Heads-Up Living

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I’m sorry, but that’s a good little cartoon.  Stupid, with an undertone of simple truth.

Not many things in life feel as bad as a missed opportunity.  When you seize up with fear and watch it go by.  When you recognize it only as it passes.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll beat yourself up a bit.  You’ll call yourself a dummy. You’ll say you’ll never miss one again, until the next day when it starts all over.

On the other hand, nothing in the world feels as good as knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s will.  Have you ever felt that?  The peace and power that comes over you when you know you’re exactly where God wants you, when He wants you to be there, doing just what He wants you to do.  It’s an indescribable feeling!

But so often, those moments are missed.

I remember one time I was working at Barnes & Noble.  I was going to go out for my lunch break, but for some reason I ended up getting something in the cafe and going to the break room. And there in the break room was a coworker I really enjoyed.  She and I didn’t get to hang out much, as we were in different areas of the store, so this was an unexpected surprise.  It’s worth mentioning that she was also atheist.  Not angry atheist, just a doubting atheist.  She was reading the newspaper and some recent tragedy was on the front page.  We got to talking about it, but I don’t even remember what exactly it was we talked about.  But I felt God pressing me toward having a little deeper conversation.  And in the process of the conversation, we shared our views on people and on God.  And it seemed almost out of nowhere, she just started weeping.  She went on to explain that she always viewed religion as a crutch for the weak.  But in that conversation, she saw what genuine love looks like.  And she just sat and cried a moment and told me that the faith I described was the most beautiful thing she’s ever heard before.

In that moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

It was awesome!  And God put words in my mouth that had never come to mind before.  I could feel myself being used by God, like a guitar in the hands of a musician.

The thing is, that conversation could have never happened.  It was so by chance and random that I could easily have overlooked it.  But I was aided by something I learned while being a manager at Barnes & Noble…

One of the coolest things about God is that He can redeem anything.  He first called me into ministry when I was in High School.  But, me being me, I ran from that calling for years and years.  While running, I found myself managing a book store.  And I learned an awesome life lesson there that fuels my ministry now.  One of the things they taught managers at B&N is this idea of heads-up tasking.  It’s a simple concept.  You have a task that you’re expected to do.  But while you’re doing it, always keep your head up for people who may need help in the store.  So for example, every week the bestseller display needed to be updated.  You would be assigned the job and expected to finish it.  But while you’re rotating books in and out of the order, every couple moments look up and around.  Do you see anyone who looks lost, confused, in need of help?  If so, approach them.  If not, carry on.

It’s that same approach to life that will put us in those places where we know we’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for us.  Just like with me in the break room.  Those situations are what I like to call divine appointments.  God has me where he wants me, doing a job.  But He’s also going to run random someones across me in need of something.  Maybe a meal, a hug, a word.  But if I’m not working with my head up, I’ll miss the moment.

One of my favorite things to hear are those super crazy, random stories people have of God working through them in unexpected ways.  Know how that happened?  Heads-up tasking.  They were out doing their thing, but when God put an opportunity in front of them, they identified it and took action.

I think perhaps the best example of that I know is Pastor Randal.  The dude always has stories of random things happening.  He’s got stories of running into people at gas stations, while on the road, in the supermarket.  All over.  The guy has mastered the concept of always having his head up, looking for divine appointments.

When’s the last time you had a divine appointment?

We talk all the time about time management and prioritizing.  But how many times do we talk about having our heads up for those unexpected moments where God really wants to use us?

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a divine appointment, I encourage you to examine how you approach your tasks.  Are you too absorbed in what you’re doing?  Are you blind to the world around you while you’re set to a job?  Or are you open to those small moments that can so easily pass us by?

God wants to use each one of us, in all sorts of ways.  My challenge to you is the same as the challenge I make to myself: live life heads-up.  Be committed to the work you do, but be committed to recognizing God’s divine appointments in your life.  And watch as God uses you to bless the world.  Be blown away by the peace and joy you experience as the power and presence of God flows over you.

Work hard and keep your head on a swivel.  God’s sending people your way.

Pursuing the Right Things

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So most of you know that I went to college to pursue Business Administration, not any sort of Bible degree.  And it’s not because of any significant reason, other than I was more interested in being wealthy than Godly.  I eventually said yes to God and His direction, but not before learning a bunch of pretty interesting leadership stuff.  One of the principles we learned is one that Pastor Brian is a big proponent of.  And it’s one that our staff talks about constantly and I still try my best to apply and adhere to.  Because used correctly, this principle could literally change your life.

It all started with the dashing man shown above in the early 1900’s.  He was an economist, so he was big into nerd things.  And being big into nerd things, he realized one day that just 20% of his pea pods contained 80% of the peas.  Just a small portion of the overall yielded most of the harvest.  He later found that the same numbers appeared all over the place.  Most famously at the time, 20% of his fellow Italians owned 80% of the land in Italy.  And the more places he looked, the more he found this to be true.  It was true with wealth distribution (still is), it was true with productivity, it seemed to be true almost everywhere.  So here we are today with the Pareto Principle, most commonly known as the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule simply states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work.  A really smart fella’ named Dr. Joseph Juron explained it a couple decades later as “the vital few and the trivial many”.

These two men said in a really smart way what we all seem to suspect deep down inside: that most of the junk we do is just that.  We spin our wheels and spin our wheels, but not much is actually accomplished.  And the reason is pretty simple.  We’re focusing on the wrong stuff.  We’re not necessarily focusing on unimportant stuff, but we’re focusing on unimpactful stuff.  Is unimpactful a word?  Maybe ineffective is a more effective word here.

Need a visual?  I gotcha…

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This is a principle that seems to hold true in every situation.  For example, it’s been shown that:

  • 20% of laborers do 80% of the labor
  • 20% of salesmen do 80% of the sales
  • 20% of the customers buy 80% of the product.
  • 80% of the problems come from 20% of the causes
  • 80% of the software failures come from 20% of the bugs
  • 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the customers
  • 20% of the products account for 80% of the sales

I’m not telling you this so that we can better sell our Hunger Project t-shirts.  Nor do I keep a count of who excitedly talks about our events and gets people to sign up.  Though maybe I should.  Just kidding

…or am I?

I say this because we all want to be more effective people.  Whether at work or at home, we all want to be more impactful.  We want to spend our time doing the right things that get the results we want.  And by applying this principle, we can turn our goals and dreams into reality.

Let me show you what this looks like in an area we can all relate to: youth ministry!!!

My time can be taken up with 1,000 different things.  Email, phone calls, budgets, networking, event planning, dreaming, counseling students, training volunteers, supporting parents, service prep, writing teachings, going to sporting events, creating graphics, cleaning, improving the auditorium, decorating, prepping the next grade to come into youth, developing student leaders, designing t-shirts, planning mission trips, having lunch at the schools, calling first time visitors, calling students who’ve been MIA, hanging out with students, creating teaching series, creating a social media presence, communicating everything going on in the ministry, getting parents’ support, calendaring, marriage counseling, blogging, helping kids discover next steps, maintaining the environment, making videos, fundraising, hosting events, on and on and on I could go before ever even talking about all the general church stuff involved in working at a church.

So there’s lots of things to do.  And all those things need to be done.  But where do I spend the majority of my time?

When I first entered the ministry here, the youth group was about 15 kids from a church of about 300 people.  Right off the bat, I found that the most impactful things I could do were gain the trust of the parents and build relationships with the teens.  So my top 20% that produced 80% of the results was spending time with students, gaining support from parents, and developing good teachings.  To that end, I went to the schools and had lunch with them several times a week.  I was at a game or event of some sort nearly every night of the week.  I hung out with students nonstop and made them a part of my life.  I met with parents to talk about vision and how I want to partner with them in what they’re doing.  I read lots of books and devoted alot of time to develop my teaching abilities and tried to provide a Wednesday night service they’d want to invite their friends to.

The result is what we see today.  I group that has grown tremendously in number and impact.*Full disclaimer: I do not claim to be the cause of God’s movement.  God is the one who moves and changes.  I merely claim to have done a halfway decent job stewarding the time and people He gave me.

However, I’ve recently had to take a step back and look again at what my top 20% is.  I can’t have lunch with every single student.  I can’t go to every single sporting event.  I can’t intimately know each student in our ministry.  I can’t counsel that many people.  Now to some extent, those top 20 are becoming the bottom 80.  Because life is like that.  It moves and sways.  Seasons come, only to be replaced by a new one.  That’s why we talk to our children differently as they grow.

So in an effort to better steward all the students we have, I’ve had to take a look at what’s effective in growing in this season.  And what I’ve found is that the best use of my time is training up leaders, empowering volunteers, and delegating/equipping others.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t meet with students anymore.  It just means that’s not my focus now.  Now my focus is developing others to do that.  I no longer rely on just me to build relationships with our teens, but prepare an army of 30 people to do the same.  I don’t focus on trying to run an entire Wednesday night service.  I focus on giving elements away to people who can do it better, so I can be more focused.

So hopefully you’ve got a clear picture of the 80/20 rule.  My question is: how can you apply this?

Maybe you’ve been thinking of work and all the things you want to complete.  Maybe you’re thinking of the youth group and ways you can be most effective.  Hopefully you’re thinking a little of your family and home life.  Because you’ve got dreams.  But dreams are sidetracked by all the little things that life throws at you.  We’ve all had that day where we plan on getting something super important done.  But emails come, people stop in, you’re asked to help with something, etc.  And at the end of the day, you’ve accomplished a whole lot of nothing.  The Pareto Principle begs you to find what’s truly important.  Then when the demands of the day sap away your time, you can identify the 20% of things that matter.  And when something on your agenda needs to be removed, you have the wisdom to say that it can’t be those things.  Don’t dodge the big, scary important task by completing all the easy, menial tasks.  In essence, it asks us to not just work smarter, but work smarter on the right things.

What are your right things?  I’d really encourage you to sit down and give this alot of thought.  If you’re married, talk about it with your spouse.  Pray on it.  Work through the WISDOM acronym Pastor Brian shared during this Why series.  What does leading your family look like?  What are you leading them to?  How are you getting there?  Are you building or just maintaining?  By facing these tough questions, you can change the direction and momentum of your life!  Do things that matter!