Monday, October 17, 2011

Can the Yankees REALLY buy a championship?

I will concede my bias up-front: I am a die-hard Yankees fan.  I came by it honestly.  I grew up minutes from the George Washington Bridge and cheered for the team long before Moneyball became vogue.  Yet even with this candor, I am certain I will be judged as one sleeping with the enemy and therefore hopelessly non-objective.

But hear me out, if for no other reason than the potential humor value.

Presently I live in Cardinals country, and since the Yankees’ most recent collapse (and the beloved Cardinals resurgence), I have received my fair share of ribbing.  The tweets and texts have poured in about how lower-budget teams are winning the day.  However, in the years when the Yankees did better, these same friends sent other tweets/ texts about how the Bronx Bombers only win because they can attract and keep the best talent (Cliff Lee being the lone anomaly).

Thus, when the Yankees lose, I should feel doubly bad because they “shoulda” won.  But when they win, I ought not celebrate because they “bought” the crown.   In short, my fellow baseball enthusiasts feel obliged to enhance the depth and length of my suffering when the Yankees lose and shame me out of my celebration when they win.  It’s getting old. And maybe that‘s the real reason I am writing this blog; I’ll talk it over with my therapist.

But here is the deal: people can’t have it both ways.  Either money makes all the difference, or it matters very little.  I want to argue that money has less “performance power” once you are making it, and over time it actually becomes a “performance inhibitor.”

The Yankees organization has plenty of money.  However, despite the argument to the contrary, the Yankees do not have an unlimited supply of it – no one does – therefore when any team (even the Yankees) over-pays athletes, they eventually have less resources available to pay others.  Today, the Yankees are already feeling the pinch with A-Rod and Jeter, and it will be interesting to watch what they do with Sabathia (who has an opt-out clause up for negotiation).  Then in two years, Robinson Cano is up for a new contract, and he is going to want his mega-payday too.  They are just not going to be able to do it all. There is a limit -- even for the Yankees -- and I predict that the next few years will be very interesting (and probably not in a pro-Yankees way).

Obviously, more dollars up-front can buy the best talent in any given moment.  But the way contracts work – and the way "great" talent ages (and you are stuck with them) – means that at some point you can no longer afford great new talent.  So over the long haul, the Moneyball option is not a sustainable solution.  Besides this financial reality, I think there is another issue that actually puts well-paid athletes at a disadvantage!

Playing for the pay hike ahead of you is a great human motivator for performance. It is the hope of millions that legitimately motivates people to be at their best every day.  Athletic readiness and effectiveness are all about motivation.  Money motivates.  The hope of big money motivates big time.  Perhaps that is why smaller-market teams might actually want to thank the Yankees for the ways they help their players to be more competitive (while they have them).  Is it possible that their athletes are playing hard NOW for the bigger payoff that the Yankees can provide down the road?

BUT, once they have the money, that motivation no longer exists, and the pressure increases. Now they have to play to earn the salary they are already contracted to receive. I think that transition is hard to make (just ask A.J. Burnett)!  One of the ways the Yankees have been able to do "it" over the years is creating and maintaining the mystique of the pinstripes: it is about the pride of 27 championships and the heritage of the past (blah, blah, blah)...

I think it will be harder and harder for this to be enough in the years ahead.  I don't think the Yankees will be able to compete (financially) in the very environment they themselves helped create. They will at some point no longer be that pride-infused organization. They will be the fools that spent way too much on way too many, sinking the ship and the heritage that was such a cool part of rooting for them.

Then again, if they can pull off winning in spite of all of that, I say hats off to them, because at that point it will no longer be about the money.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Learnings from the depths of a detox

On April 1st, I started a 21 day detox. 

I have been doing one for the last three years.  I usually do it in January.  Somehow it slipped my mind this year.  Imagine that!  But, I was snacking too much and putting on a few pounds, so I knew I needed to get the cleanse on the calendar.  Many of my friends participate in some kind of Lenten fast so this seemed like the right time to do it.

My “detox program” is prescribed by a doctor friend out of Austin.  It includes whole food supplements and nasty tasting shakes that you drink twice a day.  But, the real heart of it is that I can eat just fruit, veggies, and baked chicken or fish (4 ozs. twice/day).  This, of course, means no bread, no coffee, no dairy, no coffee, no candy or chips, no coffee or ice cream.  There also means no wine or beer or coffee.  No nuts or cereal.  No coffee or creamer.  No dark chocolate.  Did I happen to mention that I can not have coffee?  All I am allowed to drink is water and herb tea.  Otherwise nothing!  Nadda!  No cheating!

May I just say that the first week was miserable?!  Part of the reason I didn’t do a blog last week was because I was a little afraid of what I would write.  I wasn’t exactly pleasant (you can ask my wife if you need confirmation).  I had a splitting headache.  And I thought to myself, “What in Heaven’s name possessed me to do this?  I am a reasonably well-behaved guy.  I only get to enjoy a few ‘earthly pleasures.’  Why should I purposefully go without them for 21 freakin’ days?!” 

See, aren’t you glad I didn’t do a blog last week?

Interestingly enough, now that I am about halfway through, I actually have some significant benefits to report.  First, I am sleeping hard.  I can not remember when I slept this well in a long, long time.  Second, I have lost some weight. That feels good.  That starts to make it feel like there is a real reward for the misery.  I am also learning to savor the food I do get to enjoy.  I eat slower and enjoy it more. 

However, there is an additional benefit this time around.  It is spiritual.  It is centered around the scripture where Paul admonishes us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  I think it is easier for us (in general) to weep with those who weep.  If the Spirit of God is active at all in our lives, then we are touched by other people’s pain.  When someone we care about is hurting, it seems almost axiomatic.  We will hurt too. 

But, when someone has it good or when something really great happens for someone else, I am not sure it is as easy to enter into their joy.  When something great happens, even for a friend, I often find myself thinking, “Why did they get that?  I work just as hard as they do!” 

I can be envious.  I can be jealous.  When I am on a detox, I can even pout. 

But, something new has been trying to take root in my soul. 

Everyday while I am on this detox, there are people eating and drinking things I wish I could be enjoying.  The opportunity for resentment is high!  Of course, it probably doesn’t help that I have the kind of friends that as soon as they find out I am on detox, they run chocolate chip cookies under my noise just for the fun of it.  I know, I know.  Time for new friends.

The point being is that I could get hacked off that they get to enjoy something I wish I could have.  Therefore, I could spend my time wishing I didn’t have to do without.  OR, I could take joy in their joy!  Rejoicing with those who rejoice is hard for me.  But, this season of refraining from some things I like – while others are free to do so – has given me a wonderful opportunity to practice this discipline.

So, for these last few days as I smell the coffee brewing in the office in the morning, I say to myself, “Thank you, Lord, that my staff gets to enjoy coffee this morning.  I rejoice with them!”  This is so much better (and more mature) than turning off the warmer underneath the pot.

The somewhat surprising thing about this practice is that after getting over the initial hump of “I wish I could have some,” it feels really good to enter their joy.  It feels right.  It feels mature.  It feels (and is) a lot like Jesus.

That is not to say I won’t savor my own cup of coffee on Easter morning.  I most certainly will!  But, for now, I will just take pleasure in you getting to enjoy yours!

Monday, March 28, 2011

And the winner is...

One of the great things about the world of technology is that a person can walk through a project like this and not feel alone.  It has been quite overwhelming actually.  I have felt so supported and encouraged in this endeavor.  I wonder how I got so lucky to have such great friends. 

To everyone who joined me in prayer over this last week – thank-you!  Your advice, perspective and input are invaluable. 

Soooo… drum roll please…  

I made a decision on Friday to follow through with Bridge Logos...the contract I already had in hand.  Here is my reasoning:

  1. The BL deal was a good deal when I signed it in June, and the delay didn't change that.  If anything, my interactions with them have been much more positive since their re-organization, and they seem anxious to re-establish themselves as a "reliable" publisher. 
  2. I will be a bigger deal at BL than I ever would have been at Zondervan.  At BL, I am the proverbial "bigger fish in smaller pond." I had already approached Zondervan (through my sister) a year ago and they weren't interested then. I wasn't sure how much more interest my new contact might be able to generate than when my sister tried. 
  3. When I talked to my Zondervan contact on Friday AM, she said that she never actually spoke to anyone there but did forward my proposal.  However, they are notoriously looonnnngggg in their approval processes. So, when I explained the situation to her - even she encouraged me to take the offer in hand.
  4. The good news about Zondervan is that they are releasing a book in the early summer where Woodcrest is featured.  To follow that up with another book by the pastor of WC in the Fall (which is when BL is planning to release it), makes a lot of sense from a PR stand-point.  I can leverage their publicity efforts on the first book without having to wait for them to get interested in mine.
  5. I couldn't get over the hump (emotionally) to self-publish. I didn't want to have to raise funds for the inventory nor do the "pushing" required to get the book noticed.  BL has committed a marketing person to get shelf space in Christian book stores and help coordinate speaking arrangements - and that just feels so much better than self-promotion. 
With all that in favor of the BL option, I sent them my most up-to-date manuscript on Friday - and now here we go (again)!

Lord lead on!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Now what?

At this time last week, I had nothing new to share about my manuscript.  All that changed on Friday.

For those new to the blog, I finished a manuscript for a book two summers ago entitled, unsettled… life beyond the yellow ragged couch.   It took me about a year to find a publisher willing to print the book.  I sent the manuscript off to the publisher in September of 2010 eager to begin the process.  This past January that same publisher wrote me back and said that the book was now on the back burner.  Blah, blah, blah, “…economy…” Blah, blah, blah, “organizational re-structuring…”  “Mr. Van Waarde, you probably need to find another publisher.”

That was not the news I wanted to hear, but whatya gonna do?  I threw myself a pity party (literally).  After I had enough fun feeling sufficiently sorry for myself, I started looking elsewhere.  Along the way, a good friend told me she had connections with a prominent Christian publisher (Zondervan) and that she was willing to share the manuscript with her connection.  I think this may be happening this week.

Additionally, I have been re-exploring self-publishing.  With Kindle, iPad, and all the other electronic reading platforms available, self-publishing has some attractive opportunities that weren’t available even three years ago.  However, that would mean a lot of self-promotion – which I hate.  But, if that’s what has to be done, I think there are enough smart people around me to help me figure it out.


While I have been pondering all these things, I get an e-mail out of the blue from my original publisher which says, “Hey, Piet.  We love your manuscript.  Send us your latest edits.  We’re ready to get started.”  What?!  Wait a minute!  I thought this wasn’t going to happen?  I e-mailed them back to make sure they had the right guy.  They did.  And, they again reiterated that they really are anxious to get going.


Today I feel in quite the quandary.  Now what?  It would seem I have three legitimate and reasonable options:

  1. Go with my original publisher and move forward with a group of people that seem anxious to publish my manuscript.  I have a good contract, and it is conceivable that the book might be released before the end of the year.  This is a deal “in hand”.  Additionally, it isn’t like there are others banging the door down to do this.

  1. Wait and see what happens with the mainstream publisher.  There are no guarantees.  But, if I can get on with these folks, there is a lot more support.  Given Willow Creek’s and NACR’s connections to Zondervan, there seem to be a lot of valued-added possibilities.  But, again, they may not like it or take it and while I am waiting, my present publisher could decide to move on to someone else.  Then, I’d be stuck with nothing.

  1. I could self-publish.  BUT….  Self-publishing requires a pretty substantial capital investment up front because I would have to do all the printing myself.  In addition, this would require engaging an editor, investors and PR folk.  I’d also have to do a lot of “pushing” myself to get the message out there.  I’m not unwilling to try, but I did the self-publishing route the last time, and I have several cases of books in my basement to show for it.

So, I thought I’d throw the options out there and see if my very smart friends have some counsel to share on the subject.  No such thing as bad advice on this one.  I’m just curious what you think.  And, if nothing specific comes to mind, would you consider joining me in prayer?  Thank-you!

And, I’ll keep you up to date!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

People that make life richer…

I was at lunch yesterday being introduced to a friend of a friend.  In this introduction, there were many nice things said about me and the work of our church in the community.  These are always fun to hear.  But truthfully, I am never really sure how to react to that; because I know that the “success” I have known (both as a person and a pastor) is a product of so many other people.  I get a lot more credit than I deserve. 

The good news is that the discomfort led me to an idea about this week’s blog post.  I want to use this note to affirm and express appreciation publicly for four people who have made ongoing and sacrificial investments in me and the church I get to lead.  Without their contribution, I would not be the man I am today nor would Woodcrest be the church it is today.

DR. ROD CASEY – Rod joined the Woodcrest staff in January of 1995.  He came with a passion for seeing the local church be effective, but he also unashamedly said, “I am here to serve you.” It is one thing to say that, but it is another thing to live it.  He has.  It doesn’t really matter what he is asked to do, he always does it with heart and skill.  Over the course of time, he has worked with small groups.  He counseled the hurting.  He helped with singles.  He wrote leadership development curriculum.  He conducted weddings and funerals.  He preached great sermons.  But more than anything else, he was and still is a confidante and counselor to me.

Currently, his greatest contribution to our ministry is that he is our resident theologian.  Believe it or not, every church needs a great theologian, because the church is not just a business.  It is not just a not-for-profit organization.  It is not just an educational institution.  It is a faith community – and everything we do has theological implications (whether or not we realize it).  Rod has kept our theological lens clear.  He has helped steer this work in a way that honors Christ not just in our mission and vision, but in how we think and act.  What a gift he has been to me and us (and all of mid-Missouri).

CHRIS MITCHELL – For most people who know and love Chris, it is because of his amazing talent as a musician.  He is all that.  He was classically trained. He has toured with a Christian band.  He makes most songs sound better on our stage than they sound on the recordings by the original artist.  What many people may not know about Chris is that he is an extremely gifted and caring leader.  He leads a large staff of musicians and technical personnel (both paid and volunteer).  He is always thinking about the next grand production whether it is a CD project, an Easter weekend, or a new video venue.

In this last season, he also served as the staff liaison for the construction of our new youth facility.  Think about this for a moment.  How many pastor-types do you know that can help manage a two million dollar construction project and sound like Bono singing U2 all in the same week?  Ex-act-l-y!

Beyond all the great work Chris produces, I am most grateful for his heart for people, which he hasn’t kept from me.  He has loved me in some very tender places of my life.  Though I serve as his “boss”, we actually live and serve together more like co-laborers and brothers in Christ!  I am a blessed man!

BETH BRAMSTEDT – Beth is our senior staff person.  By that I mean she has served at Woodcrest longer than anyone else.  She started working part-time at the church while going to MU while pursuing a journalism degree.  Now she serves as our Administrative Pastor.  For Beth, this isn’t just her title.  This is who she is.  She is a pastor by calling and an administrator by passion.  In our context, that means that she (and her very capable team) works hard to remove any/every structural barrier that might impede our capacity to sustain effective ministry.  Specifically, she oversees our marketing, budgeting process, facilities, and volunteer services.

In my world, what Beth helps me figure out is sequencing.  You can have great ideas and great people passionate about doing great things.  But, when the timing gets off or people don’t understand how one part of the organization affects actions in other parts of the organization, things get very confusing very quickly.  People get upset.  Finger-pointing becomes common place.  Soon, everything becomes political.  Few people will ever really appreciate the value of Beth’s instinctive capacity to know who, what, and where things fit at what time – and how our long-running effectiveness has so much to do with her diligence on this front.  Thank you, Lord, for Beth!

KAREN LAUGHTER – Karen serves as the pastor in our family life ministries.  For those from birth through college age, Karen stands watch and gives/leads (with unrelenting passion) both kids and parents alike.  Karen is the consummate learner.  If she doesn’t know it, she learns it.  She is tireless worker.  If a person needs extra time or a lesson needs some extra attention, Karen willing gives it.  She is quick to admit her short-comings and regularly under-sells her part because she is so busy giving credit to everyone else.

More than most people I know, Karen is a lover of souls.  She wouldn’t think twice about scooping up a toddler in her arms, patiently listening to a broken-hearted 13 year-old girl, or call out the immature antics of an 18 year-old boy twice her size.  She lives for this.

How did I get this lucky?

I have seen my share of arrogant leader-types, who think it is all about them.  I am sure I have my moments too.  But, sometimes the talent and spirit of the people around you is too impressive to ignore. I am a blessed man.  Because of the people I have been privileged to serve alongside, I am a better man.  If I can add value to others as they have added value to me, then I will have lived a good life.  But, they sure did set the bar pretty high. 

Guess I can’t retire anytime soon…

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What I would rather not admit….

Over the last few weeks at Woodcrest, we have worked through the subject of hurt; the hurt we carry and the hurt we cause. We spent a lot of time talking about forgiveness.  We defined it.  We illustrated what happens when we don’t extend it as well as the mess we can create.  We talked about how to ask for it and why it matters so much.

When all was said and done, it turned out to be a rather emotional series.  My inbox has been full.  I have had more Facebook messages in the last two weeks than I have had in a long time.  My appointment calendar is packed, as well.  The point is that people have had a lot of questions and a lot of specific concerns that reminded me of something I have been thinking about for some time as it relates to my own relational journey.

I want to share something more on the personal side.  I feel more than a bit vulnerable putting this out there, because it can be so easily misunderstood.  But, in the course of my conversations over the last few weeks, I realize that what I myself have been addressing may not be mine alone to bear.

Once a quarter, I take a three day break in order to get away and spend some time in silence and solitude in order to pay closer attention to what is happening in my soul.  Sometimes it is not easy to figure out what is really going on “down there.”  This has been very fruitful for me.  A question I have been pondering for the last year or so is about love. “Why do I love people?”  I have tried to honestly evaluate my core motivations on this all important subject – especially for people in ministry.

What is my motivation for love?

My initial thoughts were as follows.  On one level I thought of love as a decision one makes in response to Christ’s command.  If we are to be about anything as Christ followers it is love.  We are commanded to love God and people.  It is a step of obedience.  In fact, Jesus said it was (and is) the most important thing.

Beyond that, I love because I am drawn to certain kinds of people.  I find them attractive spiritually, emotionally, and/or physically.  We have things in common.  We can joke and laugh together.  I like this kind of love.  It is easy, and it is fun.

So there is a love prompted by duty, and a love prompted by pleasure.  

All this made sense to me except for the fact that I often found myself disappointed by love.  This didn’t make sense to me.  Because, if I tried to do this well (and it was the most important thing), why wasn’t it more satisfying?

What I have come to understand and see about myself is that my practice of love is much less mature than I would like to believe.  What I have discovered is that, more often than not, my love isn’t really about God or other people at all.  It is actually about me and what I hope to get out of it.  I love God because of the blessings I hope that He will bring me.  I love people so that they will be nice to me, like me, and think I am a good guy.  I know this because if God doesn’t “love me back” in the ways I think I deserve, then I am disappointed and mad.  If other people don’t reciprocate my love in the way I hope, I am disappointed there as well.  One of the biggest heart aches of my life is that my expectations are rarely (if ever) met.

That sucks! 

Nor is it really love!

I don’t want to stay here.  I want to learn increasingly about real love.  I haven’t figured all this out yet, but one of the things that is increasingly making sense to me is that when I try to manage my own love needs through how I love God and others, I am regularly disappointed.  Will God love me in the ways I expect? Will people reciprocate my love in the ways I think I need?  


So, what I have been trying to do is find times to let God love me in the ways He prefers by just being more available to Him in seasons of silence and solitude.  To not be demanding.  To not set unrealistic expectations.  Just let Him love me.  He does so generously.  Over time, that has begun to lower my expectations about what people give me – because I am no longer as needy.  I don’t “need” them to do certain things in certain ways for me to feel like they have responded with a “reasonable” level of return love.  I seem freer to love in a way that is actually more unconditional.  Dare I say that?  Conversely, I think I am also freer to ask for what is reasonable without being manipulative and codependent.

Do, I always get that right?  No.  Do I still have to manage expectations?  Yes!  However, slowly but surely I see things shifting.
I share all this because when we are talking about the relational hurts of life, we can’t just think in terms of improving our capacity at managing the disappointment, frustrations and debilitating moments of relational break-down.  In addition, we need to ask the more penetrating question of “Why does all this matter to me so much in the first place?” 

If my candor helps prompt that kind of reflection, it will have been a worthwhile risk.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marketing Jesus

I do not see myself as an argumentative sort.  I am generally a peace-maker, a unifier and collaborator – not a divider.  I am also quite tired of the endless haranguing that happens among Christ-followers about things that, at the end of the day, don’t matter.

So, it is with some reluctance that I take on the article that I gave as a homework assignment last week.  My willingness to press past my hesitations is based on the fact that I think this article is representative of a growing sentiment in certain Christian circles that I find disturbing.  And, if people with an opposing view don’t share their concerns about what is missing or incomplete in the argument, then it can be assumed that there is nothing more to be said on the subject.

That is why I want to offer a tweak to Mr. Galli’s article entitled “Super Bowl Evangelism” 

First, let me start by pointing out where I agree with what he writes.  If his most fundamental message is that the church needs to be more loving in its evangelistic efforts, I am his biggest cheerleader.  I say, “AMEN!”  Too much of what is passed off as “evangelism” has little to do with what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 28:18-21.

My sticking point has to do with making marketing the mortal enemy of this kind of love.  I have an MBA from a Christian graduate school.  When we studied marketing, we talked about the activity of connecting real human needs/desires with effective products and services.  Is this a legitimate activity?  Did Jesus do this?

One of the more fascinating parts of Jesus teaching ministry is the degree to which he appealed to desire.  He would say, “Aren’t you hungry?  Learn from me.” (Matthew 5:6) 

Was Jesus using marketing tactics?  Well, you might say, “Jesus was appealing to the more noble side of ourselves and our desires.”  Perhaps, but sometimes he left his appeals unqualified. 

In Luke 6, Jesus is talking about the importance of sacrifice and love (even for the sake of one’s enemies), and I find it interesting that he justifies his appeal by promising a “great reward” in heaven.  Is he marketing heaven?  Why not say, “Be loving and sacrificial, because it is just the right thing to do?”  Why the appeal to reward?  That could be interpreted as appealing to the flesh…employing those dark-side marketing techniques.

I sincerely believe that if we didn’t know that Jesus said something like this and the church picked it as a slogan or a series title, the outcry would be momentous: “Just another pitiful example of MBA-trained pastor-types trying to market heaven!”

Perhaps part of why I get so agitated about the outcry is that it almost makes it sound like Madison Avenue “discovered” marketing when, in fact, the reason Super Bowl ads work is because they are based in certain truths and principles that God himself ordained.  Even Mr. Galli admitted he prefers the ads to the game itself.  To be consistent, it would seem that he would find the ads appalling and offensive to his Christian sensibilities.  Now, can marketing approaches be tainted, twisted and deranged?  Certainly!  But, does that make marketing the enemy?  No!  Rather, let’s critique the approach or the application, because the core assumptions may actually have their roots in something God himself created and endorsed.  All truth is always God’s truth.

But, what makes this discussion more then theoretically offensive (for me) is that there are real (and I would say harmful) implications associated with trying to do what Mr. Galli is suggesting when it comes to teaching on any matter of gospel significance. 

He insinuates that in order to motivate and encourage people to be more loving (in their evangelistic efforts) we should simply tell them to do so and count on the Spirit to prompt some mysterious work within them.  But, later he states that we should actually be (proactively) more like Jesus and not “market our neighbors but love them.” 

OK.  But, can we consider that if it is desirable to be like Jesus on the activity-side, might we legitimately consider trying to be like Jesus on the teaching-side too?  Because far from just “telling” them what to do, Jesus seemed extremely interested in making it compelling to do what he commanded.  He used analogies they would understand.  He appealed to desires that were naturally inspiring and based in human want and need.

I don’t think we want more “telling” in American pulpits.  I don’t think we want pastors being less prepared or less persuasive under the guise of “making room” for God’s Spirit.  It would seem to me, that there is already quite enough of that.  In fact, perhaps a case could be made that it is the lack of “marketing understanding” that has contributed to the anemic zeal for authentic evangelism in the church today.

It would be my contention that it is an act of great compassion to work hard at making the ways of Christ understandable and compelling.  And, if a little understanding of the marketing mix might make one more effective in that assignment, might I suggest that we all stop by Amazon and pick up the book Marketing Gurus and learn all we can.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration…