Top 5 Books of 2020

I recently posted on my social media platforms that I read 83 books in 2020.  My original goal was to read 52 books in 365 days of 2020, but stay at home orders allowed me to exceed that goal. 

Mark Batterson said, “Each book represents about 25 years of life experience in one book.” I figured at this point in my life as a follower of Jesus, husband, dad and pastor, I needed as much life experience I could get.

So here are my top 5 books I read in 2020.  They aren’t in any particular order.

  • The Relentless Pursuits of Eliminating Hurry by John Mark Comer

We are all busy. We are in the rat race.  Churches are even more active than ever, but should we be this busy?  

There are so many things to get done.  We struggle to conquer our list of “to dos” let alone complete it. 

As a pastor, it feels like we have to do all the things. We use the mission of the church as an excuse for why we are always in a hurry. It is possible to be successful as a pastor and fail at following Jesus. 

We’ve somehow made the idea of being a pastor exempt from following Jesus’ example of not hurrying. 

I would hate to pastor a church and lose my soul, family or burn out because I chose to be a good pastor over following Jesus.  It’s possible, by the way.  In the back of my mind, I knew that.  It wasn’t until I started to read this book and hear another pastor voice that possibility, that I decided to change. 

There is a way out.  First, we have to recognize that hurry and love can’t co-exist.  According to John Comer, hurry and love are incompatible. 

Can we change?  Could I change?  Could I resist the urge to become a great pastor at the cost of following Jesus?  Jesus was never in a hurry.  Jesus slowed down to pay attention to people.  Jesus rested.  Jesus took a Sabbath.  To sabbath means to stop or seize. 

It was like this at the beginning of time.  Sometimes I wonder if humans forgot how our story started.  God created humans on the 6th day.  The 7th day came around and Adam and Eve rested. They spent the Sabbath day with God.  Were Adam and Eve tired?  Was God tired?  No.  Humanity started out by being created then taking a Sabbath with their creator.  On day three of humanity’s existence, Adam and Eve got to work. 

What if we patterned our lives like this?  I grew up thinking we had to earn rest.  We had to get everything done so we could spend the Sabbath day resting.  We’ll never get all the things done.  There will always be more to do. 

What if we patterned our lives around the idea that we work from our rest.  We rest, and out of the source of life-giving rest, we have the energy to work? 

Could that be a way forward?  

2. Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene Peterson

My family and I planted RE.THINK Church in 2017.  We are a 4-year-old church in Merrillville, IN.  I struggle to say that I pastor our church.  I’m more comfortable with the idea of I lead the church.  

In our current church culture, it’s more flashy to say that I’m a leader.  We’ve made an idol out of leadership. 

To be honest, I have worshiped the idol of leadership. 

I picked this book up on whim.  As I read these letters between a father and a son, it felt like God was confronting my worship of leadership. 

I confess my sins of worshiping at the wrong altar.  

My prayer and hope is to pastor our community better not to lead our community. 

3. Discipleship Kickstart Toolkit by Doug Paul

Jesus left this earth with clear instructions of what to do, go make disciples.  He didn’t explain how to do that.  He made disciples. Those disciples made disciples (not of themselves, but of Jesus). Those disciples made disciples and so it has gone for 2,000+ years. 

To Jesus, there is no Plan B. 

We are His plan A. 

As we make disciples of Jesus, we are partnering with Jesus in the advancement of His kingdom.

Doug explains the tension created as we follow Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t just about knowing the right answers or having a good character, it’s also about living and doing.  Jesus taught in parables. The characters of the parables were always doing something.  Characters in his parables are either advancing the Kingdom or interacting with other people.  The point of most of these parables wasn’t so we would have information to pass a test.  It was so we would know how to live in His kingdom.

Following Jesus is about becoming more like Jesus for the reason of becoming more like Jesus.  It’s also about doing what Jesus did for the sake of becoming more like Jesus. 

4. The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce Longenecker

In Revelation 2:13, Jesus says, “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.”

Longenecker takes a look into the cultural and historical context to speculate into what events might have led up to this moment for Jesus to mention Antipas. Was Antipas the only Christian martyr up to this moment?  No, but something must have taken place to grasp Jesus’ attention and make mention of him to John at this moment.

‘The place where Satan has his throne’ describes what kind of city and culture Pergamum was in the 1st century.

Pergamum was a city dedicated to the advancement of the political and military promotion of Rome’s Empire.  Pergamum was full of Emperor worship, gladiator games and worship of mythical deities.

All this led up to the qualification to be called the place where Satan has his throne. 

German, American and Turkey archeologists spent two decades excavating the city of Pergamum.  The team of archeologists discovered lead casements in a house. 

Pitch and wax preserved the contents inside the lead casements.  What were the contents? Letters between a man named Antipas and another man named Luke. 

These letters tell the story of Antipas’ faith and how the followers of Jesus in Pergamum and the surrounding areas influenced Antipas. The document describes the faith journey Antipas embarks on as his life intersects with followers of Jesus.

It’s so moving to see how living our faith out in real genuine everyday life can influence others.  

I wept reading the last few pages.  I could barely share them with my wife.  

5. Legacy Journey by Dave Ramsey

The day I’m writing this, I turned 40 years old.  My wife and I celebrated 18 years of marriage this past summer.  Our oldest son is a senior in high school and our youngest son is a freshman in high school. 

Growing up, I vividly remember the thought of wanting to be a father, but that thought scared me!  More like terrified me. 

I remember the night that Heather took a pregnancy test. We didn’t think we needed to, especially since it had only been a few weeks after returning from our honeymoon. 

Yep, that ‘five year plan for kids’ thing went right out the window in a matter of weeks.  I felt excited (Heather not so much) and terrified all at once. 

Legacy Journey is not just a financial book.  It’s a book with a radical Biblical view of money and generosity.  Dave explains that wealth and money aren’t good or evil.  Money is just an object.  How we interact with money is what matters.  The love of money according to scripture is the root of all evil.  When we are generous, we acknowledge that God owns it all.  We are simply stewarding what He’s given us. I want to leave our sons, and the future Ulrich generations, with a legacy.

The legacy Heather and I want to leave our sons isn’t focused on money or wealth.  Our legacy we are leaving points the future Ulrich’s to love Jesus and loving others.  We want our wealth to benefit others around us for generations to come. The Legacy Journey has given me a road map to accomplish that. 

Photo by: Eli-Francis

Uncommon Leadership

I like to study organizations and the people that makeup them up. I enjoy studying how people can have the same title and yet perform completely different. We love an underdog story. We love watching organizations with less resources out perform larger well funded organizations. Organizations with enthusiastic leaders and people will outperform mediocre ones.

What makes these realities possible?

How can people hold the same title, but be an uncommon leader?
First of all, it doesn’t take a title or position to lead. Leading is an influence. Organizations that recognize this have a shortcut to being uncommon leaders.

1. Uncommon leaders are readers.
On average, authors put about 2 years of life experience into the content of a book. 2015 I started mapping out my reading plan for my year. No matter what title I hold, I wanted to be like leaders who never stopped learning, and we’re always maturing.

Author and Pastor, Mark Batterson, read 3,000 books before he ever authored his first book. He wanted as much life experience as possible before he penned his first book.

My personal maturity map looks like reading 30 books a year, listening to 104 podcasts a year.

2. Uncommon leaders are completers.
This may sound simple, but there is something that stands out in our culture for keeping your word. If you say you’re going to do something and actually doing it, you’ll stand out in the right way in our society.
As we raise our sons, we are emphasizing this more and more. I want our sons to have a reputation for completing jobs and responsibilities. No matter their titles.

3. Uncommon Leaders Feed others.
In a world of negativity, anxiety, and depression, a person who encourages others is so crucial. Merrillville Intermediate School has a banner posted that says, Throw Kindness like Confetti. It’s a great reminder of how vital our kindness and encouragement are. Lead by encouraging.

4. Uncommon Leaders garden.
A gardener understands that gardening is a system. There is a time of preparing the soil, planting seeds, pulling weeds, watering etc. This is a system.

The harsh reality of all workplaces is that there is waste, imbalanced, & overwhelmed. Uncommon Leaders know this. They also don’t attempt to solve these issues on their own. Toyota factories have boards posted. These boards are for any associate to suggest improvements.

These suggestions used to reduce Muda (waste), mura (imbalanced), and muri (overwhelmed). Engineers and production team leaders set up a process knowing that it should change and improve. No production process stays the same. The constant process of kaizen allows for change to happen by the people who are doing the work. Uncommon leaders create a system to allow that to happen that goes beyond the suggestion box.

5. Uncommon Leaders heed.
We’ve all seen past successful businesses avoid and resist change. Companies like Sears, Blockbuster, and Kodak resisted the changing climate of business. They are now scrambling to stay relevant.

Uncommon Leaders heed the changing times and adjust. Will Netflix change with all the recent additions to the streaming market? Will we look back in 10 years and wonder how Netflix went out of business? Will they change?

No matter what capacity of leadership we are in, things change.

6. Uncommon Leaders plead.
Every leader has to hold people accountable. People will always fail at something. Uncommon Leaders know this. What makes uncommon leaders uncommon is how they address the failure.

Uncommon Leaders keep humanity while they address failures.
Uncommon Leaders plead for others to rise up to their standards.
Plead for humans to be more humane start by leading by example.
Application Step:

Which of these traits do you already show?

Which 1 of these traits will you begin to practice?

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Success for the generations

One of the most challenging parts of my role as a pastor is knowing when you’ve won.  I know most pastors will say they aren’t in competition. Not me, I’m a competitor. The problem is, is church life a competition? If so, how do you know when you’re winning? 

Our prayer maps throughout Merrillville.  One of our ladies, Tanisha Washington highlighting where she has prayed over.
Our prayer maps throughout Merrillville. One of our ladies,
Tanisha Washington highlighting where she has prayed over.

As a church, our people have committed to driving down streets praying for justice, mercy, grace, and peace.  I realized something the other day as I drove through my community praying. I had the realization that I might be playing by the wrong set of rules. 

 What if winning looks like my nutrition journey instead of a game of football? 

I eat ‘clean’ 90% of the time.  As a family, we have primarily followed the paleo way of eating for the last six years.  I work out 4-5 days a week as well. I’m in a new season of lifting more weights and less cardio.  Can I get an amen?! I hate cardio! I’m using lifting as my cardio. 

When I started my adult workout journey twelve years ago, I ran all the time and lost weight quickly.  I could eat almost whatever I wanted and still lose weight as long as I ran.

I viewed succeeding in my nutrition journey as a game of the weight scale. Making sure that number went down each week was the only thing that mattered. 

Now I’m more concerned with healthy life choices that will allow me to live a long healthy time.  I am also concerned with the food that goes into my body. I’ve noticed some foods are better for me to eat.  I’ve seen eating patterns that are better for me to follow, as well. The goal now is for me to live a healthy life, not just reduce the number on the scale.  My goal now is to have more muscle mass and lower body fat percentage. 

What if we are playing by the wrong set of assumptions? 

How often do you review your quarterly reviews?  I love the concept of a twelve-week work year by Brian Moran.  His idea is about getting more done in twelve weeks than most people do in a year.

I’m an action-oriented leader.  I’d rather move forward and then plan, plan and plan some more. 

Last week, a 15-year-old girl challenged me.  She asked what our community should look like in ten years if RE.THINK Church is successful.  It was such a great challenge! At times, I’ve been so consumed with growing an audience and building my influence.  I play by the wrong set of rules. I’ve been thinking about success wrong. What if my success as a pastor isn’t about a larger church? 

What if winning as a pastor doesn’t mean my church seats are full? 

What if it means that crime rates in our community are lower?  What if it means sixteen-year-old boys aren’t murdered and graduation rates rise?  What if it means immigrants and refugees find help instead of hiding out of shame, businesses thrive and young people are safe?  What if it means racial tension is gone, even the diet racism?  What if it looks like people have found hope and true life in Jesus?  What if it looks like people finding their true potential that Jesus has for them? 

When I attempted to answer the 15-year old’s question last week, I felt so selfish and self-centered.  As a pastor, the above is what I’m going after now. My efforts aren’t to fill our church seats. My efforts are to change our community. 

This translates into positioning our church and our budget to accomplish our long term goal.  

We can fall into the trap of the shortsighted goals of monthly reviews and profit margins.  Let me echo the question to you. What does our community look like in ten years if YOUR COMPANY is successful?

Let’s start thinking and leading to impact and influence generations! 

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash


We’ve all been there. We’ve all shown up to a new place where no one knows us. They don’t even care to get to know you or what you have to offer.

Now the question is “what do you do?” Should you stay in obscurity? Do you create a platform for yourself?

Living in obscurity is rough. It’s a tricky part of life. No one wants to live in obscurity. I don’t know a single adult who would wish to relive their middle school years. However, some of us find ourselves living in obscurity anyway.

While it’s difficult, there can be beauty in obscurity. (Enter the motivational posters of “The journey is the reward”). Journeying through obscurity is not for the faint at heart though.

Over my 38 years, I can reflect and see seasons of nothing but obscurity. So the question is, is obscurity something everyone HAS to go through and endure? If so, what are the best practices to journey through the darkness well?

In 2007, I started a new job in a new state. When I arrived at my new job, I was ushered into a training lab. I went through my orientation. During my week of orientation, I wasn’t even allowed to see the area of the production plant where I’d be working. It was strange, for sure. When I arrived, the people I would be working with didn’t care that I was there. Several of them reminded me many times that ‘they had been doing the job longer than I’d been alive.’

I had positional leadership. My job was a leadership role for the team. Most of my team didn’t care about my title. I foolishly believed that my title would open the gates of influence and leadership. I thought that I would give instructions and these instructions would magically be followed.

That did not happen.

I had to make a decision early on in this job. I could put my hours in and appear to be a leader and collect my paycheck and never gain leadership influence or, I could go through the long awkward path of obscurity to gain influence.

It’s possible to create a platform of influence without selling out.

Following are the lessons I had to learn and relearn in seasons of obscurity. This journey is more like a dance than it is a hike.

3 Things to work on in seasons of obscurity:

1. Focus more on becoming than doing.
A person of character is a rare thing these days. Take responsibility for your actions, words and results. When you screw up, admit it.

If you say you can submit a report by the end of the day, do it.

Your actions should match your words and your words should match your actions. No one admits to being a hypocrite, but we all are. We all struggle at keeping our word.

Excuses may help us feel better about ourselves, but they leave us lacking. It’s tempting to focus on tasks and getting things done. This temptation leads to our business. The business will lead to burn out and cynicism.

Being a person of integrity means to become a whole person. It’s tempting to compartmentalize our lives. We want to think we can become a person of integrity at work without it affecting our personal life.

Compartmentalizing our lives can lead to voids in our lives. We can have the appearance of substance, but in reality, be puffed up without content to support it.

Integrity comes from the Latin word “integer”. Legend has it that clay potters would put an “I” on pots after they went out of the kiln. This was done only if they were to be whole and complete without void.

Become a person without void.

If you say you’ll do something, do it. If you say you won’t do something, don’t.

If you want to take your wife on a date, do it. Plan ahead. Do it. Date your wife. If you don’t someone else will.

Be the person others at work can trust.

2. Clean your desk/workspace each day.
It’s tempting to allow the craziness of your life to keep you from organizing your work area. Don’t let it.

Take 5 minutes each day to clean your crap up. File paperwork. Throw trash away. Leave your area clean, especially if you share a work area.
Schedule time to file emails away as well. Don’t “check your email”.

Checking your email leads to so many other distractions. If possible set times in your daily schedule to ‘file emails’. Filing emails is a push to read, respond to the email and file it away.

How many times have you checked your email and read the email. Then never actually responded or carried out a task listed in an email? As a result, you show up to a meeting and realize you showed up unprepared. You neglected to prepare, which is what the previous email explained. You didn’t bring a report. Submit a requisition request prior to the meeting or inform someone else of the meeting etc.

Organizing your space not only clears your mind and helps reduce clutter. It communicates something about your work ethic and responsibility.
You can’t gain influence quickly. You gain influence and leadership through the long game. Winning the long game requires consistency and responsibility.

3. Turn your focus on getting results.
So, there’s this harsh reality in the workplace. There aren’t participation awards. Mean people called ‘bosses’ do this ridiculous thing like holding others accountable. ‘Bosses’ give paychecks out for an agreed-upon pay. They actually expect results from that so-called work.

In a previous job, I had to attend weekly meetings. In my weekly meetings, my boss would explain our goals as a department. He would also share his expectation in regards to— safety, quality and production ratios.

I would show up week after week reporting how I was trying to motivate my teams to meet these expectations. I would list out all the excuses I could come up with. We had no parts. We didn’t have packaging to put the assembled parts into. It was too hot. Etc.

After a few weeks, I realized this wasn’t gaining any results so I did something different. When we would run out of parts to assemble, I would communicate to the people in the previous process what I needed. I’d ask for an estimated update on when we could expect pieces. I kept a report in my notebook and reported my responses to the issues of why we couldn’t hit our production ratio.

It’s so easy to play the victim role in the workplace. My boss is so mean, clients are unrealistic or the economy is changing, etc.

You don’t control the majority of what happens to you. You do control 100% of how you respond to those events. Focus on how you respond. Your response should be focused on gaining results, not making excuses.

A guy named Todd stopped me after one of our weekly meetings. Todd said very little, but what he said was full of wisdom. He told me that no one cares about how much I try to get results. I won’t get a ribbon for trying. He told me that I should report on what I’m doing to get results.
My area sub-assembled components. Individual stations completed the sub-assembled products for the next process.

I communicated to my team that changes would take place.
I started tracking individual results.

We would hold each other accountable to the expectations. Every Monday, I posted the updated results from the previous week. Each person’s name was listed next to their production ratio. Anyone that didn’t achieve the expectation had to report to the team. They would say what kept them from attaining the expectation. They would also explain what they were going do to meet the expectation in the future.

Things were uncomfortable and awkward on Mondays. Something happened though, Mondays become my favorite day of the week. Our team held each other accountable and knew what results were needed to improve.

Best practices were shared.

We accomplished goals.

Obscurity is challenging for sure. It doesn’t have to be a place where we get lost and forgotten though. These actions have helped me and so many others. I recently asked this question on social media and the input from everyone was so helpful, I had to add a bonus.

Embrace the season and wait. The waiting isn’t passive waiting, it is waiting with anticipation.

Think of sailing a ship. If you’re out at sea and your sails are down and the wind does come, how will you move?

The list above isn’t exhaustive. I do believe it can help you start the process of raising your sails to journey well through obscurity.

Photo by Edgar Guerra on Unsplash

Cellphones the new cigarettes?

We’ve all seen science fiction movies that depict our earth worse than we currently live in. The cities look more polluted. It’s almost a prerequisite that our computers and machines will be ruling us.

There’s an old saying, if you want an apple from an apple tree, the best time to have planted that tree was twenty years ago. The next best time would be now. Here’s the reality. We aren’t on this earth on our own. We aren’t floating through time and space on our own either. We have a connection. We have a link with other human beings. We have a connection to previous generations of humans.

We are also connected to future generations.

Have you ever wondered how small decisions impact our lives? What we do today does affect our grandchildren.

I’m sure our grandparents dreamed of what the future would look like. My grandparents moved from Chicago to north central Indiana. They did that for the sake of their future children and future grandkids. By my grandparents making the choice to move, it meant that I would grow up in the city or house that I did. What decisions did your grandparents make that may have made that currently affect you today.

My wife’s grandmother recently passed away. At her funeral, someone mentioned how many events she saw in her lifetime. My 38 years don’t even come close to seeing the vast advancements she witnessed. I believe my grandchildren will see the same amount of technology in their lifetimes as well.

I was born in 1981. The same year of the floppy disk. I graduated from high school in 1999. I know how to use a rotary phone unlike these guys.

Let’s also take the evolution of music for example. Throughout my 38 years of life, a person could listen to music on vinyl, 8 track and cassette tapes. Compact discs eventually became accessible and affordable. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a CD. I don’t know the last time I bought an album. I now pay $10 a month to listen to the music I enjoy.

I am confident that some of what we have become accustomed to is beyond their imagination. Our ordinary, everyday lives displayed as science fiction a few decades ago.

So let’s play a game. Fast forward 100 years. What do you think we’ll see? Here are my top 3 predictions of what we’ll learn in 100 years.

1. Cell phones will be the cigarettes of our generation.

We really don’t know the health impact of cell phones yet. We are pretty early in the life of smartphones. All the signals that are going from and going to our smartphones have to have some impact on our health. There are some studies already about health impacts. A Google search of ‘potential health impacts of smartphones‘ renders 10,5000,000 search results!

Will future generations look back and wonder what in the world were we thinking? How could we have seen this as ok?

I’m wondering if the French government isn’t onto something. They have banned cell phones at their schools. I spend at least one day a week at a local school. The cell phones rule the classrooms.

I used to work at a manufacturing plant. One of the biggest struggles I had with my team was over the use of their smartphones. I fired so many young employees during that time. One of the main reasons was because they couldn’t keep their phones out of their hands as production ran.

2. Plastic will be our generation’s black smoke clouds of the industrial revolution.

Single-use plastic is killing our planet. We have to realize this. Most of us reading this blog live in a world where we ship our trash off. Someone picks up our trash and removes it from our house. That trash has to go somewhere though.

Last week, I met the owners of a new company in our area. Reeden Company is creating sustainable solutions to replace single-use plastic options. Let’s face it, we use single-use plastic because it’s cheap. Sustainable solutions will be an investment for us.

Volunteers try to clear a dam which is filled with discarded plastic bottles and other garbage, blocking Vacha Dam, near the town of Krichim on April 25, 2009. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

Our current reality was largely influenced by our grandparents. What kind of world do we want our grandchildren to live in? What kind of apple tree will you see in twenty years based on your investment? What are you willing to invest today for a better tomorrow?

3. Future generations will reject social media.

Social media as we know, will end. Facebook is only 15 years old. Instagram is only 9 years old. Snapchat is only 8 years old. Twitter is only 13 years old. I know it seems like we can’t survive today’s culture without these platforms. When will we stop caring about everyone’s approval and NEED to see everyone’s posts?

One of my friends Torrey said she only remembers this routine.

Wake up.

Grab her cell phone.

Open Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and see what she missed out on while she slept.

As a result, Torrey deleted all her accounts. She now has more mental space and the ability to focus throughout her day.

Will employers force employees to leave smartphones at home instead of at work?

Social media will go away completely. Future generations will learn to break from the addiction we can’t seem to shake.

I am extremely hopeful about our future. I believe that we are one generation away from greatness. Imagine if we as adults can model how to use technology with balance and boundaries. Future generations can build on our example.If we as adults can model how to use technology with balance and boundaries, future generations can build on our example and use technology to plant, cultivate and prune a culture that will embrace our full potential.

What seemingly simple decisions can you make today that will empower future generations? What simple decisions could you make that will plant the seed for a tree that your grandchildren will benefit from?

Don’t hope for it.

Don’t wait for it.

Do it.

Photo by Dexter Chatuluka on Unsplash

The Middle Phase

In 2015, Heather and I (Marc) were wrestling through what our next step as a family was.  We sensed God leading us away from a church and community that we were extremely comfortable in.  We had friends and support systems. We loved the city and we loved the people. We thought we’d retire there.  However, it became crystal clear that God was moving us away from the comfortable toward an unknown future.

The unknown isn’t bad.  The unknown is simply uncomfortable.  

In August of 2015, we found ourselves driving through Northwest Indiana with a couple of shady characters, Tom and Sarah Cochran.  We stopped at a Merrillville Elementary School, Salk Elementary School. While walking around, I was praying the whole time.

I don’t use this term flippantly.  I sensed God leading us to Northwest Indiana to start a church that unchurched (we define “unchurched” as people who have never gone to church, people who have stopped attending church, find church to be irrelevant or feel like the church has given up on them) people would want to attend.  Herein lies the problem and the challenge. The reality of any business is that any long term success comes when people who don’t currently use your product start using your product.

Business leaders, we must realize we aren’t selling products.  We are selling solutions to problems. You might be selling drill bits today, but once someone discovers a new more efficient way to make holes with accuracy, your drill bit business will be scrambling for business.  As a church leader, I face the same issues.

It’s so tempting to think that our organization is selling or offering a product.  I’d encourage you to think through what problem your organization solves and how you can leverage your organization to solve problems.    

As you start the adventure of exploring what problems your organization solves and offer solutions for them, you might start a new ad campaign or you might discover your products don’t actually offer solutions to any problems, so you revamp your product line.  You might realize that there is a completely different market in the process. You also might discover that your passion isn’t in this field and start a new adventure in a different field. No matter what, there is a rhythm that most likely will take place. There will be a launch phase, a middle phase and a peak phase.  The key to finding lasting success is repeating this process in the right time.

Plenty has been written about the launch and peak phases.  I’ve not come across a lot of material on the middle phase however.  I find myself leading an organization in the early stages of the middle phase.  

As we do this, there is a fun part of the process.  At the launch of any new business or church, there is a lot of energy…then the middle phase hits.  Expenses build up and you spend the same amount of energy and money attempting to generate the same amount of results you accomplished in the launching phase…and It just doesn’t happen.  

You must create more energy.  

Actually, what I have found is that we should create systems instead of products and campaigns.  Systems take a long time, a LONG time to get started. The beautiful thing about systems is that once they are up and running, they will accomplish more results than you ever expected.  

Rich Birch, a seasoned church leader who has served in three innovative culture-shaping churches, uses the example of a flywheel or a merry-go-round.  In the beginning, it seems that nothing is going to the thing moving, but when you stick with it, momentum starts to build up. After a while, momentum takes over and eventually keeping that momentum going isn’t difficult.  

A leader should be strategic and intentional about when to interject to keep the momentum going once the systems are in place and creating momentum.   

This is exactly what happens when the right systems are at work for any organization.  

In the middle phase of the process, the most important and yet most difficult questions to answer are “which systems do you put energy into?”  

I love watching productivity increase while mistakes and process defects decrease.”

You might just have a solution that would solve their problems, but they don’t know you offer it, because of how busy you might be at improving your system.  If you aren’t careful, that focus will be the end of your organization.

We might be working at improving our systems and miss a huge opportunity right in front of us.  In the 90’s, there wasn’t a weekend that I didn’t head to the local Blockbuster Store to rent a movie.  When I was in college in the early 2000’s, I spent most of my Saturdays doing the same thing. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie rented from Blockbuster.  Why is that?

There was a little start up in 2000 called Netflix.  Founder, Reed Hastings, approached Blockbuster’s CEO John Antioco about purchasing Netflix.  Blockbuster didn’t see the potential in Netflix. They couldn’t see that there would be a new way of watching movies in the near future.  They were focused on improving their systems within Blockbuster and they missed a chance of a lifetime.

Blockbuster filed bankruptcy in 2010 and now Netflix is no longer a fledgling startup.  They have moved well beyond that. They are assessed as a $28 billion company which just happens to be 10 times what Blockbuster was worth!  

The laws of thermodynamics remind us that any system left in isolation will always reduce to zero.  Entropy always increases in an isolated system. The beautiful thing about that law states that any system can come back to life by introducing a new life.  (And all the sales people rejoiced!)

I have a tendency toward creating systems.  I use my time and resources to ensure I have the right systems in place to reduce waste, increase productivity and become efficient.  This simply helps me manage assets we have as an organization. This is a worthy cause. It’s necessary.

I’ve learned, however, that if I am not intentional about ‘selling’ RE.THINK Church (sounds worse than it is), new life will not get introduced into our system.  So, I intentionally put myself in places and environments to tell others about RE.THINK Church.

I refer to these places as my “tribes”.  Author and marketing Jedi master, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.  I am heavily involved in the chamber of commerce in our community. I spend a lot of time at luncheons and networking events. I am part of a community within the chamber called, EPIC (Engaging Professionals Inspiring Change).  I love telling the story of RE.THINK. I love connecting with these people.  

I also spend time at a local coffee shop.  Connecting with the baristas and the other regulars helps me tell the story of RE.THINK in our community as well.  I’m actually writing this blog in this coffee shop right now.

Each Wednesday, I have lunch with a group of fifth graders at Merrillville Intermediate School. Here’s a blog I wrote about that experience. As a church, we have adopted MIS to love on. We bring snacks to the teachers throughout the year.  The generosity of the people of RE.THINK is poured into our community in various ways like providing lunches for the teachers and staff of MIS.

I’d encourage you to find opportunities within your community that you could simply tell the story of your organization.   

The best method of telling your story starts with identifying problems people face that your organization offers solutions for.  

As a church, we have identified that people are searching for solutions for such problems as hopelessness, isolation, judgmentalism and loneliness. Many people also feel that they are simply a cog in a machine, living for a paycheck.  The solution we offer people is to engage with RE.THINK Church where a person has the opportunity to find hope, community and purpose.

I do honestly believe that RE.THINK Church is the best church in our area for people who are looking for a safe place to explore their faith.  It is the best church for someone looking for community to connect with and to find purpose in their life beyond a paycheck. I remind myself that RE.THINK Church’s vision is from God.  That vision is to help unchurched people explore their faith and mature in a relationship with Jesus.

We’ve created systems within our church’s organization that offer solutions to these problems.

I bet you believe the same thing about the solutions your organization offers as well.  

Certain days it feels like I am running in circles.  I am continually putting my figurative “salesperson” hat on, taking it off 15 minutes later and putting on my figurative “systems” hat.  

This is the story of most entrepreneurial people.  If we spend all of our time catering to current customers without being aware of people who don’t currently use our services to solve their problems, we might have extremely efficient systems but no customers.  

If we ignore systems, we might have an amazing amount of customers, but it might cost us more money, energy and effort to keep them than it should.  Eventually, our inefficiency will cost us customers.

There is a double-edge sword here.  Seth Godin, reminds us that it costs us more to generate new customers than to get an already existing customer to reengage or buy again.  Remember, we shouldn’t be selling products, we should be offering solutions to people’s already existing problems.

The challenge for us entrepreneurial people is that we must wear both hats of the salesperson and systems person.  How long and often we wear each hat is determined by our current reality.

The middle phase of any venture, in my opinion, is the most difficult to push through.  I believe breakthroughs, innovations and advancements have been missed by millions of people because they gave up in the middle phase of a venture.  The middle phase is where thousands of great dreams, inventions, skill sets and innovations lay because people gave up in the middle of the process.

This is even true for people who aren’t necessarily looking to start a new organization but maybe a new habit or skill set.  There will still be a launch phase, middle phase and a peak. I believe that people might miss the opportunity to develop new skill sets because of the middle phase.  

Let’s use the idea of creating a system to help crush the middle phase.  

For example, a leader encourages an employee to give a presentation at the next staff meeting.  The employee is nervous but does it. Everyone comments on how great the presentation was. The employee believes for a minute that she could give more presentations in the future.  This would be a great skill to have as she was hoping to advance in the company. She gives the next presentation and people comment, but not as vocally about how great the first one was.  The employee finds herself a little discouraged. She’s asked to give a third presentation. As she considers it, she decides to do it but doesn’t get her hopes up. She believes it’s not going to be as great as the first one.  So, she goes through the motions of the presentation. No one comments good or bad. She decides that must mean she’s not good at giving presentations. So when she’s asked in the future to give presentations, she brushes the opportunity off because she doesn’t want to set herself up for failure or disappointment.  

So what is needed in this scenario?  The answer is simple. A system.

They need a system that will enable them to push through the middle phase.  Remember, it’s easier to stay in the comfort of the known. The unknown isn’t bad.  The unknown is simply uncomfortable.

The innovator or inventor who gives up in the middle phase of a process should set a system in place that rewards him for accomplishments.  They could be arbitrary rewards, but rewards are still rewards. Who doesn’t want a reward?

I remember a time when I was in the middle phase of revamping a production system.  This process was a long one, like 10 months of innovations, trials and testing processes etc. The company I worked for followed the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) system.

I decided to break down the end goal into attainable steps.  I also decided to mentally break the processes into steps that would allow me to test any and all options.  My reward system was not based on how many successes we discovered as a team, but on how many options we tried.  If we as a team tried at least five options per week, I bought everyone on my team orange Hostess cupcakes from the vending machine.  If we tried ten options, then I bought everyone pizza. When we found what worked along the way, everyone got a five minute longer lunch break.  Eventually we changed gears and our reward system was based on finding success.

Like so many leaders have pointed out, great is the enemy of good.  In the early phase, we needed to find good not great or perfect. In this scenario, we continually improved on our changes.  We realized that continually improving was the key, not perfection. This is also known as kaizen.  

The same system could be modified for the person who is stepping out to start a new venture or company.  Creating a reward system based on how many customers you call or how many flea markets you set up your booth at.  I have created a system throughout my week that once I meet with three leaders in my organization for the purpose of leadership development, I allow myself to watch youtube videos for 15 minutes throughout my workday.  

The Middle is brutal.  It’s relentless.

So, for the employee who is wanting to acquire a new skill set that would help her in her promotion path, she would need to create a system that allows her to develop her skills in a safe environment.  Employers who help create those safe environments will benefit tremendously as well. If she will find moments throughout her week to work on small aspects of a skill set, it will lend to massive development in a year.  

Let’s take the skill of giving a presentation. There are so many skills that could be developed in weekly chunks.  For example, the art of breathing while giving a presentation, the pace of speech so that you’re engaging, but not speaking too fast that no one can keep up or the tension of looking at notes too much or not using notes at all.

I think the tension comes because people become disappointed that success doesn’t happen right away.   Why? The middle phase is brutal, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Taking the time to create a system helps us push through the middle phase.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash


We’ve all been there.  A new chance or opportunity arises and we start to hope.  We dream. We love thinking about the possibilities. We take the chance.  We apply for the job, share our feelings with the girl, put our name in the hat for a promotion –and we wait.  If you’re a person of faith, you might even take a season to pray about the possibilities. You might also use the phrase, “it’s God’s will…”  So you apply. Pray.

There is a part of life that happens to everyone. No one likes to talk about it.  We all put on our happy faces and pull up our big boy or big girl pants (a phrase no guy should use outside of this blog).  

And wait.

Then the door is shut and we’re told no.  We didn’t get the promotion, new job or the girl doesn’t want to go out on a date with us.  

One of the biggest hurdles in moving forward when we are disappointed is the mental game we have to play.  We dreamed up all the possibilities. We thought of what our life would be like if this or that happens and then we are left lacking.  We are left realizing, not today. That possible job isn’t God’s will. You weren’t chosen.

The underlying hurt of disappointment is the reality that you weren’t chosen.  No one comes out and says that, but it’s the truth. The company or girl chose someone other than you.  That reality is painful.

It can be crushing.  It can derail us, but it doesn’t have to.  

As I reviewed my 38 years of life, I realized there had been several moments that could have crushed me; however, I learned a life lesson by watching my mom.  She continually moved forward in spite of being disappointed time after time. If anyone should have given up, it would have been my mom.

Her father died when she was just 2 years old.  Her mom died when she was 6 years old. Her aunt and uncle raised her.  The man she married (my dad) divorced her after admitting he had been having an affair (if not multiple).  My mom worked several jobs at one time to provide for our family. Watching her resolve, I’ve learned several lessons that have helped me in my times of disappointment.  

It’s easy to say it doesn’t have to derail us, but in reality, it’s difficult to live out.  So how can we keep the disappointment from crushing us or wrecking us?

1.  Don’t let it crush you.  

Sounds simple, but you can mature.

My friend, Lynn, said that she pauses so that she can respond, not react.  There is so much wisdom in Lynn’s words. Respond instead of reacting. It’s not easy or natural, but it’s the mature thing to do.

How often have you sent back an email “REPLY ALL” and added a few names or maybe even put a person’s name in the BCC line (nice move, the original audience will never know)?  You react and in bold all caps unleash your reaction through the email. And even worse, actually clicked ‘send’ without reading through it. That’s a reaction.

Take a moment.  BREATHE. Decide how you WILL respond.  One of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn and relearn is this.  The way I leave a situation and how I behave, is how someone is going to remember me.  So, if I react and unleash a fury of insults at them, ten years later that’s exactly how I will be remembered.  

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a guy named Joseph.  Joseph’s life is one disappointment after another. His brothers want to kill him, but they settle by selling him into slavery.  He’s falsely accused and thrown into prison. In prison, he helps a friend out, but ultimately he’s forgotten. His perspective on life is life-giving for sure.  Instead of allowing the pain and hurt of disappointment to crush him, Joseph decides to move past the disappointment. He chooses to remain helpful. When he’s finally called upon to help Pharaoh, he doesn’t unleash his fury of hurtful words and ‘burn any potential bridges.’  He remains humble and useable.

I think we see someone’s real character once they are told no.  It’s easy to act mature or act like we have it all together. It’s more of a challenge, however, to remain that way once we’ve been told “no”.  

2.  Learn from the process and move forward.  

Evaluated experience is how you mature and reach potential.  John Maxwell says, “Experience isn’t the best teacher, evaluated experience is.”  

I’m not sure what you need to learn from or what your specific experience might be, but I want to point you down the right path.  (Kind of like Obi-Wan or Yoda pointing Luke Skywalker in the right way or like the Fairy Godmother helping Cinderella.) Here’s the thing that guides realize in this process.  Guides might have some experience that might help you. Part of that experience is that you have to evaluate your experience.

Albert Einstein is usually credited in saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  

Be honest with yourself.  Are you continually doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results? Are you changing jobs, schools or environments but not changing your behavior and habits?

My friend, Nick, wisely said on a recent Facebook post that he stops and thinks about why he is disappointed. He thinks about who he’s disappointed in.  Is it someone else or is he disappointed in himself?

In the process of moving forward, I’d encourage you to ask those questions.  Be honest with yourself. We tend to lie about ourselves making ourselves out to look better than we are.  The problem with that is that it hinders our progress.

In my own life, I see my years as “Before Maturity” and “After Maturity”.  There were so many situations where I kept myself from maturing because it felt better to blame others for my disappointment.  I would unleash a fury of insults or backhanded compliments towards others who left me disappointed.

I used to explain away my brash vulgar way of speaking as ‘it’s just who I am” or “if you don’t like it, too bad”.  I would make myself out to appear better than I was in situations.

Have you ever walked around with your zipper down?  That’s just what it felt like. Everyone else could see my downfall but I couldn’t see it myself.  I just needed someone to tell me. I needed a helpful guide who would say to me, “Hey Jackwagon, your zipper is down!”.

Disappointment happens to us all.  There is no shame in admitting we are disappointed.  There is shame in lying to ourselves to make others look bad and ourselves look better.  

At the same time, I realized for me to be disappointed means that someone had to be the ‘bad guy or lady’.  I was never going to allow myself to be the bad guy, so the other person became the bad guy.

I would explain situations away like, “They can’t accept me for speaking the truth” or “I guess they’re too weak to have someone challenge them”.  

I’d encourage you not to do that.  Avoid that at all cost. The sooner you can be honest with yourself and eventually others, the sooner you’ll be able to indeed move past the moment of disappointment.  

Evaluate your experience.  If you are a manager that struggles at retaining great employees and you’re disappointed because of the employee turnover, maybe it’s not the company, pay or the employees. Perhaps the issues lie with how you lead.  It could be in the way you communicate. Maybe the problem lies with you.

3.  Take a moment and mourn it.  

Growing up, I was taught by either society or my mom’s example to put one foot in front of the other no matter what might have caused my pain.  While I admire this trait, especially watching it lived out by my mom, in my life this was coupled with not processing and not allowing my emotions even to approach the surface.  I would bury them in business, productivity and ice cream. Lots of ice cream.

If I walked away from a situation and was disappointed, I believed that I didn’t have time to mourn the pain of that moment.  Life was moving forward and so should I.

The problem was that I was carrying around a load of bricks that I didn’t realize.  It was as if every time I was disappointed, I picked up a brick and put in my backpack of life.  After a while it got heavy. Others saw it in my life. I didn’t however.

It wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I realized I had this backpack.  I was talking with my counselor about all the times I had been let down or disappointed.  He pointed out the weight of those moments.

Allow the decision that left you disappointed to affect you.  Process it, journal it and move on. Set a deadline and after that time, mentally move on.  

Several years ago, I applied for a job I really wanted.  The job was within the same organization I was currently working in but in another department.  The decision makers seemed to be excited about me applying for it.

After applying and interviewing twice, I waited to hear back from them.  

After about three weeks, I finally heard back.  I didn’t get the job.

My response must have caught the person on the other end of the desk off guard.  He was shocked that I didn’t react. I merely responded, “thanks for the opportunity.”  I genuinely meant it. I was disappointed, but I realized there was nothing else I could do.  

He asked me why I responded the way I did.  When I asked him, “Would throwing a fit or whining change your mind?”, he laughed and said ‘no.’  

Afterward, I processed with my wife and some wise friends.  My wise friends helped me to feel the moments. I tend to push forward and find the next hill to climb.  Even after an expensive counselor, I still have a habit of doing that. My friends slowed me down and allowed me to process the entire situation.  

The beautiful thing that happened was that my friend suggested that I put a deadline of when I wanted to move on.  I threw out a random date. After that date, anytime I began mentioning anything about not getting the job, MIke would stop me.  

Let’s go back to my friend, Nick.  He tracks the root cause of his disappointment.  Has something from his past risen back up to affect him?  Is he currently dealing with something that he can work through?

To indeed move on, we must identify who and what we are disappointed in.  I’d go as far as to say you should name a person.

4.  Don’t stop dreaming.  Take the next chance.

You might ask,  “If we are all going to be disappointed, why should we even try?  What’s the point of trying if we are only going to be let down and have our feeling hurt?  Shouldn’t we grab Ben and Jerry’s and dive in and eat our way to ‘happiness’?” As tempting as that sounds, I don’t believe it’s the best option for any of us.  Sure diving into our favorite vice might allow us to feel better, but is that how we mature?

Diving head first into your favorite vice might result in you being dependent on that vice to function.  You might end up only being able to fit into sweat pants as a result of eating all the things. You might binge drink on some New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon and find yourself out of a job, friendless, etc.  At least you’re ‘happy’ right?

Giving up isn’t the best option for you.  Giving up might protect your heart from being hurt or let down.  C.S. Lewis said it best.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”-C.S. Lewis

To advance in life, humanity must dream.  It must pursue possibilities.

Dream again.  

In the pursuit of making his dream come true, Thomas Edison seemingly failed to invent the light bulb.  Time after time his attempt to create the light bulb failed. It wouldn’t produce light. The prototype wasn’t successful at holding the light.  Finally, however, he made a prototype that kept the light. It was ultimately successful. Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times.  Edison replied, ‘I didn’t fail to invent the light bulb, the light bulb took 1,000 steps to invent.’

Human history is full of leaders who should have given up.  They were disappointed many times for sure. Let’s look at Abraham Lincoln for example.  He lost eight elections, failed at business more than once and was heartbroken when his fiance got sick and died. He should have given up.  Human history, however, wouldn’t be the same if he did. We are better off because of his pursuit of greatness.

What will human history say because of your pursuit of greatness?  

Don’t allow disappointment to crush you.  Take steps to mature. Take steps to move past it and improve human history.  

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Edited by @Tammy Oswalt

Flossing changed it all.

It’s that time of the year again, January, which means everyone is bragging about what goals they are going to accomplish by this time next year.  Can we take a moment and acknowledge that it’s going to be 2020 next year? It seems like just yesterday that we were singing along with Prince about partying like it’s 1999.

Most of us have quit our New Years Resolutions by now.  January 17th is Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day.  But maybe this is the year that is different for you.  

A leader I admire, asked me a question recently, “who did I want to be in 2020?”.   It took me off guard for a moment. I had to think that through. When I asked for clarification, he pushed in a bit more.  Who do I want to be? Do I want to be a healthy person in 2020? Do I want to be a great inspiring leader in 2020? Do I want to be a loving husband and father in 2020?  

I kept shaking my head each time he asked.  I had no idea where this was going. He pushed in a bit more on me.  He asked me what systems I’d created to make sure I’m all those things in 2020.  

I told him I work out four times a week when I can fit it in my daily schedule.  I also listen to podcasts and read books several times a week. I love my wife. I serve her. I date her.  I provide for my sons. I hang out with them, etc.

He pressed the conversation a bit more.  This leader asked me to honestly evaluate the systems I have to see if those systems would help me become the man I want to be in 2020.  

During my evaluation process, I realized I had goals.  I even created habits that helped me accomplish them, but I had not established a system that would help me achieve the kind of person I wanted to be 365 days from now.  

Let’s use my workout routine for example.  I workout at least four times a week when I can fit it in my daily schedule.  

That’s not a system.  It’s a statement.

So, the system I’m establishing starts with the kind of person I want to become by 2020.  I have an ideal weight. I have the ideal body fat percentage I need to be healthy.

Now the system I’m creating around my habits moves to the next stage, which is evaluating my current patterns.  When I recognize a ‘bad or ineffective habit,’ I need to change that pattern in my daily routine.

For this, I reached to a past lesson I learned while working at a manufacturing plant.  To reduce production defects and improve customer satisfaction, we initiated a system of quality checks after performing the tasks required in an assembly process.  Some quality checks were referred to as a “point and call out” check. The associate would point at a bolt, fan assembly or whatever and verbally confirm ‘full seated’ or ‘not cross-threaded.’  Yes, a person might feel foolish for saying these things, but the reality of the situation was that we needed to improve our quality record drastically. This meant we needed to change our methods radically.  

With my own routine right now, whenever I am tempted to eat a donut instead of an apple or when I’m tempted to skip leg day (NEVER SKIP LEG DAY!), I verbally remind myself who I want to be in a year.  I want to be the healthiest 38-year-old husband and father for my family. That little verbal reminder resets my system.

A decade ago, I started on a journey of becoming the healthiest person I can be.  I was encouraged to start with the smallest habit I could control that would help create the system.  I evaluated my life and my routines looking for the smallest thing I could change to improve.

Every night I floss my teeth.  If I skip flossing my teeth, I feel horrible because I’m not taking the best care of my teeth.  One of my friends who is a dentist reminds me all the time that ‘teeth are treasures, not tools.”  Every time I skip flossing, I hear Emily rattle that little saying off. So, I floss every night. Ten years ago, however, I didn’t have that habit.  Flossing was the habit I decided to change in 2007.

Once flossing became a habit, it was then considered part of an established routine.  I now needed to focus on creating other habits. The idea of working out however in a new gym was a bit intimidating.  The concept of not eating ice cream each night seemed foolish.

So, I decided to pair new habits with already established patterns.  Every night while flossing, I reminded myself I wanted to be a healthy person, a person who weighed 100 lbs less than I did at the time.  That simple verbal reminder triggered me to lay out my workout clothes and shoes before I went to bed.

When I woke up, (an old habit) I visually saw my workout clothes.  I’d remind myself of the kind of person I wanted to be. I’d get dressed (an old habit) but I’d wear workout clothes (new habit).  I’d go to work (old habit) and after my shift I’d change from my work uniform into my workout clothes and go workout. I had a very set schedule.

I paired working out with the end of my work shift.  

This routine is the system that works for me.  It’s called habit stacking. I partner an old habit that I already have as part of my life and when I accomplish that already established task for the day, it triggers my new habit.  Instead of hoping I can fit a new pattern in, I simply a attach the new habit to the end of the old habit. I made a system that helped me accomplish ‘good habits.’

At the same time, I created a system that made accomplishing ‘bad habits’ more difficult.  I used to eat a bowl of ice cream each night… not joking. I loved it too. I would take ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate, maple syrup and mix it all together. I would eat my bowl of ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser.  

Once I started on the journey of losing 100 lbs, Heather and I made the intentional decision to make eating ice cream more difficult.  If we wanted to eat ice cream, we’d have to go out to a restaurant to eat it. One time I tried to reduce the amount of TV I watched during the day.  I unplugged the TV and would only plug it in if I knew what show I wanted to watch.

Creating a system that allows effective or ‘good’ habits to be made and wrong or ineffective habits less accessible is critical to your success.  

This system might be foolish to some, but this routine is what started me on the journey of losing 100 lbs.

Now, like I said, this system is a system I’ve created over the last ten years.  I am not done creating this system either. When I get frustrated because I want results faster than what I’m experiencing currently, I remind myself that ten years ago I couldn’t see my feet… among other body parts.  I tell myself that I was completely unhealthy. While I might not be the healthiest person I can be, I’m not what I used to be. Each year I change one or two habits that help me become the healthiest person I can be.

This year I’m changing the times that I eat.  I tend to snack late at night. So, this year I’m not eating food past 8 pm.  

Who do you want to be in 2020?  

What systems do you have in place now to help you become that kind of person?

What already established habits could you partner new habits with to create a system that would help you accomplish those tasks?  

Bears. Trains & You

Have you ever heard the story about two guys in the woods and a bear? The bear walks up to them and is clearly hungry.  The two guys look at each other and run. One of the guy’s motivation is to outrun the bear. The other guy’s motivation is to simply outrun the other guy.  Why? It’s pretty simple. Once the bear catches up with the other the guy trailing behind, he won’t pay attention to the other man who is still running because he’ll be eating. 🙂 

As I start this process of raising up leaders for our organization, I am sometimes tempted to lead out of the mindset of the man who just needed to outrun the other man in the woods.  Can you just outlast or outrun the others in your generation?

As younger generations start to emerge in more prominent positions of leadership, it’s easy to look down on them thinking there isn’t a lot of hope or that their generation is lost.  It’s an arrogance in our own thinking that young leaders can’t do things as well or better than we can simply because they accomplish things differently than we do.

I think it’s time to help train young leaders to outrun the “bears” around them, not just others in their generation.  

So how do we do that?  

I think young leaders could lead in amazing ways, probably even better than we can.  How do we set young leaders up for success?

I personally have 19 Habits that I bring any leader through.  This is something I started doing when I worked at a manufacturing plant assembling automotive parts.  I’ve used these 19 habits in both manufacturing and church settings.

When you envision a leader in your influence being successful, what helped that leader become successful?  What habits, attitude, or thought process helped them succeed?

If you lead others, I think it’s crucial that you plan ahead.  It’s so easy and tempting to simply live and work in the daily grind of life.  Things happen, but if we never take time to plan ahead, we’ll fail. Let’s look at the industrial revolution as an example.  Imagine if the inventors of the locomotive spend so much time, energy and resources into this invention that had the potential to change the world, and that’s it.  They never spend time thinking or planning for how the train would get from point A to point B. They had a well-oiled machine, but nowhere to go, because there wasn’t a method to transport the well-oiled machine.  

Take trains and railroads for example.  In the 1800’s, the railroad was the latest technology that changed the world, especially the United States.  

In the early stages, companies had to focus on the train itself.  Without a method to transport the train, it was pretty useless. So, the next thing they had to think about was the railroad.  This was the platform to transport the train from the east coast to the future destination. Once the train and railroad were developed, they needed a destination.  

Head West Young Man!  

That’s exactly what happened.  The railroads headed west. The way humanity moved at this point was on land by muscle, either human muscle or by a horse.  The invention of trains literally changed the world. Places like the Hamptons became destinations for the wealthy people to escape the city with more ease.  In 1869 on May 10th, our country was changed forever. The ability to head west from the east coast was made possible with ease upon the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  

Railroad companies spent time building trains, railroads and future destinations.  This process has transformed America in more ways I can explain in this blog. Suburbs became a reality due to the ease of commuting from work to home.  Vacation destinations, like the Hamptons, became a reality. Time zones were established based on the train schedules for arrivals and departures.

Leaders, as we develop other leaders and the processes we will use in our workplaces, schools and families, don’t expect instant results.  We might underestimate what the rewards of long-term faithful obedience in one direction could be. I’d encourage us to stay faithful in developing leaders and our processes. It’s so tempting to jump ship because we might not see the results we are hoping right away.  The reward for sticking to a plan is there. Don’t give up because you might not see the results right away.

Leaders, we need to spend time developing our product, our delivery systems, our future destinations and goals.  Helping develop young leaders is one great way to help that process take place. Empowering young leaders will carry our mission further and faster than we ever expected.  

As we develop young leaders and focus on the product, systems of development and future destination, we help our leaders outrun the “bears” they’ll face in the wild of the emerging economy and culture we live in today.  

Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

Past, Present and Future: It’s a Generational Perspective

I was recently asked a question in a somewhat formal interview.  “What do you do with the millennials in your organization that you lead?”  My response was pretty simple, “I lead them…”. I didn’t quite understand what the individual was asking me.  She was more pointed than I expected her to be. Her view of millennials in the workplace was an almost always negative one.   I realize that there might be reasons to be negative toward individuals within a generation, but to write off an entire generation because of a few interactions with those individuals, seems a bit extreme.

Her question, however, got me thinking.  Why do people who might be of the older generation have a negative mindset toward millennials and the other emerging generations?  (To clarify, the millennial generation isn’t emerging. Millennials have arrived. I know millennials who are CEO’s, have kids, own houses, lead organizations and lead them well).  The lady who asked me this particular question this day used an example she heard from a conference she attended. The statement went something like this. “Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s are used to, and are willing to, work 50 – 60 hours per week… companies are reluctant to let them retire because millennials simply aren’t willing to work that much.”

I believe this with everything in me, yes there are lazy millennials, just like there are lazy Gen Xer’s and Baby Boomers.  Lazy individuals exist in every generation. The reality of our era is that millennials and the emerging generations are merely living up to the expectations their parents created for them.  Want to know why younger people expect participation awards for everything? Their parents, who led their little league and soccer leagues growing up, gave them to them, so no one had their feelings hurt. The purpose of this blog is to inspire a partnership among the represented generation and venture hopefully into the future.    I responded to her statement by saying “What if millennials could do the same amount of work without having to put in the same amount of hours each week?”

In the same meeting, another gal asked me a question that arrested my attention long after the meeting was over.  This gal asked me, “Why should we rethink church?” The organization I currently lead is a church. The name of the church is RE.THINK Church.  I gave her the elevator pitch that I have crafted since 2015. After the meeting was over, I couldn’t shake the thought though. Why should we rethink church?   I asked myself over and over again, “What if BlockBuster would have rethought how people should watch movies? What if ToysRUs thought differently about how people purchased toys for their kids?”   I don’t think the church is any different or any less vulnerable to the changing climate around us.

There’s a guy I listen to almost every week, Brady Shearer.  His company’s tagline goes something like this, “we’re living through the biggest communication shift in over 500 years…”  He’s right. In 2018, I don’t think we can appreciate how the printing press changed things for the communication game. I’m not sure we’ll understand what the internet’s potential is in our lifetime.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t or should think how we accomplish what we accomplish.   Think through what your organization does, not ask yourself how does your organization achieve that responsibility.

I’m not convinced it’s enough to move our platform to a digital platform.  I believe we need to rethink our how’s. I’m convinced that partnering with each generation represented is a crucial factor.

I’m a bit of an anomaly.  Technically speaking, I’m part of a microgeneration.  I was born in 1981. I remember rotary phones and dial-up.  I remember only being able to watch TV when the networks wanted me to, instead of when I wanted to.  I remember a day without cell phones or the internet. I remember not receiving a participation award and being ok without it.  I remember realizing trophies were for the champions because we didn’t celebrate mediocrity.

There is a tension in workplaces due to all the generations represented.  Companies need to brace themselves for a mass exodus of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  That is inevitable. It’s happening no matter how we feel about it. Everyone in human history stops working at some point.  People will either retire or die. Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age. Most Baby Boomers aren’t retiring, however.

The generations behind the Baby Boomers are just playing the waiting game.  The positions that most Baby Boomers hold are the cherished positions.

Companies need to realize that the game is changing on us as we are playing it.  What got us here won’t get us to where we need to go.

This tension, however, isn’t going anywhere.  I don’t think this tension needs to be fixed, only managed.  Here’s the tension Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have put in the work to get us HERE.   We can’t ignore their efforts. We can’t merely think that what they have sacrificed and worked for over the years is pointless.  In my line of work as a pastor, we have a history of over 2,000+ years. To ignore the legacy of church leaders who have gone before I would ridiculous.

Like I mentioned before, what got us HERE won’t get us THERE.  If we only move our platforms to a digital platform, it won’t be enough.

Millennials can come across as almost aloof to the efforts of previous generations.  Leaders of communities, organizations and other companies seem to have a significant issue with working with or leading Millennials because of this trait.  I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve also experienced Millennials learning HOW to accomplish tasks in different ways to achieve more work in the same amount of hours or less than their older co-workers.

I worked at a company that is a first tier automotive supplier.  While working there, a customer changed their expectations from us.  As the supplier, we had to change with the game. Our team struggled to reach our production goals and satisfy the expectations of the customer.  After a few days of a new production system and purposes, we came to realize that one station in our assembly process was the bottleneck. No matter who we put there and no matter what we tried to do, the bottleneck never got better. As a result of this bottleneck and others, we missed shipments, missed production goals, long shifts, no weekends.

While trying to solve our problem, a 19-year-old showed up named Ray.  I was showing Ray around the assembly line and explaining what we were doing as a production team.  He observed the bottleneck and asked if he could try something. We had been doing anything and everything we possibly could at this station with very little success.

Ray stepped in was trained by the associate who had been working at this company longer than Ray had been alive.  The experienced associate watched and ensured what Ray was doing was what the operation manual said to do. She also ensured Ray was performing the task with safety and quality first.  Ray caught on quickly. Like really fast. Ray figured out a way to assemble the parts more swiftly than anyone else who had run that particular station. Ray eventually trained the rest of the team about his process.  It was evident that Ray could accomplish more work in the same amount of time, if not less time, than associates who had worked at the company for decades.

I wonder what would happen if companies would prepare for the inevitable departure that is going to occur of the older generations as they reach retirement age and leave the workforce.  What would happen we could partner the generations together and have millennials learn from older generations and vice-versa.

It’s arrogant for millennials to believe the older generations don’t matter.  It’s foolish for leaders who might be of the older generations to think they don’t have to change to accomplish their goals.

The companies that survive and thrive in the next 10-15 years will be the companies that don’t confuse the WHAT  with the HOW. Blockbuster might still be around if they would have rethought how people watched movies. The reality is, they confused the HOW with the WHAT.  People are still watching movies. We just aren’t watching them by renting a movie on a disk from a storefront. We watch Netflix.

Leaders, don’t be the version of Blockbuster in your industry.  Think outside the box. Ask Millennials HOW. They’ll help you. Don’t be offended when a younger person changes HOW things get done.

Millennials, the reality of life is that you don’t know everything.  It’s ok to learn and mature as you live your life. Don’t ignore history.  Don’t be aloof to what others have sacrificed and worked so hard to create for you to take into the future.

Together I believe we can partner together and create an amazing future.


Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash



One of my favorite narratives of all time is the story of the underdog.  Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised in a small Indiana town or the fact that my entire life I have felt like an underdog, struggling with dyslexia, my dad who has been MIA since I was born or the fact that I am built to withstand high winds.  Maybe it’s the fact that I have been a Cubs fan my whole life or a Notre Dame football fan. My sports teams usually have been underdogs for sure.


A few years ago, we were in the midst of a transition in our lives.  If I had to be completely honest, I was afraid that I was going to fail in my venture while in the midst of this transition.  It seemed like I was failing left and right. My wife and I had made the decision to move on from our positions with an organization that we had grown to love.  It simply was the right time to move on for the sake of our family and for our careers. As we explored the next several career options, doors were shutting left and right it seemed.  


I remember moping around wondering why God was seemingly holding me back from what I thought was my next season in life.  I wrestled through the thought of “am I really this big of an underdog?” I’ve kept a journal since I was 17. Don’t judge me.  It’s a journal not a diary! I’ve never written “Dear Diary…”. In that journal, I’ve told God “I don’t think you’ll ever be able to use me because I’m not qualified.  My chances are too slim. My reputation is pretty much screwed because of the decisions I’ve made in my past. I don’t have enough resources or the right connections.” These statements that I continually believed and told myself literally arrested my potential.  


Maybe you’ve told yourself some of those same statements.  If so, I want to give you permission to allow yourself to believe that you are significant.  You can be used to make this world a better place. You have the potential to be used for good.  Someone had to literally give me permission to believe that God wants to use me in order for me to believe it.  If you feel like you’re an underdog, if you feel like you’re not qualified enough or your reputation is screwed because of the decisions you’ve made in your past (even if your past is the last few seconds), you are not alone.  

One of the wisest women I know asked me a question during those ‘moping’ seasons of my life.  She asked me, “Why not you? Why shouldn’t you be considered for that job? Why shouldn’t you be considered for that promotion?  Why shouldn’t you be used to change this world for the better?” As I sat across the table from this amazingly wise woman, I couldn’t come up with any legitimate excuse.  So, I had to challenge this thought pattern that had been part of my life for as long as I could remember.


If you google parasite cuckoo bird you’ll discover something remarkable.   The cuckoo bird lays an egg that if undetected will kill the future potential legacy of the native bird and eventually may kill the parents of the native birds.  The cuckoo mamma bird lays her egg in the nest of a neighboring bird. The cuckoo egg hatches and kills the other eggs in some Survivor-style TV show. The parent birds have no clue what happened to their actual offspring and can only think of feeding the cuckoo bird.  If they don’t realize that the cuckoo toddler bird isn’t their real offspring, they will feed this bird nonstop exhausting themselves to the point of death. They will kill themselves trying to feed this bird that isn’t even theirs to feed.


Being told we are underdogs can kill the potential in us if we aren’t careful.  If we don’t detect the lies in our lives such as we aren’t qualified enough, our chances are too slim, we don’t have a good reputation or that we don’t have enough resources, we’ll kill the potential in our lives.  


At this point in the blog, we usually would go in one of two directions.  I could tell you that everything you need to succeed is already in you. I could tell you that you’re good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like you.  I could tell you that God has put some amazing potential in you and that all you have to do is pray and seek Him.  That is usually how this goes, but I actually think there’s a different path.  Maybe there is the potential of a third direction. What if God does have an amazing plan for you full of potential?  What if you actually had to respond to God’s leading? What if you need to challenge the cuckoos that have been dropped into your life throughout the years?  Without challenging these parasites, we’ll never live up to our potential. Those cuckoos in our life will keep us from reaching our potential!


Cuckoos will usually look like a label that someone gave us.  Some of the labels might be ‘loser, fat, not good enough, wrong, bad person, slut, failure, punk or fired’.  Whatever the label, I’d encourage you to examine that label and compare it to what Jesus says about you. In spite of the label you might carry, Jesus found you worthy of giving His life for you.  


God has something amazing for you in store.  He created you on purpose for a purpose. You will need to respond to His leading though.  Life transformation usually doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a series of decisions that allow God to move in our lives to transform us.  It might need to begin with you verbally declaring that you’re worthy or reading a portion of the Bible each day to grasp what God says about you.  It might be that you need to identify the cuckoos in your life and decide to challenge them. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to do something starting today.


Several years ago, I was on a trip and had to rent a car.  When the I got to the rental place they gave me an upgrade.  The car had GPS and I was in a parking garage with a very weak signal.  After the attendant showed me how the GPS system worked, I entered the address and expected the entire list of directions to be given to me at once.  I was frustrated because I couldn’t get all of the directions at once in order to determine if I should trust the given directions. The GPS system told me “the map will appear when the car is in motion.”  I had to trust to a degree, but I also had to put my car into motion. The same principle can be applied to my own relationship with Jesus.


I don’t know if I’ll ever receive all the directions to my relationship with Jesus at once.  It most likely is going to happen as I follow Jesus a little bit at a time. As I continue to follow Jesus, I identify more and more cuckoos in my life that don’t compare to what Jesus says about me.  As I identify them, I have to determine whose voice I’m going to follow.


Photo by Dan Chung on Unsplash



A few years ago this image came across my computer screen.  I thought it was comical at first, but then I started to realize it was pure genius.  It’s pure genius because it is a perfect example of my life growing up in church. I grew up knowing all the right answers about the church, Jesus, and the Bible.  At times, I walked around thinking how great I was because I knew all the right answers.


In seventh and eighth grade I participated in a competition called Bible Bowl.  If you’ve never seen a competition, click here to check it out. It’s an academic competition to see who knows the Bible better than the other team.  I truly believe it started with good intentions, but no one, not even my Bible Bowl coaches realized I was only in it for the fame and millions of bonus points it promised.  I wasn’t even a follower of Jesus yet. I honestly had a desire to prove how smart I was and how great of a competitor I could be. My main goal was to crush my competition with my Bible knowledge.  I’m pretty sure that’s why God wrote the Bible in the first place right?


The problem was, I had no relationship with Jesus.  I only knew the facts of the Bible. I could push the button pretty fast, recite part of the Bible and come out victorious.  I really believed that knowledge of the Bible was good enough.


After a short career on the Bible Bowl circuit and realizing the promise of millions of bonus points was empty, I retired. The problem still was that I had no clue what I was supposed to do with this Bible knowledge.  I had no clue that this knowledge meant little to nothing in everyone else’s mind. It also did not actually make me right with God. I knew where to find the right answers. I knew the process other people should follow to be made right with God.  


I still found myself awkwardly standing, like the dog in the picture, in the presence of God.  I volunteered at my church. I attended church all the time. I read my Bible but still had no idea how to act.  I thought I had to perform for God. I thought I had to go through all the ‘right’ motions and have all the ‘right’ answers.  


I was 17 years old when I finally had a real come to Jesus conversation.  I found myself on the back porch on a spring night. It was past midnight on a Wednesday.  My student ministry pastor had just given one of the clearest explanations of Jesus and grace.  I remember my emotional response to the message. I can remember the smell of the building and the feeling of the wind as I drove home that night.  As I sat on the back porch alone, I lit my cigar and cracked open the beer bottle I stole from my step dad’s stash. Still not knowing what to do, I asked God that if all of what I had heard was really true, then what’s next?  What should I do? I was still like that dog in the picture above, trying to be comfortable standing in the hammock, instead of resting in the hammock.


After asking God what to do, He simply responded: “Rest in my grace”.  One of the parts of the Bible I read through that night was Matthew 11.  One of the verses in Matthew 11 says, “Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls”.  That night, I finally found the proper way to rest in the presence of Jesus. It wasn’t more knowledge of the Bible or emotionally driven worship songs.  It was simply resting in the presence and grace of Jesus. He bore the punishment for my sins. He endured hardships beyond measure so I could make right with God.  The issue we all need to face is that our personal sin separates us from the God who created us. God so loved the world that He sent his son, Jesus to the world, to save humanity.    


My prayer this Easter season is that we will all be able to rest in the grace Jesus offers us. Enjoy the hammock as it was designed to be enjoyed. Don’t just simply fit in it, but rest in the hammock.

Lost Art Form

Every Wednesday night, I’ve been hanging out with a group of guys to discuss what we have read in the Bible during the previous week.  I love hearing their insights and watching the discussion take place around the Bible and what the Bible says, and what it doesn’t say.  


We recently just finished reading through the letters of John and Jude.  One of the parts of our discussion is around what will we actually apply in our lives.  It’s easy to read the Bible and walk away with more knowledge but not use the truths we find in the Bible.  So each week, we discuss what truth we’ll apply and how we’ll apply it that week.


A 19-year-old guy challenged me in a good way.  His application was brought to light from the ending of 2nd and 3rd John, John ends those letters by saying that he has so many more issues to bring up, but he’ll do it ‘face to face’ rather than with ink and paper.  This young man in my group, because of reading these passages, decided that he would start having conversations of substance with people face to face rather than online or via social media.


What would happen if we reserved certain parts of our conversations and opinions to the moments we were face to face with people?  


As a pastor, people ask me over and over again what my stance is on ____?  I know that as a pastor my opinion might carry more weight for some or others may not like the answer and misquote me.  I’m learning to respond by saying “ ____ is a topic that should be discussed over a conversation or multiple conversations, not necessarily a stance to be taken.”


Instead of shooting off a strongly worded email to a co-worker, what would happen if you sat down face to face and had a conversation?  


It’s easier to react and lash out on social media about a person, topic or stance someone else has taken. It may even make us feel better, but can the reader really hear and understand our emotions?  


Having face to face conversations might be the mature thing to do rather than through social media. We may not get the instant justification we feel when we send a text or an email, but we’ll learn to fight for the relationship rather than be proven right. I think we can learn a lot from this 19-yr-old’s truth application. Don’t just send a text or an email unless it says “hey let’s talk… face to face” and have that conversation in person.  


It still surprises me when people ask me my stance on something, and I respond with ‘let’s have a conversation’ that they rarely take me up on it.   


I’m not sure what the implications of that reality are, but I’m wondering if it doesn’t say something about our culture.  Have we lost the art of conversation? Have we learned to talk at each other rather than talk with each other?


Let’s revisit, relearn and rethink the idea or the art of a conversation.  Let’s learn to listen. Let’s learn to say difficult things with respect. Let’s relearn the art of giving a compliment.  


Photo by @rutch_johnson