Be Specific: Leadership Lesson from Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant plays basketball for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. Earlier this month, Durant was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. His acceptance speech was moving, authentic and powerful. It has rightly drawn a great deal of attention and praise. The entire speech is embedded at the bottom of this post. If you have not watched it, now would be a great time.

In general, I loath the public speaking of athletes. It is usually canned, scripted and vague. The standard athletic speech is pabulum.

Durant’s speech is refreshing, powerful and different. Durant’s speech lasts 26 minutes. It could have easily lasted 26 seconds. Durant could have said,

“I want to thank God, my coaches, my teammates, the ownership, the fans and everyone who has invested in me. This is a great honor. Thank you. I will now take your questions.”

That statement could have been just as heartfelt and genuine, but we would not have received as such. It would have been interpreted as obligatory and cliche.

So, how do we know Durant’s sincerity? Specificity. The amount of honest detail he shares is powerful. The above quote is the speech’s outline. Durant fills the extra 25 minutes by explaining exactly why he is thankful to each person by name.

Specificity is where words become powerful.

  • If we want to praise someone, be specific and give detail.
  • If we want to encourage someone, be specific and give detail.
  • If we need to confront someone, be specific and give detail.
  • If we want to ask forgiveness of someone, be specific and give detail.
  • If we want to share a new vision or lead in a new direction, be specific and give detail.
  • If we want to debate someone, be specific and give detail.

Specificity takes more time, preparation, energy and focus. Often, it requires much deliberation. Yet, the investment here is worthwhile. Perhaps, we as leaders need to better steward our influence by speaking and writing with more specificity.

Thank you Kevin Durant for the making this point so specifically.


David Brooks on American College Mindset

“Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.” David Brooks, “The Streamlined Life”

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks writes about the mindset of college students in America. You can read the whole article here.

As a pastor, I want to understand the mindset of people in my community. What questions are people asking? What are the concerns keeping people awake at night? What motives drive people day-by-day? Brooks give us some helpful insights to consider. Along with the above quote, he adds,

“It is more acceptable to present yourself as utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented.”

Sadly, most worthy pursuits, including spiritual ones, do not fit into the tidy categories of utilitarian, streamlined and success-oreinted. I appreciate Brooks’ recognition of the shortfalls of such a mentality. “The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.” This mindset among college students poses a real, tangible challenge to meaningful ministry and gospel proclamation. How to engage the mindset without forfeiting the gospel’s power? I am not seeking an easy answer, but I do embrace the tension.

Also, I see an opportunity for ministry here. The feeling of “emotional vulnerability” mentioned above will not be quieted by utilitarian pursuits. The vulnerability will win in the quiet moments. It will always be there. The opportunity is to pursue  true relationships where inner-vulnerabilities can be shared, addressed and helped.

I will spend my day contemplating what else Brooks’ post means for ministry and interaction in my community.

Do you agree with the article? What would you add? How else do these realities affect the Church and gospel-ministry?

Don’t Be So Self-Centered!

As the pastor of a local church, I am often left to ponder the disconnection of a person from our congregation. Why has he not been to worship in three weeks? Why is he visiting another church? Why did he stop participating with his small group? These are constant questions for pastors, and I imagine there is a parallel set for the leader of any small to medium-sized business.

My standard series of responses to these questions is overwhelmingly disappointing. My answers either center around people’s view of me or people’s view of our church. My answers tend be in this general realm:

  • He must have not liked my preaching.
  • He must have not liked our convictions or values.
  • He must have believed the grass was greener elsewhere.
  • There are more sinful and hurtful answers that I think but refuse to type or speak.

All of these responses are about me and our church. On a few occasions, these answers are accurate. Most of the time, I am wrong. I am learning the depth of how wrong I am.

How wrong am I? People often disconnect from our church because of something going on with themselves. The cliche, “It is not you, it is me,” is actually true. People disconnect because of unbelief, doubt, sinful patterns, depression, loneliness, accusations, family strife, loss of a job, addictions and much more. Notice a theme here? People disconnect from the church when they have spiritual needs. People disconnect when they need Christians to pursue them, love them, challenge them, teach them and pray for them. People disconnect from the church at the times they most need the church. As a pastor, my task is to lead my church by example in pursuing these folks.

When I make the people’s disconnection about me, I miss the opportunity to be a pastor to them. I miss the opportunity to lead them. I miss the opportunity to love them. I miss the opportunity to speak the gospel of Jesus into their need. My self-centered thought patterns are distracting me and in some cases preventing me from ministerial opportunities.

Here are few leadership adjustments I am attempting:

  • Don’t be so self-centered. Look up, look out and see the real issues. There are gospel opportunities in reality.
  • Don’t assume I know the reason. Take the time and risk to ask. Send an email. Make a phone call. Knock on a door. The risk likely will bear fruit.
  • Let the disappointment of disconnection drive me to prayer. I don’t heal people or fix people. God does. Perhaps, my contribution is praying God’s blessing into a situation.

What do you think? What other adjustments would you recommend? How does this apply to other business settings?

Quote: God Constantly Surprises

Incredibly, the Old Testament teaches that God is able to sustain the weary, heal the hurting, judge the wicked, empower the oppressed and do anything else necessary to be a loving Creator. Thus the Old Testament tells a vital story. It speaks of major issues to real people. It portrays a magnificent and all-sufficient God who constantly surprises his followers with a perfect blend of power and goodness. No wonder these texts have captivated readers through the centuries.

Paul House, Old Testament Theology

I am preparing for a new sermon series through the Minor Prophets at my church. While reading this morning, I found this excellent quote, and I reinvigorated to pursue meeting God in the Minor Prophets. So, I pray…

Father, would You captivate my soul again with yourself? Would you teach me of your justice, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness? Would you change me by allowing me to see you?

Are We Actually Controlled by a Quarter?

ImageI just returned from a trip to Aldi, the grocery store known for low prices and self-service shopping carts. At Aldi, the shopping carts are locked at the entrance of the store. One is only able to get a cart by opening the lock with a quarter. Likewise, a person must return the cart to the desired location to retrieve his quarter. This is how Aldi works. Embrace it or shop elsewhere.

There is an element of capitalistic and managerial genius to this scheme by Aldi, but that is not the point of my post. I am fascinated at how a quarter (That is 25¢. $0.25. It takes four of them to make a purchase at the dollar store.) is able to control our behavior. In theory, every shopper at Aldi could leave his cart in the parking lot just like any other store. The only penalty for such a choice is a quarter. Yet, I never see a cart anywhere in the Aldi parking lot. The carts are always returned.

Why are we so easily controlled by Aldi’s scheme? I have pondered this on many trips to Aldi, but I have not found a satisfactory answer. Does it only really take a quarter to alter our behavior? Here are a few possible answers to the question.

  • We are that cheap.
  • The quarter causes us to think about money and count the cost.
  • The quarter causes us to consider what is best for Aldi and other customers by returning the cart.
  • The quarter causes us to embrace Aldi’s scheme of reducing costs by needing less employees.

Or is it something else all together? I want to draw some conclusions and reflect on this. I feel sarcasm and silly thoughts abounding in my head. I need your help. Think with me. Why do you return the shopping cart at Aldi? You can comment on this post or one of my Facebook or Twitter pages. social media sites.

McCullough on Membership

Too often we try on new churches like we try on new clothes and for much the same reason. We’re looking for style and fit, for what meets our needs and makes the appropriate statement about who we are. We put our churches in service of our desire to be somebody, and our commitment doesn’t outlast the better options of Elsewhere. But this posture—beside its offense to the cross—leads to self-absorption, restlessness, and isolation.

Matt McCullough, Wendell Berry and the Beauty of Membership

Matt is a friend of mine and a church planter at Trinity Church in Nashville. The above quote, which is clear, thoughtful, and pointed, is representative of the entire article. It also is pressing toward a vital thought for us. Church membership is far more than an affiliation that meets our set of personal desires. Church membership is a commitment to a particular group of people for a particular purpose. Read the entire article. Be challenged. Then, I would love to hear your thoughts.

“If you don’t need their rewards…”

“If you don’t need their rewards, you do not have to play by their rules.”

Nathan Johnson in Broke*, a documentary by Will Gray about artists and the music industry.

Broke*I have spent the last year wrongly attributing this quote to Seth Godin, who also appears in Broke*.

Johnson is speaking about money and luxury within the music industry, but I find the quote wide ranging and helpful. I often feel external pressure to be something, feel something, or act in a certain manner. No matter who “they” are in a particular moment, should I feel their pressure at this moment? I find freedom when I am able to remind myself not to unnecessarily submit myself to the rules of “they.”

Broke* Releases

Broke* Releases

Broke*My dear friend, Will Gray, made a documentary about artists and the music industry called Broke*. Broke* was released today on iTunes. Within the next few weeks, it will be available on Comcast, Verizon FIOS, and DirecTV, as well as available for rent/purchase on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and Xbox.

My wife and I watched Broke* together tonight. It is an excellent story, an powerful collection of interviews, and an entertaining collection of music. If you are an artist or enjoy art, I commend Broke* to you.

D. A. Carson:…

D. A. Carson:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist.

If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist.

If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician.

If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor.

But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death, and he sent us a Savior.

—D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 109.

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds posted this quote today. I found it very helpful and timely. I pray this quote will shape the worship at my church, Redeemer Church, today and in your gathering.

Ooma: Our New Phone Service

ImageOn the recommendation of my brother-in-law (thank you Phillip), we switched our phone service to Ooma. Switching still feels like blasphemy to me given my family’s employment and stockholding history with BellSouth/AT&T. Excepting my nostalgia, our switch to Ooma has been great.

I purchased the Ooma device for $135 at Amazon (Purchase Ooma Here). Ooma requires an internet connection. It connects directly to your router and to the phone wiring in your house. It took me about 5 minutes to do this. Once these steps are complete, Ooma functions just like your previous phone provider with one important exception. The cost is much lower! Ooma costs me (in Tennessee) $3.71 per month. Ooma was even able to transfer my existing phone number.

Our family stands solidly with Ooma. Do you have any experiences with Ooma? What do you think?