Six Values I Learned From Mom

Today was the 24th Mother’s Day since my mom went to see Jesus. Mom was an incredible woman who raised four kids, one husband and several dogs. Mom loved us unconditionally and believed that everyone, including the clerk at the grocery store, wanted to hear about all of our accomplishments. Mom could make my blood run cold with her, “You better cut that out right now, young man” look, but I never once doubted her love and fierce loyalty to our family. Mom had a vision for who God created us to be; here are a few of the phrases she used to instill that vision in all of us:

“You’re a Surratt”

Mom taught me that family identity is something to be lived up to. There are things we did and did not do because we were Surratts. It was not until much later in life that I realized mom was the one who created the ideal we were expected to live up to. She decided who we would be and then willed us to become what she envisioned.

“I’m not Mark’s mom”

Mark was my best friend growing up, and my constant plea was “Mark’s mom is letting him…” I don’t know why I kept going back to this well because it never worked. Mom’s parenting style was not swayed by peer pressure or popular culture, and she seldomed struggled with self-doubt when it came to what her children should and should not do.

“You don’t HAVE to go to church, you GET to go to church”

We went to church a lot. Every Sunday morning, every Sunday night and every Wednesday night. And then we had the dreaded “revivals” when we went to church every night for two weeks. When I whined about having to go to church mom’s response never wavered; you GET to go. Church wasn’t a choice, it was a privilege. That may be why all of her kids ended up deeply involved in the local church.

“Because I’m your mother and I said so”

Mom never felt the need to justify her decisions or to reason with a nine year old. Underneath this phrase was a deep-seated value of respecting your elders regardless if they’d earned it. Mom instilled a clear understanding of authority in each of her kids, even the ones who resisted the most. (I’m looking at you, Dee) I still wear a tie every Mother’s Day because mom said I should. I’ll stop when she decides its time.

“Call me from school if you still feel sick”

Exposed bones or a fever over 102 we’re the only things that kept me home from school.  Anything else could be overcome with some Pepto Bismol and a brisk walk to school (We were too close to ride the bus, but not too close for frostbite during sub-zero Denver winters. Mom felt the cold built character.) Feeling sorry for yourself wasn’t in mom’s vocabulary. Mom’s father walked out on her family when she was 10, so she had to help support the family by taking in laundry. She also had to raise the niece when her sister abandoned her baby at mom’s house. Mom knew we could overcome almost any circumstance if we wanted to.

“You can quit at the end of the season”

I sat on the bench the entire ninth grade basketball season. Our record was 1-14. I wanted to quit at Christmas, but mom said I could quit when the season was over. (I don’t think mom understood how quitting worked) In mom’s world you finish what you start, regardless how you feel about it. Surratts don’t quit.

My mom could be tough, but I never for one day doubted her love for me. She pushed me because she believed in me. She believed in all her kids. She believed we were created for something big, something beyond ourselves. She was right.

In the years since mom’s been gone some of the memories have faded. There are fewer days I cry when I think of her. (This is not one of those days) But the values, the character she built in me never changes. 

Happy Mother’s Day mom, see you soon.

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When an organization loses its heart

keep-calm-and-follow-procedures-12Can you imagine how difficult it would be for Jesus to call his disciples today? They’d have to pass a background check, which I’m pretty sure Simon the Zealot would fail. They’d also need to go through an assessment and a multi-tiered interview process. The idea of building a team by calling out to a couple of blue-collar guys, “Hey, come follow me” seems rather naive and even dangerous today. We’ve got a system for that. I wonder if Jesus looks at the complexity we’ve built into following his call and wonders what in the world we’re thinking.

This isn’t a rant against systems and procedures, every lasting institution the world has ever seen eventually creates structure. The challenge I’m running into is when the process erodes the principles the organization was originally built on.

I’m dealing now with a great organization I have interacted with from their beginning. In the early days everything was done on the basis of a relationship and a handshake. This informal, highly connected culture was the heart of the organization and made it very attractive. As the organization grew layers and layers of processes, procedures and programs eventually buried the culture. Now, if you want a relationship and a handshake, you need to fill out all the right forms, attend all the right meetings and jump through all the right hoops. The process has shaped the culture rather than the culture shaping the process.

At the other end of the spectrum is Apple. Four years after the death of their visionary leader they are now the most valuable company in the world, and continue to grow year after year. In almost every interaction with Apple the principles that drove Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to found the company in 1976 still come through. They build insanely great products sold by incredibly well-informed staff through almost frictionless sales channels. From the first Mac, to the first iPod to the greatly anticipated Apple Watch the experience stays the same.

Is your church, business or non-profit still operating on the same principles it was founded on? Does your culture shape your process, or is your culture held hostage by your process? In the midst of the forms, interviews and procedures is there still a warm relationship and a strong handshake? Does your organization have a heart, or is it simply an institution?

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Stop complaining and start leading

NoComplainingWe have become a nation of complainers rather than leaders. We think that by writing a blog post, or updating our Facebook status or linking to a provocative article we are leading change. All we’re really doing is adding to the noise.  Those who agree with us will nod their heads approvingly and hit the “Like” button while those who disagree will come after us in the comments, or worse, simply ignore our brilliance. There are people who make their living off of pointing out the errors they see all around them. They don’t recruit, they don’t develop, they don’t deploy; they just complain about those who do. (I understand the irony of writing this in a blog post, but please hear me out.)

There’s one Christian blogger in particular who drives me crazy. She is an excellent writer who often makes good points, but as far as I can tell her only contribution to the landscape is picking at specks in other people’s eyes. She caught my attention when she emailed my wife, whom she’s never met, vilifying her for participating in an online conference which the writer felt had too few women on their schedule. I’m still mystified how a woman not participating because not enough women are participating advances the cause. I see her name pop up often in the national media, always pointing out what the church and church leaders are doing wrong. I have yet to read how she is contributing to the solution.

My wife, Sherry, is a writer as well, but she doesn’t use her platform to point out the flaws of the people and institutions around her. She focuses on how she is growing and encouraging others to grow along with her. She doesn’t just write, however, she also leads. She currently leads an organization, Mothers of Preschoolers International, which trains thousands of women every year in how to lead within the context of their local church. When Sherry went to Kenya several years ago she saw an organization struggling to feed the AIDS orphans in their care. Rather than complain about the lack of funds and the mismanagement of resources, she formed a board to bring stability and hope to a small Christian school in Africa. In every problem Sherry looks for a way she can participate in a solution.

Not all of us are called to lead non-profits or form boards, but we are all called to work for solutions. Here are ten ways you can morph from complainer to leader:

  1. If you are frustrated by your political leaders, rather than writing an angry status update or linking to some outrageous article, get involved. Volunteer in a campaign, vote in an election, run for office.
  2. If you think church leaders are missing the mark, get deeply involved in a church that is making a difference in your community. If you can’t find that church, then start one.
  3. If your church isn’t meeting your needs, rather than writing an anonymous note or sending a scathing email, start volunteering to meet someone else’s needs.
  4. If racial discrimination makes you crazy start a small group equally divided between minorities and racists. If you don’t know any minorities or racists, start there.
  5. If you think our education system is a joke volunteer at a school
  6. If you think the church should give more money to help the poor, give more money to help the poor.
  7. If you are frustrated over the way our military is treated, help a wounded veteran.
  8. If your pastor doesn’t spend enough time teaching from the Bible on Sunday mornings start a class teaching from the Bible on Sunday nights.
  9. If there aren’t enough women in leadership become (or support) a woman in leadership
  10. If there aren’t enough opportunities for young leaders become a young leader who creates opportunities for young leaders.

Jesus never called us to point out everyone else’s weaknesses, he called us to lead change.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

So, rather than linking, blogging or updating the next time we’re outraged, let’s commit to becoming doers of good deeds.

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My final word on being fired by a church

Monday’s rant about churches firing without warning and without a legitimate reason has received an unexpected amount of response. About 20,000 people read the post and almost 3,000 liked it on Facebook. That is a tsunami compared to the response my posts normally generate. There is obviously a lot of emotion around this topic. I have also receive numerous private message from people with open wounds from their interactions with churches. This breaks my heart.

I’m afraid in my haste writing the post I gave the wrong impression about a few things. Let me follow up on some areas where I might have been misunderstood:

  • I love the Church. I work for a church, and I coach pastors all over the country. Although church leaders make terrible decisions and fire people in awful ways, I will not give up on the local church. I have had bad doctors, but I never gave up on medicine. If you have been hurt, please do not give up on the church.
  • I believe there are legitimate reasons to fire a staff member. If you consistently lie, cheat or steal you should be fired. If you don’t keep your word, if you have sexual interactions with people you are not married to, if you repeatedly bring division in the church, you should be fired.
  • While being on staff is similar to being in a family, its not the same. You are not paid to be in your family, you are paid to work for a church.If you don’t do the job you are paid to do the church has just cause to stop paying you.
  • No matter why someone is fired it should never come as a surprise.
  • If you have been hurt by a church you need to meet with a wise counselor. Time does not heal all wounds, time by itself just creates scars.

I promise this will be sealmy last post on churches firing people for a long, long time. I think my next post will be about kittens and bunnies and adorable baby seals. Surely we can all agree on adorable mammals. And seals.

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Monday Rant: Churches who fire without cause

So it happened again last week. Another cool, growing mega-church told a friend he needs to find a new job because he is no longer a fit for their corporate chemistry. Even though they said he consistently hit his goals, and they Fired-300x300had no complaints about the results he was achieving, they decided he wasn’t the style leader they wanted to work with. So now he has to uproot his family from a church they love, leave friendships formed over years of ministry together and find another place to work. The church he is leaving will likely employ a search firm to find someone whose chemistry they prefer who happens to be currently employed at another church. And the merry-go-round continues.

In case you haven’t picked it up yet, this is going to be a rant. I am over the corporate practices so many American churches have adopted that run counter to basic biblical principles of leadership and Christian relationship. Here are my thoughts:

  • If you can’t find a direct correlation between your HR practices and how Jesus treated his disciples, you need to change how you do HR.
  • Jesus never fired a disciple. He didn’t fire Peter for mouthing off in front of Elijah and Moses, he didn’t fire Thomas for doubting the outcome of the mission, and he didn’t fire Philip for missing the point entirely. He didn’t even fire Judas for betraying him. If Jesus didn’t fire, we should be very cautious about how and why we fire.
  • Forcing someone to resign is the same as firing.
  • If the church fired (or forced the resignation) of your predecessor, they will fire you eventually. Trust me on this.
  • Being unwilling to work through relational messiness is a terrible excuse for firing someone. Peter and Paul had serious issues, but they worked it out.
  • Your mission is never more important than your staff; your staff is your mission. If you can’t develop, love and care for your staff, how in the world are you going to develop, love and care for your congregation.
  • There are times when staff should be let go, but this should never come as a surprise. Unless there is a major moral issue, firing should always follow multiple conversations and a well-defined growth plan.
  • A revolving door of staff members is indicative of a deeper problem, and hiring more staff isn’t going to solve the problem. To quote a friend, “How long are you going to work on what’s not the problem before you work on what is the problem?”

That’s probably enough rant for one Monday morning. I’ll leave you with two things to think about:

  • If you lead a church that has a high turnover rate on staff, you may be the problem.
  • If you work at a church that has a high turnover rate on staff, you should polish your resume. Your time is coming.

[I posted an addendum to this post here]

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