all the things that are going well in your life or in your organization.  Are you making these things all that they can be?  Do you need to pay even more attention to these unexpected success stories.  And what about the things that are not going so well?  Do you need to keep pouring time and resources into these situations, or is it time to let them go gracefully?

2. Embrace change – Letting something go means that there will be change.  Up to this point in the life of the early church, the 12 apostles had been involved in everything.  But as the church grew, they could no longer be everything to everyone.  They had to delegate and focus on what it was that they did that no one else could do.  They didn’t personally help the widows, but rather came up with a plan to make sure that the widows were helped.

When I say “embrace” change, I mean just that – enthusiastically accept it as a part of life. While change is necessary for growth and for effective leadership, you can’t minimize its impact. As a leader, you must be personally involved in helping followers understand the need for the change. Remember how long it took you to get used to the idea of the change, then be patient and give followers the same time to consume and digest the implications of the change. You must also be accessible to develop the plans for change and to help talk out the implications for followers.  It’s during times of change that followers need to have their closest contact with those in leadership.

One thing that can help others embrace the change is when you embrace change as a way of life and leadership. Gandhi once said, “We must become the change that we seek.” Therefore, you must model the tendency and practice of embracing change before you start dumping change on others.

3. Feed your opportunities; starve your problems – Peter Drucker provided me with this phrase and it’s profound.  Too often we do the opposite – we feed our problems and starve our opportunities. Drucker also gave a good rule of thumb where this concept is concerned. He advised that every three years an organization (or an individual for that matter) should evaluate all their activities by asking this one question: “If we had known three years ago what we know today, would we have started to do, or kept doing, this particular activity?” If the answer is a resounding “No!”, then it’s time to stop doing that activity. If you had known three years ago, for example, that you were going to have spend so much money and time on a venture, would you do it all over again? If the answer is no, then it’s time to stop it – NOW!

The apostles in Acts 6 didn’t get personally involved in the widow problem; in that sense they “starved” it.  Instead they fed the opportunity to pray and preach the word.  The outcome of this strategy was a good one. Acts 6:7 tells us that “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Robert Greenleaf also has something to say to leaders about the need to let go of something old in order to embrace the new. He called it “systematic neglect.” 

The ability to withdraw and reorient oneself, if only for a moment, presumes that one has learned the art of systematic neglect, to sort out the more important from the less important—and the important from the urgent—and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else.  One may govern one’s life by the law of the optimum (optimum being that pace and set of choices that give one the best performance over a lifespan)—bearing in mind that there are always emergencies and the optimum includes carrying an unused reserve of energy in all periods of normal demand so that one has the resilience to cope with the emergency.[ii]

How about you? What do you need to stop doing in order to undertake a new opportunity? What is no longer yielding the returns that it once did in your life? And how about in the organization you lead? What new opportunities are knocking at the door but can’t get in because the “waiting room” is filled with problems? Take out a sheet of paper and make a stop-to-do list and then have the courage to dialogue with yourself and others about the changes that need to take place.

[i] Peter F. Drucker, Managing in a Time of Great Change (New York: Truman Talley Books/Dutton, 1995), pages 32-33.

[ii] Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), page 19.

Walking Down a Different Row

I just returned from a visit to my grandchildren and took time to go to a local farm to pick some Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 3.17.04 PMberries. It is hard work for this farm is on a hill, it was hot, and while the berry bushes had plenty of fruit, it was spread out among many bushes. I find it fascinating that I could walk down one row with bushes on both sides of me and see plenty of fruit, but then when I went to the next row and looked back on the row I came from, I saw fruit I missed. I tried to see all there was to see when I went down the first row, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not see it all. What I needed was a change of perspective to see all there was to see.

When I have led cognitive and social learning seminars, I include a phrase, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Of course, the things I am looking at don't change, but my perspective is changed according to my approach and angle for viewing. I have used the same concept when I have taught preaching classes, for I tell students that they must suspend what they think they know about a verse or passage for even a short moment as they prepare to speak, for as soon as they are convinced they know what a passage says, they will miss what else it may be saying. This is called the lock-on, lock-out phenomenon. As soon as we lock on to what we think we know or see, certain we have seen all the berries or the meanings there are, we lock out the possibility of seeing more.

When I was a pastor and did some marriage counseling, I would surprise couples when we began by asking them to tell me what their partner was about to tell me about them. "What is your wife/husband going to tell me about you?" Many would make an effort to answer my question, but quickly switched gears to report what was wrong with their spouse. They had locked on to the problem with the other person and had often locked out their contribution to the need for counseling. 

What's my point in all this? It is a valuable exercise to put yourself in someone else's place or to shift your perspective from time to time in order to see what you cannot see from where you have been. For example, today in the mail I received a copy of a book The Best Short Stories by Black Writers (1899-1967). Why would I order and read this? I do so because I am not black and I want to read something written by people who don't look like me and probably don't think like me. Since I work with many African Americans, it will help me walk down a different row to see what I could not previously see.

When we don't walk down a different row, it may be because we are not as secure in our position as we would like others to believe and thus need to read or be exposed only to things that will reinforce our current position. That's not wrong unless it is what we always do and thus cut ourselves off from the "fruit" that is right in front of us but we can't see, not because we aren't physically capable or don't want to, but simply because we cannot see it from where we are standing—mentally or physically. Do you have the courage to walk down a different road and see something new? Or will you keep walking up and down the same old row and limit yourself to what you are convinced is all there is to see? While you are answering those questions, I will be reading the book I just got in the mail.

The Online Pastor

My revision and expansion of my 2009 book Changing the Way We Do Church is coming along. The expanded version will include an entire section on technology and social media, which was hardly Screen Shot 2020-06-12 at 7.14.28 PM
mentioned in the first edition. I won't go into all I will have to say there, but in light of my posts the last two weeks about creativity and innovation in the church, here is an excerpt from the new section I want to show you this week.


In the earlier part of this book, I recommended that each church appoint a purpose pastor, someone who can help people recognize and then engage their life purpose through appropriate actions like publishing, starting a business or non-profit organization, or entering into full-time church or missions work. To go along with the purpose pastor, I also recommend that every church identify and empower a pastor of social media and technology. I will not get too specific as to their job duties, but in general, they will be to

take who we are as a people—what we teach, how we worship, what we believe, how we apply what we believe—and make it accessible not only to those in our closest proximity but also to those who live in other regions or countries.

This position will not allow a church’s presence online to be an afterthought or something that is done when the church gets around to it but will make it a top priority. They will have the full cooperation of all the staff and in a sense will co-pastor the church with the lead pastor, mutually submitting to one another. Due to the resistance and priority that lead pastors tend to give to the face-to-face church presence, this online pastor and his or her team must have unprecedented power to make decisions in the best interests of the online work, sometimes at the expense of the live worship experience. The online pastor will have the authority to involve any and all church staff and members in this endeavor.

For example, let’s say that the senior pastor shares a message that is well received by the people. The online pastor can decide to turn that series into a book, an online series with a study guide, or put it in any other format necessary to fulfill his or her mandate and the senior pastor cannot refuse. The online pastor can assign any staff member online duties and they cannot refuse or claim it’s not their strength or gift, or resort to the “I am too busy” excuse. As an example, the online pastor can decide the church is going to live broadcast the youth or children’s ministry and that’s that. There can be no protests from either department that they don’t want to do this.

My assumption is that all the resources any church needs to fulfill its mission are already sitting right in its midst. The church only needs new eyes to see who is present and utilize those people in a more effective way. This is also where the purpose pastor can help the online pastor, for the purpose pastor should be close to who knows and does what in the church, and also whom God is speaking to about more involvement in the church’s ministry work.

The online pastor will be tasked with identifying a team that will provide an online presence during the live worship services. The members of that team will use their own social media presence, or the church’s, to publish and broadcast portions of the live service. That will include quotes from the sermon, perhaps a line from a song sung that impressed them, or their own insight as the service progresses: “Pastor Sam is preaching from 1 Samuel 1. I have never thought of Hannah as he is presenting her. Good stuff!”

Finally, the online pastor will then help each staff member with their own social media philosophy, helping them spell out exactly how and when they will personally engage social media, which media they will use, and what they will include in their online presence, which may be a weekly blog, a regular video update, a devotional, or a podcast. Where the technical savvy is lacking, the online pastor will provide training.

Then the online pastor will do the same for any in the church who are interested in doing the same. He or she will start by imparting a theology of social media, reinforced from the live pulpit, to help people overcome any latent bias. Then the online pastor will help people understand how to use technology in a way that is consistent with their personal ministry or purpose.

That's just a portion of my thinking where the online pastor is concerned. One more point I did not include is that this online pastor cannot report to who I am calling the Sunday meeting pastor, for the latter will always prioritize the face-to-face meetings, often at the expense of an online presence—just as they have done since social media came on the scene. It is time for the Church to be innovative and an online pastor is one position that is needed and relevant, as the recent pandemic has shown. It is no longer acceptable to use social media as a church bulletin in cyberspace but instead to make it an important part of ministry, equal in energy and commitment to the on site services.

W47D2 - Change

"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true'" - Revelation 21:5.

If God is making everything new, it means He is in the change business, transforming all things from how they were to how they are going to be. Therefore, change is not something to be tolerated or engaged when there is a crisis, but rather change must be seen as a business and life strategy. Technology progresses, people come and go, one market opens  and another closes down, a calamity affects world markets, and princes and politicians assume power and are deposed. Wise and effective leaders understand that they deal in change and help their organizations and the people in them to adjust to and prepare for the reality of change.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Your Step today is to examine your own attitude toward change to see if you consider it an inconvenience or a God-ordained way of life. Do you talk about the good old days or have you kept up with the latest trends in technology and social media? Do you decide regularly to preserve the status quo or do you lead change initiatives to improve and modernize your operations and business strategies? Are you resisting inevitable changes in any area? Do you understand that the decision to do nothing is in and of itself a decision with implications?

W42D2 - Change

"Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building" - Ezra 4:4.

When the Jews started to rebuild and repopulate Jerusalem, there were people with vested interests who tried to hinder the process. That is usually how it goes when people and leaders try to plan and implement change. Their tactics are almost always the same, for the opponents of change use forecasts of doom and failure to intimidate and instill fear into the change agents. When this occurs, leaders must continue to remind followers of the reasons for the change and how it fits into the overall vision and flows with values of the organization. While opponents use fear, leaders must 'preach' faith; when opponents use discouragement, leaders must find ways to encourage those doing the change work.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Your Step today is to determine if fear or discouragement are plaguing the change initiatives in your organization. Since people may not yet see the results of the change, you must paint a vivid picture of the new reality you are pursuing as a team. How, where, and when can you do this? Perhaps it's time to revisit the reasons for the changes or to encourage one another by celebrating small victories or successes along the way.

W37D2 - Change

"Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome,showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service" - Daniel 1:3-5.

In today's passage, we read about Daniel and his friends being transported from their homeland of Judah and brought to Babylon. Because they had much potential, they were chosen to be leaders and placed into a three-year development program. They had to learn a new language, new culture, and a new way of living with new 'foreign' names. After that, they were to enter a management training program that involved direct service to the king, the same king who had ransacked their homeland and killed family and friends. This is a good example of leaders not only having to lead and manage change, but also having to deal with and embrace change in their personal and leadership lives.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Today's Leadership Step is to read all of Daniel 1 with your journal close by. As you read, ask the Lord to show you the depth and pain of the transition Daniel endured. What price did Daniel pay for leadership? What other changes in addition to the ones mentioned above did he encounter? What was Daniel's main concern when he began his training? What was Daniel's attitude toward all this? What do you see that can help you with your own approach to change?

W32D2 - Change

"But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute,
with her family and all who belonged to her,
because she hid the men Joshua had sent as
spies to Jericho—and she lives among the
Israelites to this day" - Joshua 6:25.

Rahab protected and saved the Israelite spies, and her reward was that her family’s lives were spared. She had to undergo massive changes, however, for she had to transfer cultures from where she had been to live with Israel in order to live. What helped Rahab deal with the change was that her life was in danger. Leaders must help followers understand the need for and price of change when the stakes aren’t so high. While the need for change may not be as severe as it was for Rahab, adapting and accepting change is still an important part of survival at both an individual and corporate level.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Your Step today is to focus on a change that you need to institute at the corporate or family level. First, be clear on what change you seek. Second, determine what it will look like when the change is implemented. Third, decide how you will communicate both the need for the change and how the change is progressing. Finally, how will you know if you were successful?

W27D2 - Change

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build . . ." Ecclesiastes 3:1-3.

This well-known passage from Ecclesiastes reminds readers that life is full of activities and events that are diametrically opposed to one another. Being born and dying are at opposite ends of the life spectrum and involve a series of changes leading from one to the other. The changes are drastic, however, and each change in these verses represents an end and/or a new beginning. Leaders must help followers deal with change and sometimes that change is terminal, like the end of a product, service or staff position—or life itself. When something ends, it doesn't indicate that someone made a mistake; it is simply part of the cycle of life and death, beginning and end, conclude and start afresh.

LEADERSHIP STEP: If you are like most leaders, you love 'life' but avoid 'death.' You embrace the new but dread ending something that has been an important part of so many lives, including your own. You may even be avoiding the termination of someone on your team whom you love, but whose time to end their current position has come. Your Step today is to face the fact that there is a time for everything and to initiate or face that change with courage and resolve, even though you know it will cause pain.

W22D2 - Change

"So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them'" - Acts 11:2-3

Peter was the leader of the apostles and had been directed by the Lord to go to visit a Gentile in Caeserea. When Peter returned home, he was met by a contingent of Jewish believers who were upset with him that he had spent so much time with a Gentile, which was against Jewish custom. Peter was leading the church into change and not everyone was happy about it. Leaders do what Peter did and leaders often get the same response that Peter got: resistance, criticism, and second-guessing. Yet if progress is going to be made, leaders must master the elements that are part of the process of organizational change.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Is there a change (minor or major) in your organization that you want and need to institute? Your Step today is to formulate a plan for seeing that change through from start to finish. Pay particular attention to how you will communicate that change, for as you can see from today's passage, Peter had to spend a some face-to-face time with people explaining his rationale and motive for doing what he did. You will have to do the same and will have to pay attention not just to the change but evaluating the change and how you went about doing it once the change is over.

W17D2 - Change

"Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' 'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean'" - Acts 10:13-14.

Up to this point in time, Peter had maintained a kosher diet according to Old Testament Law. Then a voice from heaven told him to change his diet and he said, "No!"  Even though it was a heavenly directive from God, he was being asked to change a lifelong pattern and it represented not an opportunity but a loss in his eyes. When leaders announce well-thought-out change initiatives, people can often respond in the same manner. The leaders can then be offended or perceive the followers as negative or uncooperative because they (the leaders) didn't take into account the depth of their followers' fear of and aversion to change, even if they're spiritual people.

LEADERSHIP STEP: If you're leading change, you must provide support services for those most directly affected, whether it's a move for your family or a new product for your company. Your Step today is to sit down and listen to those being impacted by any change with which you're involved, and better understand what kind of support you can provide for those most directly affected. Perhaps you need to change your attitude toward those who are resisting the change so you can find out and understand why it presents such a challenge for them (or for you).