Problem Solving

In the 2004 version of The Alamo, there’s this scene where Billy Bob Thornton, as Davy Crockett, looks over the fort wall at Santa Anna’s approaching horde.  There, standing next to Colonel Travis, Crockett mutters grimly… “We’re gonna need a lot more men.” 

Sam Houston… we’ve got a problem.

Problems come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Oh, to have the impossible-looking situations we faced in third or seventh grade!  But every now and then, you and I are faced with circumstances that go beyond a headache or a flat tire.

We’re in grad school, friends.  And we’re getting the third degree. [click to continue…]


Ask an adult to define leadership, and sometimes you’ll get a blank stare, or a wad of contradictions.  Ask a child to do it, and he or she will often have a much easier time.  The leader in a kid’s world is the one who can get his friends to do what he wants them to do.  Or leadership may begin with the words, “Hey, you know what would be funny?” 

One thing adults should know that kids often don’t, however, is that anybody can lead.  That skinny, awkwardly-shy girl in third grade may be a corporate CEO or trailblazing missionary in the making.  That boy who’s always picked last for the kickball team may own a sports team one day.

Everybody is a potential leader. Leadership is not synonymous with talent or personality types.  Leadership ability is not always obvious.  And it sure isn’t the same thing as authority.

Leadership is influence.  And influence – especially good influence – can be taught.  And here’s the really cool part:  You can teach a child to influence others without them knowing that’s what you’re doing.

So whether you have kids of your own (works for grandchildren, too), or you work with children in some capacity, here are ten ideas for fostering leadership in the kids in your world. [click to continue…]


Okay this post is interactive, so get a pen and something other than your outgoing mail to write on.  Or do what I did and pop up your word processor.

Here’s the challenge:  Watch the 46-second video below and see if, based on that, you can think of at least one adjective that begins with each letter of the alphabet.  (Confession:  I had to watch about five times, but I got it.)

Why this video?  Only because I saw it the other day and thought it was way-cool.  Here’s the back story:  A missionary had distributed Gideon Bibles to a village in Malawi, Africa.  These people were so happy to get their hands on their own Bibles, they spontaneously broke out into song and dancing, worshipping God in gratitude.  (When was the last time you did that when you got a new Bible?)

So click on the “play” button and start listing adjectives.  See how many plays it takes for you to get a full list.  I’ll show you my list after it’s over and you have yours.

[click to continue…]

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bad leaderLast week I was having a “what do I do” conversation with a youth pastor in another city.  Seems he found himself at an impasse with his boss – the senior pastor of the church – over what leadership was supposed to look like.  His take on it:  the “leader” isn’t leading anybody.  Not him, not the others involved in the problem.  Nobody.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a frustrated children’s pastor about a supervisor who was repeatedly letting important details fall through the cracks.  It got so bad, the  entire church leadership team was hindered in getting their work done.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve counseled or consulted with employees or constituents – inside and outside Church World – who are crying out for visionary, heart-based leadership.  All they get instead are insecure emperors, oilers of the machinery, or absent-minded trips down memory lane.

Whenever I hear yet another story of position holders who are failing the people they’re supposed to be leading, I have two knee-jerk reactions.  First, I want to take up the constituents’ offense.  I want to bark and growl and roll my eyes and look incredulously and fuss and fume.  Second, I wonder if anybody could issue the same complaint about me if they were completely honest.

Just for laughs, why don’t we stick out necks out and try on an idea.  Leadership failures aren’t the result of somebody setting out to ruin an organization or to make your life or work miserable.  (Hey, I said “try it on”… if it doesn’t fit, we can fuss and fume some more later.)  Assuming that’s true, then, where do we go wrong?  How do leaders begin to suck the life out of people or organizations?  Here are 10 things to watch for: [click to continue…]


rejectionDear Daniel,

Thank you for taking the time to share your heart and concerns with me last week.  I respect your honesty, and am frustrated that you have experienced so many disappointments and hurts in your church relationships.  While I can relate to many of them, only you know how savagely this has impacted your life and the life of your family members.

I know it has to be a bit surreal to always feel as though, in your words, “you kept missing the memo” about what was expected beyond a simple faith in Christ.  And to be caught in between two conflicting women “leaders” had to have felt like a no-win situation.

I still don’t understand what the whole turf war stuff was all about.  But I do understand the tension between trying to show grace and love to someone in deliberate sin and yet not approving the lifestyle.  I guess until Jesus comes, we’ll still be arguing about that one. [click to continue…]


xmma-00145News Flash!  This just in…  In a shocking reversal of public opinion, somebody thinks something’s wrong with the church.

Here’s a blast from the past from an old B.C. Cartoon.  Picture the anthill, and the Dad ant poking his head out the top.  His teenaged son is coming back from the movies.

Dad:  “How was the disaster movie, son?”

Son:  “A disaster.”

Son:  “Why do they make so many disaster movies, Dad?”

Dad:  “So when Armageddon comes, we can all go back to sleep and say we’ve seen it already.”

I can see a 2009 update:

Dad:  “How was the disaster movie, son?”

Son:  “A disaster.”

Son:  “I thought we’d see a bunch of explosions, death and mayhem.”

Dad:  “Let me guess – you saw the Ted Haggard documentary instead.”

Pick your spot – inside the church or outside.  Mainline, sideline, or no-line.  House churches and megachurches.  Political and “news” organizations.  Cultural elitists and preachers.  Gay rights advocates and Fred Phelps.  Everybody seems to converge on one common opinion:

The church sucks. [click to continue…]


Help Wanted:  Branches

Master of the Universe, a firm dedicated to establishing change agencies throughout the world and providing eternal dwelling places for an undisclosed number of people, is seeking branches on which to conduct its fruit-bearing strategy.  Generous benefit package.  Unlimited positions available to trusting and trustworthy candidates.  No previous experience necessary.  Will train the right candidate(s).  (Please note:  No advancement possible.  This is an entry- and exit-level position.  The other two positions – Vine and Gardener – have been permanently filled.)


Stop doing God’s job.  Not only is it unnecessary, it’s ridiculous.  And believe me, when you try to solve God-sized problems with man-sized vision and wisdom, you will be ridiculed.

So, following up from the last post, how DO we approach situations, opportunities, challenges, and problems that are larger than we are?

You approach them like a branch would.  [click to continue…]

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Imagine the looks and the laughs.  You’re a servant – socially, a nobody.  You own no property, have little-to-no money.  On a busy city sidewalk, you are nameless and faceless.

And yet here you are, in the local real estate office, looking for investment properties.

Or maybe sitting around the local JerusaBucks, sipping on a latte and asking some of the locals about business opportunities or stock market preferences.

You’re a legend in your own mind.  But if anyone knew you, they’d laugh you out the door.

Version 2.0

Imagine the awkwardness and anguish.  You’re a servant – socially a nobody.  You own no property, have little-to-no money.  On a busy city sidewalk… well, you get it.

And yet here you are, being asked by the most powerful man you know, to look out for part of his money – more money than you’ve ever seen, much less ever held in your hand.

Echoes of your parents’ proverbs still ring in your ear – stuff like, “A fool and his money are soon parted.

Can’t he find someone else for the job?  This is risky business, and you’re no risk taker.

Isn’t there some hole somewhere…?

Above Your Pay Grade?

How do you handle assignments that are, in the words of the president-elect, “above your pay grade?” [click to continue…]


Tense Truth:  There are no solutions to problems that do not require some kind of change.  And there is no change that doesn’t create problems of its own.  The solution is not to avoid change or eliminate problems.  Rather, it is to anticipate future challenges with a solution-based mindset, even while we attack the problems of today.

John Miller, in his book, QBQ, The Question Behind the Question, tells the following story:

When Stacey was 12 years old, she and her father, a pilot, took off on a Sunday afternoon joyride in their single engine Cessna.  Not long into the flight, and about a mile up over Lake Michigan, the joy of their father-daughter adventure came to an abrupt halt.  Stacey’s father turned to her and in a calm, reassuring tone he said, “Honey, the engine has quit.  I’m going to need to fly the plane differently.”

Like Miller, I love the phrase, “fly the plane differently.”  It speaks of how problem solvers (read “leaders” here) approach changing conditions and frame crisis situations.  He didn’t look for somebody to blame, bail out of the plane, or give up on the laws of aerodynamics.  He also didn’t magnify the fear of the situation.  He didn’t try to fix the engine!  And most importantly, he didn’t stop flying.

He simply changed in response to a new set of information and a new horizon of challenges.

Tony Robbins on Problems

On a recent video blog, Tony Robbins said: [click to continue…]


Sittin’ here watching the bowl games, wondering – is this the fix we’ve been looking for?


I grew up fuming at the whole college bowl game situation.  Too many conference/bowl tie-ups.  Too many great teams (my favorite in particular) unable to play for a national championship, while every single other NCAA sport and division had some sort of playoff system.

The solution?  What we have now as the BCS system, complete with

  • uneven conferences being treated as all equal.
  • four or five conference championship games that are either really meaningful or dangerous to a great team.
  • other conferences (Pac 10, Big 10-actually-11, etc.) with no forced championship game, getting a free pass into the bowls.
  • twice as many games so that everybody gets a chance – after all, we’re ALL winners, aren’t we? (We used to joke when a team had a lousy year that they were going to the Toilet Bowl.  Now, lo and behold, we actually have a half-dozen of ‘em!)
  • EVERY SINGLE bowl game of ANY type has a conference tie-up.  “Big 10 #6 vs. SEC #8.”  Are ya’ KIDDIN’ me?   There is now no such thing as an at-large team.
  • A single championship game decided a week-plus into January between a hybrid of two polls and a stack of computers.  Four other BCS games bearing the same bowl names and locations, but lacking the same luster. (With all due respect to Cincinnati and West Virginia, really?)

Just for nostalgia’s sake, I thought I’d take this year’s year-end AP rankings and results, and see what they might produce in a 70s bowl scenario.  Take a look and tell me, do you really think we’ve made things better? [click to continue…]