Thursday, March 27, 2008

C is for...Everything?!?

I am generally not a fan of alliteration as a tool for presenting information. Maybe I heard too many three points and a prayer sermons as a youth.

But when we were working to express the heart of our desire in what we are calling the Catalyst Foundation the ideas we talked about all seemed to fit description by C words.

When it became clear that it was happening that way I decided to just go with it, so now we have these lists of C's that describe our partners, mentoring program, leadership development, and the kind of people we get excited to work with.

In the next couple weeks this will be a place to lay out all the C's for anyone who wants to understand what we're all about.

For now, the short versions:
When considering applicants for funding or for our mentoring program we are looking for: Creativity, Commitment, Compatibility, and Compelling Stories.
Our mentoring program consists of: Coaching, Connecting, and Contributing.
And we approach leadership through aspects of: Competence, Character, and Context.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Intriguing or Offensive?

Today's Hamilton Spectator had an article on something called "poorism". It's basically the development of tourism in the world's poorest slums.
I've been on a couple trips to areas like this to do work with local churches, which I see as quite different from what this article describes. Still, there is an element of voyeurism or at least satisfying our curiosity involved even with our honourable motives.
My belief is that short term experiences in areas like these are usually of minimal benefit to the people there. But they can be transformative for those who go. IS this exploitative? Is the tourism approach disgusting or innovative?
In a few weeks I'm going to Haiti as part of a team with MMI. We'll bve accompanying and assisting a dentist providing care for local people who otherwise have no access to this kind of help. I'll be sure to update with a lot more reflections when I get back.
I'm curious how some of my friends who are more experienced in seeing the world will respond to this article.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good People Dreaming

As I mentioned recently, I spent a couple days last week with representatives from the Salvation Army (Canada and Bermuda) who were brought together by the Territorial Youth Secretary David Ivany, who is a compulsive dreamer and committed champion to the youth and youth workers he serves. Our agenda was to develop a "manifesto" for youth work across the territory. It was a bold target, if we were to come up with anything more significant than just another evocative t-shirt slogan. Thankfully, this group was not only willing to enter into the process, they were also unwilling to take the easy way out. I was both impressed and inspired.
A couple highlights:
-one of the youngest people in the group standing up to me when one of my suggestions would have led us to an earlier conclusion that would have beeen far inferior than what emerged. There was a reason this was one of the people the group selected to put their shared heart cry into words.
-Dave Ivany saying tto mee in a quiet that he has the best job in the world because all he has to do is champion the work of amazing peoplee whilee they willingly go out and do it.
-seeing people work to set aside their personal biasses for the sake of discerning a God-given direction.
-seeing a very high degree of thoughtful reflection and theology that supports some remarkably innovative work among the many desperate communities both in urban centres and rural areas.
-being welcome in the presence of people who show courage to stand up for what they believe they are called to.

The product of this process can be seen at the Salvation Army youth website. It is worth your time to have a look, and add your responses to the discussion.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer

I spent some time last week with some really amazing people from the Salvation Army (Canada and Bermuda territory) at Jackson's Point on the shore of Lake Simcoe. I'll have lots more to share about that in the next couple days. For now, I'll just say that helping them through a process of discerning a renewed vision for their youth ministry was a tiring process in some ways; but it was actually inspirational to be with a group people who are sincerely passionate about reaching a generation with the truth and grace of Jesus within the rich legacy that the Army has.

While I was away with them I had the chance to read Jim Collin's monograph for non-profits based on his book Good To Great (which has been on my shelf unread for at least a year).

The monograph was recommended to me by Leanne Graham from Medical Ministry International. I'll trust her judgment completely from now on. this is a really useful resource. It's less than 40 pages, but full of easily understood and applicable ideas. I immediately saw ways it could be applied to our work at Catalyst, and to some of the issues arising with the Salvation Army folks too.

You should read it for yourself, (the $15 and hour of your time will be very well spent), but hear are a couple things that stood out to me:
-there are ways in which "business" principles conflict with social service situations, but there are higher principles that govern all purposes that do translate
-non-profits tend to lose themselves by evaluating measurable inputs when we should be disciplining ourselves to evaluate outcomes
-long term results require disciplined focus on only what we do best, regardless of other opportunities
-getting the right people on board (and the wrong people off) is essential, and high standards are the key to selection (I wish I'd understood this when I was planting a church.)
-we must be fierce about defending our brand, it is the key to our long term effectiveness

I'd love to hear what others think after reading it...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why I don't trust you

I’m not the most experienced leader around by any means, but I think I’ve noticed some things over the years that have proven true repeatedly. One of the strongest of these patterns is that there are some people doing amazing work that I just can’t feel good about. Something about them makes me very uncomfortable.
When I think a little more deeply I can see that in a lot of cases these are leaders who have drive, charisma, and passion that far exceeds my own; so maybe I’m intimidated or jealous. But I think it’s actually that I perceive them as lacking humility.
I don’t necessarily they are obviously arrogant. That’s thankfully rare. The issue is that they seem to always have an answer, a plan, and a certainty that makes them seem larger than life, and a little bit inauthentic.
Today I was reminded of the great transformation from Genesis 32 where Jacob (whose name means “schemer”) finally finds himself in a situation he can’t deke, duck, or dance his way out of. The guy who was always able to slip out of trouble is caught in the grip of someone who can’t be shaken off. After battling all night he is released to go on in life with a permanent limp and a new name, Israel (which means “He struggles with God”). It turns out that Israel is much more useful and deeply connected to God than Jacob ever was.
I’m nervous around leaders of any age who don’t have that limp; who never seem at a loss and always have complete confidence in their direction. They seem impenetrable, which is dangerous.
I’m drawn to those who have faced struggle, failure, and deep disappointment and continue on transformed. Not with the struggles all behind them, but with the quiet faith that doesn’t guarantee results or rely on their self assured abilities. I’ve always loved drawing out that sincerity in others.
I’m becoming a little bit afraid that one of the things I may find myself doing in the next few years is being with Jacobs as they become Israels. I much prefer arriving on the scene after the struggle and offering first aid and encouragement. Being present when the wounds are inflicted is scary, it may expose more of my own frailties than I want to display.

How close should we get?

We were “late” to pick up my son from daycare this week. We’re usually there shortly after 4pm but it was a nice day so we all walked up to get him and didn’t arrive until just after 4:30. Officially they don’t close until 5:30 but Ian was the last child of the day and they were expecting us at our usual time. It was a little bit awkward because the providers had dinner plans and were waiting for us. I felt pretty sheepish about it at first, but afterwards not so much. The issue was really that we’ve tried to have much more than a professional or contractual relationship with the daycare. If they are going to be caring for our son a couple days each week we want to be personally connected to them. Which makes it a little harder when any of us are disappointed or frustrated by one another.
As a foundation we’ve decided that we aren’t just about handing out novelty cheques and waiting for annual reports. We want to become personally involved with the work our partners are doing. Sometimes that means mentoring one of their staff, sitting as a board member, taking part in one of their programs, or just really getting to know the people who make things happen. It’s a big part of what I love about this role.
But it does make things potentially awkward. When we are the ones evaluating grant proposals and the results of our funding we need to be somewhat at arms length. Personal relationships make the professional aspect of what we do complex if not conflicted. What happens if someone who has become my friend doesn’t get the grant next year that they need to maintain their salary? What changes if I feel personally offended by someone over something that has nothing to do with their programs and projects?
My hope is the both we at Catalyst and those we partner with are willing to face those complications. If we can be up front about the possibility for issues to arise and be unafraid to take the risk of becoming involved there is little doubt that somewhere along the line something will blow up in our faces. But, isn’t that always the way of humanity; and the way of Jesus?
The Incarnation means, at the very least, that God risks giving up his professional distance and seasoned objectivity and gets into the muck where we live. It is profoundly costly as Easter will highlight for us again very soon. But it I the way God chose to work to bring not only obedience but actual transformation through love.
If anyone has experience or insight into the pitfalls and pleasures of these more subjective partnerships I’d love to hear some thoughts…
(Oh, we worked everything out at daycare and things are cool again now.)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Measuring Results

Almost everyone who gives their life to the benefit of others sometimes struggles with the matter of significance. Lives influenced are rarely definitive and the process is at least as full of heartbreak as it is with glory.
I'm just finishing watching Mr. Holland's Opus again. It is inspiring, even is it may be somewhat contrived at the end in a predictable Hollywood manner.
I love what this movie honours: long term commitment, investing in the dreams of others, leaving aside personal desires at times, relationships as more important than tangible outcomes, challenging authority with passion and wisdom... the list goes on.
I also appreciate that for the first 2/3 of the movie the lead character is obviously deeply flawed. He repeatedly chooses the encouragements of his work over the frustrations of his family. He's tempted to infidelity and crosses some lines he shouldn't. He's angry, sarcastic, and unfulfilled. I almost would have preferred if it hadn't all come together so completely later. It would have been more honest to the people I know who do wonderful things but remain imperfect themselves.
That's not to devalue life change. If we didn't believe in transformation most of us would go get "real" jobs. I just like the honesty of heroes with clay feet. It's quite Biblical.
Finally, there's the finale scene when Mr. Holland sees for the first time just how much his life has meant. Far too few of us receive recognition for our efforts, at least in the ways that we would most like. Perhaps that's for the best after all.
The desire for recognition, to be significant in the lives of others, can be a quiet but damaging temptation. It is a sobering moment when the minister realizes he is more interested in being the one helping than in seeing the person be helped.
This is why we take it by faith that it is not our calling to be successful, to change lives or get results; though we do acknowledge those as desirable. Somehow we strive to long for the simple words "Well done, good and faithful servant", spoken by one who knows our every frailty and loves us still.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Abundance Dilemma

For the first time in my professional life I have a larger budget than I'm sure how to spend. Being in the role of making grants to deserving people and organisations is an amazing opportunity, but almost immediately it becomes abundantly clear that there are far more worthwhile causes than we have resources. By foundation standards we really aren't that big, and the needs in our own community and around the world are so immense.
As a foundation we need to do a lot of learning and take the time to figure out how to use our resources most effectively to accomplish what we feel is our part. We've decided that the best way to do this is to take the next several months to focus on getting familiar with a wide range of ministries and work on the fundamentals of what we value and where we believe we can help the most. We aren't planning to disburse any further funds until September while we work on all that stuff.
What I'm realising in this process is that the dilemma of having our funds to distribute among seemingly endless meaningful and worthy possible partners is not all that unusual.
In my personal life I have a certain amount of financial resources, a certain amount of time and energy. And I have the responsibility of determining how to use it all (with my wife of course). The possibilities are diverse and there are a lot of really good options.
So, whether I'm working at Catalyst or planning as a family. I have a pretty significant responsibility to face. The new perspectives and experiences I'm exposed to in this new role only make that more apparent.