Wednesday, April 16, 2014


"The quality of a culture may be changed when 2 percent of its people have a new vision." – Robert Bellah
At a wedding this past weekend, [of some of the most missional people I know...] Emilie to my right and Leslie to the left of Deanna. Between 2003 and 2008, we traveled on teams together some 15 times, to destinations including New York City, Orlando Florida, Londrina Brasil, Yaounde Cameroon, Paris France, Vienna Austria, and Sopron Hungary among other places. I counted roughly being on 26 flights with these two.

Emilie is starting medical school in the Fall and was THE student that suggested we explore running an internship in global missions. Leslie is a social worker in Capitol Hill in DC and serves on the board of directors for The Ember Cast. Both were students that erupted into leaders in the very ministry that they grew up in and continue to live on mission right now. Countless students even today are benefiting from a student missions leadership culture that these two helped create and shape and mold.

One of the joys of my life has been seeing Emilie and Leslie grow up and sacrifice all of their being to serve humanity. We are all better because of them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ember 14X - Meeting #3

Team meeting #3, included:
- dessert at La Madeline. Yeah you know its authentic. Actually though, talk to some of the people that work there and you'll find that they are from all over the francophone world. And when we were leaving, there was a whole 10 person table of people speaking French.
- discussion about the concept of a person of peace and why they are important when dealing with the unengaged and unreached and who might some of those examples be.
- illustration of the diffusion of innovation principle and why that is important for leaders.

Unfortunately, not the greatest picture and a few of our team members weren't there.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Hook Of Mormon: Inside The Church's Online-Only Missionary Army
In what marks a new phase in the evolution of one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, which has doubled in size since the 90s, the Mormon church is doing for religion what Amazon did for stuff: embracing the web to make shopping for a new faith easy, convenient and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

::: A Rwanda Genocide Survivor
This past week marked the 20 year anniversary... this is a beautiful story.

::: You are Doing It Wrong If...
Great read on the tools of disruption today and how they drive the culture of organizations. Make sure to read the list at the bottom.

::: People don't resist change....people resist loss. - @willmancini via @ToddAdkins

Photo: Ember 14X, Columbia MD, Pleasanton, CA and Harrisonburg VA. April 2014.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Our 2014 Support Letter

Our 2014 support letter [pdf version] - having written and helped teams write these for years.... maybe I'll tell you what I really think of them one day...
It is a privilege and honor for us to work with such passionate and talented young people and it is our hope that this summer's experience launches them on a trajectory for this kind of catalytic, entrepreneurial, creative ministry in any culture and any context.

[Related: My missions support letters - 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012,

Monday, April 07, 2014

Ember 14X - Mtg #2

- Finance update - we are around 11% of total funding, with 18% of that being creative revenue.
- Myers Briggs - we almost always take teams through it and then fill in the matrix together.
- Personal sharing - either how you came to being a Jesus person or a missions moment in your life - what Lencioni calls vulnerability-based trust
- Watched this video about 50 years after the Peace Child[vimeo link]

And... John joined us for a few minutes with Skype on my phone and Mander joined us for the whole time on a google hangout. Remote teams are not easy but in this case, these two are worth it.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Poverty is a Moral Problem

::: The First Year of Texting - Human Trafficking Help

::: Communication Patterns Around the World

::: How Twitter Has Changed in 12 Years

Photo: TRapp and moi, Aix, July 2013.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Perspectives Spring 2014

Fantastic time teaching and connecting at Perspectives last night. One of the best missions mobilization tools out there.

Here is some of what I found there: a guy who rents out his basement via AirBnB and gives a discount for people in ministry, the class host is an epidemiologist, one of the class attendees ran a very successful small business and sold it and is now thinking about the next phase of his life. And of course, I loved having some of our Ember tribe there and telling stories about them.

Here are the slides - as always steal or borrow what you want.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ember Mantras - 2

"Catalyst is the primary paradigm."

A catalyst is something that comes into a situation that sparks a reaction and the reaction continues after the catalyst has left. We use this paradigm for almost everything that we do - service projects, facilitating and hosting teams, missional experiences, leadership coaching and more. If you can't do it yourself after we have left, we have failed. This paradigm requires us to think critically about dependency, ensures we view a long term perspective and keeps us future and action oriented.

You will never have enough leaders. Borrowing or stealing them is not the solution. Instead, view yourself as a catalyst and perhaps leaders will erupt from those you are already working with.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Burn

::: This Flashlight is Powered by the Touch of Your Hand
Here's a little known fact: The human body, at any given moment, produces energy equivalent to a 100 watt light bulb. In that sense, we're always wasting our energy—energy that can be used to, well, power a light bulb. It's this line of thinking that led a 16 year old to invent the first flashlight powered entirely by body heat.

::: Why Snapchat is Valuable
Believe me, I've read all the stuff about how Snapchat is only around to make money off those kinds of pictures. But this is a great read in terms of helping to articulate why it's popular for other reasons.
In a digital world where everyone's flicking through headshots, images, and text without processing any of it, Snapchat asks you to stand still and pay attention to the gift that someone in your network just gave you. As a result, I watch teens choose not to open a Snap the moment they get it because they want to wait for the moment when they can appreciate whatever is behind that closed door. And when they do, I watch them tune out everything else and just concentrate on what's in front of them. Rather than serving as yet-another distraction, Snapchat invites focus.

::: Are the Suburbs Making People Live Paycheck to Paycheck?

::: The organizations that best adapt to a changing world first & foremost know what should NOT change - Jim Collins via @ToddAdkins

And today.... I celebrate following Jesus for 30 years.

Photo: dugout canoe, lifeguard shirt, not such a great swimmer... outside of Kribi, Cameroon, July 2006.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Raising Missions Finances as a Leading Indicator

The first amount of support that comes in is always exciting. It's a good milestone to have.

What's even more important - who is the first one to get support in and how fast did it come in? That's what tells you who is all in, who is a sponge that is soaking up everything you can give this team, who is driven and called to see it succeed. Raising support is not the easiest thing to do and if they can do it, and do it fast, that is a significant accomplishment. This tells you who, in the words of one of my mentors, is a person that must.

In this case, it was Tess and it took 10 days for it to start coming in. Yes, that is fast. Our experiment with Tess didn't work out, but she's on Ember 14X now and as you can see, this is the right place for her and the rest of us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

14-15 ProtoGuides

Last weekend, I had lunch with the upcoming Ember ProtoGuides. This is the next iteration of ProtoGuides that start officially this coming September. It's an amazing group of ladies [all girls, the boys will come around eventually...] - one is traveling to Kenya this summer, another one started a Christian club at her high school, and the third is on my France team as well as working on a project with Appalachia Service Club this summer. I think there is at least one cross cultural missionary and/or church planter in the mix, but more on them later. For lunch, my purpose was just to listen to them - to hear what they were interested in learning, how Ember could launch them and what kinds of projects they wanted to be involved in. It was a fascinating conversation and touched on ideas such as:

+ Global Women's Rights.
+ The growth of churches or spiritual communities.
+ Experiencing and learning from different expressions of Church.
+ Connecting and building relationships with different missions-type people around the world.
+ How to plan missional experiences.
+ Sustainable community development and dependency issues like what is covered in Toxic Charity.
+ Social movements, demographics and context like what is covered in Church in the Making.

The ProtoGuide experience is at the core of what Ember does and what makes us unique. And of course, working with students like these is a huge privilege for us.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Burn

::: In the Future Your Church Won't Need Volunteers
Yet churches that increase in favour and change the future of the city are thinking differently about volunteers. The Church of the future will move from recruiting volunteers to releasing trusted rulers. Volunteers meet the needs of the church. Trusted rulers serve/fuel the dreams of the city. Trusted rulers know their identity, understand their spiritual authority and introduce life to the city. According to scripture every believer is a trusted ruler, called by God to lead the earth into life. This is the original mandate that has never been rescinded (Genesis 2). Volunteers work for the church. Trusted rulers work for the city.

::: Student Run Business Provides Low Cost Prom Dresses

::: The Biggest Nonprofit Mistake of All Time
Adam Braun, incidentally, is the brother of Scooter Braun, American talent manager.
But for years I've been troubled by something that I consider the biggest mistake in the non-profit space: that 501(c)3 companies have allowed themselves to called "non-profit."

::: We finally have a secret weapon to cut teen birth rates. It's the MTV show "16 and Pregnant"

::: What separates young leaders is less about how, more about when (ie, when to step forward, and when to be the team player) - @richlyons via ‏@JoshuaSymonette

Photo: God is calling you but not on your cell phone.... Sopron, Hungary. July 2008.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ember Spawn Proposal

Last fall, my older daughter expressed a desire to do something a little different this summer. She wasn't sure about an Ember experience and wanted something that was a little longer in duration, some deeper learning in a specific culture and perhaps more cultural distance.

If you know Katie, you know that she is a strong P, which is pretty much at odds with both her parents who are strong Js, and with that in mind, our answer was, "Give us a proposal. On paper." And she did. And it's good. Really good. So this is a little something that she is working on with a friend and one of those 'throw it and see if it sticks.' We all would be thrilled if it worked out the right way.

But don't miss reading between the lines either - this is a good representation of the emerging generation. They want something deeper. They are willing to sacrifice to get the experience. And they want someone to invest in them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Notes - The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This will be the best book I will have read in 2014. In 1994, after finishing a masters degree in computer science, I went to work for a small technology consulting firm here in Merryland. It was during that time that the Internet became consumer worthy [I know to some of you, that seems ridiculous.] I remember the afternoon that some of us nerds got the corporate network connected to the Internet and fired up the NCSA Mosaic browser, the very first web browser, ever.

Since then, I've been following Marc Anderseen, the inventor of that paradigm shifting tool. And then I started reading the blog of his business partner, Ben Horowitz. Horowitz writes a blog about being a CEO, entrepreneurship, leadership and creating culture. It is fantastic and highly relevant for someone starting something from nothing. Highly recommended for people in my circles who do these same kinds of thing in various different domains - you know who you are. Lots of what I read in here applied to Ember too - although on a smaller or different kind of scale.

When I heard about Horowitz's book, I instantly pre ordered it. Herein are notes from it.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out curiosity.

The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that's needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.

In my weekly staff meeting, I inserted an agenda item titled "What Are We Not Doing?" Ordinarily in a staff meeting, you spend lots of time reviewing, evaluating, and improving all of the things that you do…. Sometimes however, the things you're not doing are the things you should actually be focused on.

Early in my career as an engineer, I'd learned that all decisions were objective until the first line of code was written. After that, all decisions were emotional.

Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.

In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust...As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, the communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don't. Telling things as they are is a critical part of building this trust. A CEO's ability to build this trust over time is often the difference between companies that execute well and companies that are chaotic. [Love this concept. My system is my weekly staff email.]

Being a good company doesn't matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.
Things always go wrong.
Being a good company is an end in itself.

From Andy Grove
Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let's count on three hours preparation for each hour of course time - twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class.
Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in your subordinate's performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.

Running a large org versus creating and building an org:
When you are building an organization, there is no organization to design, there are no processes to improve, and communicating with the organization is simple. On the other hand, you have to be very adept at running a high-quality hiring process, have terrific domain expertise (you are personally responsible for quality control), know how to create process from scratch and be extremely creative about initiating new directions and tasks.

The most important difference between big and small companies is the amount of time running versus creating.

Screening for the right kind of ambition - a me or team prism.

Perhaps the CEO's most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company. The architecture might include the organizational design, meetings, processes, email, yammer, and even one-on-one meetings with managers and employees. Absent a well-designed communication architecture, information and ideas will stagnate, and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work.

The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that's at least ten times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing. Two or three times will not be good enough to get people to switch to the new thing fast enough or in large enough volume to matter. The second thing that any technology startup must do is to take the market.

The first rule of organizational design is that all organization designs are bad. With any design, you will optimize communication among some parts of the organization at the expense of other parts.

Choices like these cause migraine headaches. Tip to aspiring entrepreneurs: If you don't like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don't become CEO.

In all the difficult decisions that I made through the course of running Loudcloud and Opsware, I never once felt brave. In fact, I often felt scared to death. I never lost those feelings, but after much practice I learned to ignore them. That learning process might also be called the courage development process.

Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.

Over the past ten years, technological advance have dramatically lowered the financial bar for starting a new company, but the courage bar for building a great company remains as high as it has ever been. [Amen.]

High quality company cultures get their cue from data networking routing protocols: Bad news travels fast and good news travels slowly. Low-quality company cultures take on the personality of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wiz: "Don't nobody bring me no bad news."

The first thing to understand is that just because somebody interviewed well and reference-checked great, that does not mean she will perform superbly in your company. There are two kinds of cultures in this world: cultures where what you do matters and cultures where all that matters is who you are. You can be the former or you can suck.

But what about being loyal to the team that got you here? If your current executive team helped you grow your company tenfold, how can you dismiss them when they fall behind in running the behemoth they created? The answer is that your loyalty must go to your employees - the people who report to your executives. Your engineers, marketing people, salespeople, and finance and HR people who are doing the work. You owe them a world-class management team. That's the priority.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Farewell Franchise Ministry
The multi-site model is basically ministry franchising. It's the Starbucks model of "local" church. Now the good thing about Starbucks is you get the exact same cup of coffee everywhere in the world. I was in England recently (not known for good coffee), and seeing the green Starbucks sign was like finding an oasis in the desert.
But the bad thing about Starbucks is that their conformity flattens the creativity of individual baristas or shop owners. It's an a-cultural expression. It all tastes the same. So whether you're in downtown Portland or in Mumbai, India, you get the exact same cup of burnt-tasting coffee.

And related ...
::: But in multi-site, I don't know the pastor
Here is the heart of my response: Why is the Senior Pastor the one expected to administer all the pastoral care? Doesn’t that presuppose the very “cult of personality” for which multi-site churches are often criticized? “I need to be known by my pastors” is a legitimate request. “I need to be known by that pastor because he is special” is not.

::: How to Identify An Apostolic Leader
These 5 are great. Yes on #1 and #3.

::: Inside the Pixar Braintrust
Fantastic read about candor - or we call it unfiltered debate.
Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That's a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I'm not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so--to go, as I say, "from suck to not-suck."

Photo: CDG, July 2006.