Leaders are readers; readers of books on organizational management and leadership. If you are interested in setting up your organization to scale, then Google might be a good place to learn from. Tech companies are strange leadership examples, though, because they are lead by geniuses. Not all large organization leaders in the C-suites are smart (no sarcasm intended), many manage with hard work and learned leadership skills. Large successful tech companies generally have a genius founder who is the leader by nature of being the founder. They scale when the genius is also socially intelligent and can lead the organization in the implementation and demonstrative capability of the tech.
So, as a pastor, reading a book on the organization and administration of a super sized tech company isn’t a 1:1 direct application, but there are a lot of principles of operation, recruiting and management that can be useful. This is especially true for a church that wants to reach and disciple tech natives. For me, the biggest learning from this book for churches will be how to move faster (while still being wise). We live in a time when culture is speeding up exponentially and the church (universal) has a well-earned reputation for slowing things down… exponentially. While the church doesn’t need to speed up, it can have a significant impact if it learns to relate to a faster world with the timeless gospel.
Here’s some great quotes for you to cut and paste into your own Google doc…
- from the foreword by Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page, “Over time I’ve learned, surprisingly, that it’s tremendously hard to get teams to be super ambitious. It turns out most people haven’t been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking.”
- p.5, “But while most companies say that their employees are everything, Larry and Sergey actually ran the company that way…They felt that attracting and leading the very best engineers was the only way for Google to thrive and achieve its lofty ambitions.”
- p.73, “If we measured success by number of users, we could (and did) trick ourselves into believing that the products were successful. Sometimes they weren’t, though; momentum for many of these offerings flat-out stalled.”
- p.77, “(Henry Ford, ‘If I had listened to customers, I would have gone out looking for faster horses.’)”
- p.190, “Clean out your inbox constantly…Remember the old OHIO acronym: Only Hold It Once.”
- p.195, “Board members want to talk about strategy and products, not governance and lawsuits. (If this isn’t true, get new board members.)”
- p.239, “Management’s job is not to mitigate risks or prevent failures, but to create an environment resilient enough to take on those risks and tolerate the inevitable missteps.”
I have to admit that I love Douglas Coupland books. He is a Canadian writer, who coined the term, Generation X, with his book of the same title. I feel like his small book, Life After God should be on Seminary book lists because of it’s treatment of postmodernity and religion. His books aren’t always especially awesome, but his treatment of stories is so remarkable I can never get away from them; the stories stay in my head forever.
I have made it a pilgrimage tradition to only buy Coupland novels at Powell’s when I am up there. And I prefer to buy them used. I try to be as hipster as possible to get the full experience. It’s an extra bonus because I never remember where the books are so I get to ask someone for help, and publicly identify myself as someone who is into an author the store clerk has never heard of. It’s a great chance to practice being self-righteous in a non-sinful setting.
The Gum Thief is about some people who are working retail, at a Staples, who develop an unlikely relationship. They write to each other in the break room, as they write and read a story that one of the characters is working on. The book itself is really unique as it goes back and forth between the story and real life – with the anticipated intermingling that every reader is expecting.
Here’s 2 long literary quotes to help you chose next time you are up at Powell’s:
- p.23, “I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween…Who made the rule that everyone has to dress like sheep 364 days of the year? Think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to – like talking to dogs. Hey cool costume! I dig vampires too.
- p.192, “I have to add another way that Kyle is driving me nuts. He has a digital camera, and when he shoots something like a bridge or a thousand pigeons, he almost immediately scrolls through his pictures and looks back on what’s basically the present moment and treats it like it’s the distant past – even if the bridge or the pigeons are still right there. // At the end of the day, I’ll scroll through the day’s photos with him, and even on the camera’s dinky little screen the whole day comes back to me, which is unsurprising, but what is surprising are the background details I remember that I might never have remembered otherwise: an Evian truck blowing blue smoke; a woman walking three wiener dogs; a cloud shaped like a muffin. So imagine if you could scroll backwards and look at your whole life the same way. God only knows how many trillions of memories are stored inside us – memories we’ll never retrieve simply because we don’t have a device that allows us to browse them properly. With your mother, do you think the memories were still locked inside her and she couldn’t retrieve them? Or do you think the memories were simply gone? Is anyone’s existence only as good as their brain is at any given moment? And if so, what about the soul?”
Seems timely that I blog about Perry Noble’s book Overwhelmed, and when I google search him to give some link-love, he has broken his social media silence just yesterday!
For those who don’t know, Noble was the founding and lead pastor of New Spring Church, a rocket of a church in the Carolinas, until he was canned. He was struggling in his life and had some personal issues that were overflowing into his leadership, so the board at the church removed him. It’s always a terrible story, and there are so many common threads in these mega church pastor explosions and flame outs. It’s remarkable in two equal but opposite ways: why does it keep happening, and how amazing are men like Richard Warren and Andrew Stanley for their long integrity in their leadership roles!
All that to say, I picked up Perry Noble’s book, Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry, because it included some of his backstory in leadership when he was dealing with his burn out. Reading biographies of other leaders is an incredibly helpful practice for those with leadership roles. Sometimes this is to learn from their strengths and, in this case, sometimes it is to avoid their mistakes.
It was a helpful book, but really it could have been half the length. The first half of the book is about his personal stories, and the second half felt like a repackaged sermon series. I didn’t think it would be that way, but it was really difficult to continue to take the book seriously as it got more and more tedious. So, if you pick it up, read the first half and shelf the rest. Unless you are into it, then knock yourself out.
Here’s an encouraging line I highlighted:
- p.81, “Most Bible experts agree that the fourth man in the fire was an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. But Shadrach, Meshach and Agednego didn’t see Jesus until they got into the fire.”
Mark Wilson is a pastor in Wisconsin and he has written Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus as a book on evangelism for everyday Christians. Many of us see evangelism as a special gift that only a few people have, but Wilson shows how having a heart for sharing Jesus with others is available to all! How much better do we share the gospel when it comes from a heart passion, rather than a rote training program?
The strange title comes from ancient near eastern fishermen who would search for a rare shellfish that gave a deep purple dye. The metaphor is that Jesus goes to great lengths to reach people because they are so valuable, so we must imitate Jesus, both in his methodology and valuation of humanity.
Moving evangelism from a pressure and guilt experience to one of practicality and joy is such a gift to the church. If we stop looking at witnessing as a sales pitch, we will be free from the guilt of not meeting our quotas. When Jesus called the disciples who were fishermen, he used their old job to describe their new job; they went from fishing for fish to fishing for men. Fishing was not about pressure and guilt – it was about knowing the water and the fish and being able to respond to the conditions of the sea. While there was no official training program, fishing took a long time to learn to do well, as you worked with and learned from generations ahead of you. I’m ready for a way of sharing my faith that feels like fishing – something that energizes and refreshes my soul.
Here’s some purple quotes:
- p.19, “There are two great metaphors for sharing the gospel: fishing and treasure hunting. The purple fish combines both.”
- p.22/23, “…for most Christians, evangelism feels more like a trip to the dentist than a purple fish fishing adventure…And like so many Christians, I abhorred witnessing and felt guilty about it.”
- p.40, “We cannot share what we do not have. Unless our mission flows from worship and holiness, we’re just hypocrites playing silly religious games.”
- p.94, “Here’s a great prayer to start the day: ‘Jesus, what are you up to today? Can I join you?’ You’ll be surprised at the divine appointments you will encounter.”
- p.133, “Most believers are terrified to share their faith because of their own negative personal encounters with obnoxious Christians, and they definitely don’t want to become ‘one of them.’ “
- p.138, “…net fishing in the New Testament was social rather than solitary: ‘An entire village would fish together and often two boats would work in tandem drag-netting fish in between them.’ “
- p.148, “Jesus is already present in the lives of everyone around us. Our task is to recognize where he is working, and then follow the divine nudge to help others see it too.”
Two things: If I have ever been guilty of using a click bait blog post title, this is it. And, if you ever want to get weird looks at starbucks, bring this book to read with your Strawberry Acai Tea.
William Webb, who is a Seminary professor in Ontario, Canada, wrote the book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, as development of what he has called the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. It is, in brief, a way of reading and studying the Bible in the context of God’s redemptive work and relationship with mankind and it’s ultimate goal. The biblical treatment of slavery, women’s rights and homosexuality is in depth and extremely complicated by the cultural context contemporary to the writing of the bible and God’s willingness to speak into and through particular times and people.
In the end, Webb shows how, through the arc of the Scripture, the Bible is progressively eliminating slavery, increasing gender equality (though he allows for a biblical ‘soft patriarchy’) and remaining consistent in it’s regard to homosexuality. The book does a tremendous job at avoiding the normal emotions and hostility surrounding these issues. The cost, however, is that the book is highly technical and a complicated read. Webb explores the entirety of the Bible as it speaks to these three issues and does not leave anything out. For most people, this will become an all year kind of book.
If you are interested in these areas, though, I would suggest spending some time on a google search for the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. It’s how I read the Bible, and I think it’s how you should too! Plus, he finishes the book with a chapter called, “What if I am wrong?”, how can you not love a theology book that actually considers the frailty of the author!?!
Here’s the quotes for today:
- p.21, “Most of us are oblivious to the culture around us. Like the air that we breathe, it is invisible and we simply take it for granted… What awakens us to culture is contrast.”
- p. 22, “It is necessary for Christians to challenge their culture where it departs from kingdom values; it is equally necessary for them to identify with their culture on all other matters.”
- p.30, “A sense of the biblical or redemptive spirit can be obtained by listening to how texts compare to the broader cultural milieu within the development of the canon.”
- p.37, “One might be able to persuade a modern congregation into believing that employees should ‘obey’ and ‘submit to’ their employers based upon the slavery texts. This happens all the time. But the outcome reflects a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture. The rest of the slavery material, beyond the obey/submit instructions, is often left at arm’s length and simply not applied.”
- p.61, “Jesus’ development of a multilevel ethic in Matthew 19 provides helpful insight into at least three factors that influence the formulation of the biblical message: the hardness of people’s hearts, creative expectations and kingdom service.”
- p.73, “A component of a text may be culturally bound if Scripture modifies the original cultural norms in such a way that suggests further movement is possible and even advantageous in a subsequent culture.”
- p.117, “Interestingly, with the animals an explicit statement of hierarchy followed by naming is pre-Fall; with woman the explicit statement of hierarcy and personal naming are ultimately post-Fall. It is a rather curious feature of the text that the man’s name (Gen 1:26, 27, 2:7) does not change after the Fall (he retains his original name), whereas the woman is given a new name. In fact, the names by which we most commonly remember and retell the Eden story today are ‘Adam and Eve.’ Yet, one is pre-Fall and one is post-Fall.”
- p.201, “When a New Testament text repeals and Old Testament practice, it is almost a certain indication of cultural-component status. In other words, continuity between the Testaments provides inconclusive results, whereas discontinuity offers reasonably conclusive results.”
I picked up The Jewish Annotated New Testament on a recommendation because of the essays at the end of the book. The main part of the book itself is simply a New Testament in the NRSV with notes from a (messianic) Jewish perspective. On most pages fully half of the text is sidebars, notes, maps and charts. It really is a study bible for the New Testament that focuses on the cultural context of the New Testament as it was being written.
This makes it an amazing version of the Bible for people to read and understand more of the original meaning and intent of the Scripture. The further away we get from the ancient near east, in time, distance, culture and technology, the more difficult it is to rightly interpret and apply the Scripture. The study helps in this publication of the Bible are so helpful in that way.
The final 55 pages of the book are essays about the history and society of the Jewish people contemporary to the New Testament. These get a little technical, but for pastors and those interested in deeper background information about things like the role of the synagogue in the community or early thoughts on the afterlife and resurrection or the “Jewish Miracle Workers in the Late Second Temple Period” (this is what I mean by ‘technical’), these essays are golden.
Here’s some quotes just for the love of technical theological writing:
- p.502, “…the election of Israel is based on grace, not merit or works. Jews do not follow Torah in order to ‘earn’ divine love or salvation…”
- p.502, “…numerous commentators explain that the priest and the Levite of the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk 10.30-37) bypass a wounded traveler because they are commanded by Jewish law to avoid touching a corpse. The parable, however, does not give this as the rational for the priest and the Levite’s behavior. Indeed, it could not have been the rationale, since the priest is ‘going down’ from Jerusalem (Lk 10.31), not ‘up’ to it, where purity in the Temple would have been an issue. Although Lev 21.1-2 forbids priests from contact with corpses save for those of near relatives, no such injunction applies to the Levites. In rabbinic literature, the responsibility to save a life supersedes other commandments (e.g.,b.Yoma 846). Next, Samaritans had the same purity laws as did Jews. …Jews would have expected the priest and the Levite to provide care, and part of the shock of the parable is that they do not. The parable mentions priest and Levite for rhetorical, not legal reasons: it leads listeners to expect to hear ‘Israelite,’ the typical third member of the priest-Levite-Israelite trio, thus listeners are shocked again when the third person is revealed to be a Samaritan.”
- p.504, “…’den of robbers’ is a quotation from the Hebrew Bible, from Jer 7.11, and it refers not to where people steal but where thieves go to feel safe.”
- p.523, “On a ship lost at sea, Paul takes bread form the ship’s provisions, gives thanks, and breaks bread with his fellow 276 passengers (27.3-37). Paul’s actions allude to those of Jesus, who fed the multitudes in the same manner (Lk 9.16); unlike Jesus, however, Paul breaks bread with – and spreads the gospel to – Gentiles.”
- p.544, “This angel [in Exodus 23.20-21] bears God’s essence, his name, and even though he is distinct from God he possesses divine authority. The later pseudepigraphic Apocalypse of Abraham (perhaps first-century CE) names this angel Yahoel; in early Jewish mystical literature he is called Metatron.”
- p.549, “Only from John 1.14, which announces that the ‘Word became flesh,’ does the Christian narrative begin (sic) to diverge from synagogue teaching. Until v.14, the Johannine prologue is a piece of perfectly unexceptional non-Christian Jewish thought that has been seamlessly woven into the Christological narrative of the Jahannine community.”
Pixar is easily seen as one of the most creative companies in the world, so any time they produce material to help others be creative you would do well to pick it up.In this case, Ed Catmul, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation wrote a book that is part history and part inspiration, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. It’s an incredible book that talks about the difficult (and relational) work of creativity and how to shape a culture which can produce incredible cultural progression in art and science.
Many people do not think that creativity is something churches think about, which is probably why so many people describe their experience of church as boring! At The Grove we are constantly thinking about how we can create novel designs in our systems and presentations that creatively integrate with our cultural moment. In order to speak the gospel to people in a meaningful way, we work hard to create remarkable meaning and beauty in our church.
On a personal level, this book helped me in two ways: First, it was helpful in the formation and structure of my sermons, which is a strength I am constantly working to improve. I want to make the very best sermon experience ever – every single week. That seems like a ridiculous goal, but you wouldn’t be the first person to think that I am ridiculous. Secondly, Creativity Inc. helped me to be able to best shape and share the story of The Grove as an event that unifies and inspires people – both those inside and outside of The Grove itself. Our story, told in (again) meaningful and beautiful ways, is what God is doing and will be doing soon in us and through us within our city and our world.
The amount of learning I did in this text forced me to start putting one sentence chapter summaries on the front cover just to get a handle on how much I was processing. Still, here’s some creative wordings that give a taste of how helpful this book was,
- p.x, “The point is, we value self-expression here.”
- p.x, “What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.”
- p.xv, “My aim at Pixar… has been to enable our people to do their best work. …my job as manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it.”
- p.12, “Basically, they welcomed us to the program, gave us work-space and access to computers, and then let us pursue whatever turned us on.”
- p.74, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better… Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.”
- p.77, “Supporting your employees means encouraging them to strike a balance not merely by saying, “Be balanced!” but also by making it easier for them to achieve balance. (Having a swimming pool, a volleyball court, and a soccer field on-site tells our workers that we value exercise and a life beyond the desk.) But leadership also means paying close attention to ever-changing dynamics in the workplace. For example, when our younger employees – those without families – work longer hours than those who are parents, we must be careful not to compare the output of these two groups without being mindful of the context. I’m not talking just about the health of employees here; I’m talking about their long-term productivity and happiness. Investing int his stuff pays dividends down the line.”
- p.94, “Michael Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3, says he thinks to make a great film, its makers must pivot, at some point, from creating the story for themselves to creating it for others.”
- p.105, “Every creative person, no matter the field, can draft into service those around them who exhibit the right mixture of intelligence, insight, and grace. ‘You can and should make your own solution group,’ Andrew Stanton says, …’Here are the qualifications required: The people you chose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time. I don’t care who it is, the janitor or the intern or one of your most trusted lieutenants: If they can help you do that, they should be at the table.”
- p.119, “When a director stands up in a meeting and says, ‘I realize this scene isn’t working, I don’t yet know how to fix it, but I’m figuring it out. Keep going!’ – a crew will follow him or her to the ends of the earth. But when a problem is festering and everyone seems to be looking the other way or when people are sitting around waiting to be told what to do, the crew gets antsy.”
- p.191, “as more people are added to any group, there is an inexorable drift toward inflexibility.”