Art or Service?

This one’s tough for me. It’s something I don’t think ever gets resolved. As Andy Stanley puts it….”its  a tension that must  be managed.”

Have you ever noticed interviews on tv with actors or music artists? Usually, the person doing the interview brings up something that a critic has said either positively or negatively about their latest piece of work, and the actor usually mentions that they in some respect pay no attention to the critics whether good or bad. They are making  their art for the sake of art, and they believe in what they have filmed or recorded to a level where the popular consensus doesn’t concern them. They have an intrinsic belief that they did the best they could on project and they don’t want someones critique to cast a shadow over their perception of the work they did.
At the other end of the Pendulum, there are business where the critique is the point. If people aren’t happy, then it wasn’t a success. If you are a restaurant owner, and no one likes your food, you will probably not have a successful business. If you open a clothing store and no one buys your clothes, well….you get the point.
There have been a handful of companies throughout the years that I believe managed this tension well. Two particular people come to mind…Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. Ford was quoted as saying “you can have any color model-T you want as long as its black.” He created (either for personal reasons or business model reasons) a product that was what it was, and if people wanted a car, thats what they got. Steve Jobs upon his return to apple in ’97 looked at their product line which was ballooning upward of 40-plus product lines and wiped them all, and drew a 2×2 grid on the board…..Apple was going to make 4 products, thats it. And if people wanted an Apple Computer, they were going to buy one of those 4 products.
Now Here’s where the tension really starts to show itself…I work at a church. And there are as many opinions on “how” you do church as there are menu items on a Cheesecake Factory menu. Are we in the Art business? or the service business? Are we about catering to peoples wants, needs, and desires? Or are we presenting an art, the most beautiful love painting ever drawn….the gospel? These are the things that are hard to define for me. If we have the artist attitude, and do not care about the opinions/perception of people we can have a beautiful presentation that appeals to no one, and therefore no one hears the Good News. However, if all we do is appeal to the preferences of people and cater to their wishes and desires, we are not shepherding people, we’re looking to the people for the vision, not drawing the vision from God.
So is it Art? or is it service? Love to know your thoughts…….


The Bathroom at the other end of the Hallway

You’ll have to excuse  the locker-room-level example on this one, but it really does make a point for me. At our offices, we have a conference room where we often have meetings . And some of these meetings can go for lengthy time periods. The closest “facilities” to this conference room are just down the stairs….a few steps away. But I don’t frequent that particular location. I choose to walk a couple hundred feet to the other end of our office hallway to the other facilities. It could be a number of reasons…. I don’t like the pink tile, or I don’t like its proximity to a main entrance to the building, or it doesn’t have hot water in the sink. But what really is the reason is the culmination of all that…..the experience. Now, please remove that fact that I’m still discussing a bathroom here, but experience matters! It IS the reason I walk the extra time and space to go to the other restroom. That restroom has a better experience.

Why do people like certain restaurants over others? Sure the food maybe better, but more than not, they like the appeal of the experience. So when thinking through my decision to use the facilities that are further away and the reason that is, it prompted the question for me that I must answer for what I do as a creative….”Am I creating an experience that drives people to walk the extra distance in order to participate?” Are You? Is whatever you’re creating, whether its a product, presentation, conference, or service so appealing as an experience that people will go out of their way to take part in or purchase?

Creativity and Planning

I know, they sound like they don’t coexist.

There’s a stigma thats attached to “creatives”. Most of the times you’ll hear phrases like “they only function under the gun”, or ” I do my best work under pressure.”

I feel that the the procrastination epidemic in the creative world is both stereotypical as well as cop-out related.

Most “administrative” types look at creatives as not being able to hit a deadline…most “creatives” usually say things like ” you can’t time-clock creativity.”

I have found in all my reading and experience, that the best creativity comes from my planning. I realize that sounds a little oxy-moronic in a way. The idea that planning can create creativity is counter-intuitive. But think about the best things that ARE created. You think the iPad or the iPhone came into being on a late-night whim of procrastination? No it was months and months of working through design, form and function that led to the device I’m posting this on. You think one of Mozart’s symphonies was purly created out of a deadline to a performance?

True artistic creating takes time….and in today’s society of non-stop going…it takes planning. For my administrative friends…you can’t box in creatives. I recently sat at a conference and a very well-respected teacher was speaking, and I know his content was second-to-none. However, in the middle of his speech, my brain started following a creative thought that will be a major player in weeks to come….you cant time-stamp or time-card creativity…you learn to take it as it comes and welcome the result.

To my creative friends…..don’t fall into the trap of procrastination. I promise you, that you do great work under pressure, but I also know that you can do better work when you’re not stressed. If you take your best accomplishment, and add time for planning and execution at a healthy level, I promise the work would be better and your life would be healthier. Don’t let someone box you in and tell you that if you’re going to do truly creative work, it must be late in the night and against a hard deadline. I promise if you plan, and manage your time, your work will be stronger, deeper, better, and your life will be healthier, and that will show in your work.


Work Habits and Time Management

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”26 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known at 20″ target=”_blank”>26 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known at 20</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Etienne Garbugli @egarbugli</a></strong> </div>

Demographic and Accesibility

Just because you have a demographic doesn’t mean your message can’t be accessible to a wider group. This is true in business marketing, but also ministry planning. The way you structure your ministry presentation will most likely identify with a certain type of individual….thats natural.  But I  don’t think it has to stop there. Its great to know/understand your demo… but that shouldn’t be a one-stop-shop for how you evaluate your presentation.

Your presentation may resonate with one specific audience, but it can be accessible to a broader range of people. What does that mean? One way is to appeal to people’s appreciation of excellence. I had a friend, my age, in the music industry talk about his experience at what most of us would consider a “traditional” church. He said that it was “old school” but they did it so well that he got caught up in the grandeur of the moment. He definitely was not the demographic of the normal person that resonates with the presentation of that church, but it was accessible to him because it was done well.

I think one of the easiest ways to increase your accessibility is look at things you can get rid of that may be “turn-offs”, but don’t change the heart of your message. Lets look at an over-exaggeration to make the point. Let’s say you happen to like the word “groovy” and your demographic likes the word, but its a turn-off to people outside your core audience. If “groovy” isn’t a central part of your message, just let go of it. I would say its not about doing things that people outside your audience love, trying to be all things to all people, but  NOT doing things that turn them away.

There are 3 questions I like to ask in this order:

  • 1 – Whats my message and is it clear?
  • 2 – Who does my message resonate with? (Godin calls this “tribe”)
  • 3 – and who could this message be accessible to/what’s the inhibitors to that happening?

For the One Person who didn’t get the joke – Seth Godin

Got this from Seth Godin the other day…thought it was worth Passing On


The fabled comedian is killing it at a club that seats 400. One guy in the back, though, isn’t laughing.

Miles Davis was shunned by a few people in the audience, even at his coolest.

The theater critic at the Times might not like this play, the one that made people cry and sold tickets for years.

And just about every blog post and book listing collects a trolling comment from someone who didn’t like it, didn’t read it or didn’t agree with it (or all three) and isn’t shy about speaking up with a sharp tongue.

For those people, the message from the creator of the work is clear: “It’s not for you.”

Unanimity is impossible unless you are willing to be invisible. We can be unanimous in our lack of feedback for the invisible one.

For everyone else, though, the ability to say, “It’s not for you,” is the foundation for creating something brave and important. You can’t do your best work if you’re always trying to touch the untouchable, or entertain those that refuse to be entertained.

“It’s not for you.”

This is easy to say and incredibly difficult to do. You don’t have much choice, though, not if you want your work to matter.

Matthew 24

Our church is reading the New Testament this year along with Psalms and Proverbs. Its a church wide campaign facilitated though a new app and a devotional book. Its been really great to read different chapters of Matthew this month and ask a couple questions about what it means and how should I apply what I just read.

Today’s chapter was Matthew 24. Its a chapter that many have always referred to with respect to prophecy and the end times. I’m not a prophecy professor and there are countless authorities on the subject that have spent a life’s work researching and teaching on the subject. But, one thing stood out to me as I simply read the chapter this morning. All of the things that Jesus talks about, wars and rumors of wars…nation against nation…mother against daughter, father against son…all of these things have been happening generation after generation since Jesus went back to heaven. We even know that John (the one that Jesus loved) thought he would see the return of Jesus. For centuries we have been proclaiming the end times message. Chances are thats the way Jesus intended. But there’s one phrase in there that caught me today that I feel gets overlooked….“And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” 

The end of the world, or of this age according to what I just read this morning really isn’t dependent on how bad the world gets. Whether there are more natural disasters than last year. Whether the world is getting warmer or it isn’t. Whether the wars are increasing or decreasing. It’s dependent on how faithful we are to “preach and teach Jesus.”

Might I offer this encouragement. Lets not get bogged down in how awful the world is because it is…and its been that way since the big thud in Genesis 3. Lets get bogged down in making sure everyone we know, meet and have a chance to talk to gets to know Jesus though us…”then” Jesus said, “the end will come.”

Gee, I wish I was back in the Army….Responsibility

I watched my fair share of “White Christmas” this Holiday season. For some reason my four-year-old daughter took hold of it and watched it non-stop. I’m not really upset about it, after all, of all the movies to be on repeat, its clean, funny (and cheesy), and full of great holiday music. There were somethings that I noticed on this non-stop marathon of the movie that I never paid attention to before:

** Bings scarf with a polo and spot jacket. Its almost like what is called a “summer” scarf now days. Never noticed that, so that’s not really a new thing…its actually pretty classy and old (in a good way) thing.

** Danny Kaye is funny…never really noticed that. But as you watch the movie (over and over) more and more subtleties are noticed…and he is really great!

** Count your blessings is a GREAT song. My dad informed me that the song took home the oscar that year for best song in a movie…if you’ve forgotten it, look it up it is great. On a side note Jennifer Nettles did a stellar version on the CMA Christmas show this year.

And then there’s the song “Gee, I wish I was back in the Army.” Never paid much attention to it but these lines caught my attention:

There’s a lot to be said for the Army
The life without responsibility
A soldier out of luck
Was really never stuck
There’s always someone higher up where you can pass the buck
Oh, gee, I wish I was back in the Army

I don’ t really know how much “passing of the buck” was done in the army back in WWII. From what I heard from my grandfather, it was pretty rough and everyone did their part. But it did catch my ear as if there’s one thing I see more and more, its not taking responsibility. I’m not immune to it. When confronted with issues, our first inclination is to defer the issue to something or someone else. Its a growing issue in large part because we have gotten accustomed to the stage of life now known as “adolescence.” Prior to the last 50-75 years, you really don’t see it in cultures. When a boy is young he is a child, in most cultures (especially eastern and middle eastern) and once he reaches a certain age, there is a “rite of passage” and he becomes a man. Not that he knows it all, or has arrived, but he is responsible for his behavior as a man is.

In American culture we have a neat little thing called “Adolescence.” Its a period where for all practical purposes we have (as Pastor Mark Driscoll) says “boys who can shave.” Whats unique is if you look up ages for the period, it has grown over the past few decades. It used to be between the ages of say 14-18….but now as we have successfully raised irresponsible males, it is now considered around 18-28 years old. Does this seem ridiculous to anyone else? The biggest issue with this period is they, primarily males, do not take responsibility for the behavior and responsibilities. It’s not as if they are all living in their moms basement playing video games all day (although I’m sure there are some of those too). Many of them have jobs, great jobs, but they can still be little boys. Its “someone else’s fault”. They “don’t wanna” do this or that. Like I said, no one is really immune to it…but the funny thing about taking responsibility and making decisions is the more you do it….the more you do it. I know, redundant. But its a learned behavior. There are aspects of all of our jobs that we don’t “love”, and thats ok…we still need to do the job…a real good job.

We have a phrase in our office that we use when dealing with these things. Its called “putting your big boy pants on.” Some days (and few jobs do you have to do it everyday) you just have to wake up and say “I’m going to deal with [this] today.” And you know what, your a better man, employee, and leader for it. So lets stop the cultural trend of adolescent “boys who can shave” not taking responsibility for their actions, and create cultures where manhood, not like the hitting our chest, hunting, spitting, watching duck dynasty manhood, but real manhood about loving Jesus, our families, and being leaders in our jobs and communities are fostered.