Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Finally getting around to posting a little review of Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. This may seem like another odd choice for a discipleship pastor but it has a lot more to do with my role than you might think. Nudge is an introduction to "choice architecture" for novices. We all make choices every day and frankly, we all make some pretty bad ones. We decide poorly about our health, our money, our time, our resources. There are ways that we can help people make better choices. At first read, that sounds like manipulation or coercion but that assumes that there is someway to make any choice neutral. There are always forces, good and bad, that affect the decisions we make. Why would we not want to uses good forces to help people make good decisions. According to Thaler and Sunstein, a nudge, "is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives." (p. 6) In other words, a nudge helps someone to possibly make a better decision about something without taking their freedom to make a different decision off the table.

Maybe this makes more sense when I put it into my work. At University, we believe that Christianity is about more than just make a decision and profession, it is about a lifelong journey of discipleship. We want people who join the church to engage in this journey. However, we know historically that most people will choose to remain on the sidelines, attending church semi-regularly. We know that some will eventually lose interest and drop out. Some of the people who remain on the sidelines or even drop out make an intentional decision. Most however are, at first, truly committed to growing in their faith. But they get busy and distracted and fall off track. We know that being in the pathway, being in Bible study, learning about their faith is good for them. They know that it is good for them. They need a "nudge" that will help them to stick to what they want to do and what is good for them. As a discipleship staff, we struggle with how to do that without being coercive or manipulative. It is truly each person's choice but we want to do what we can to help them make smart choices.

You might enjoy this book even if you are not trying to make systems that help make disciples. If you like the genre of pop behavioral economics: books like Freakonomics, The Tipping Point, etc. or are into looking at the forces that shape modern public policy you might enjoy the read, especially if you like economist humor.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not Just Membership

Take a look at this blog post from Eric Bryant at Mosaic, a church in L.A.

It is another way of talking about the philosophy behind our Pathway to Discipleship. They have an interesting approach. Anyone may join the community but there is a narrow path to become part of their volunteer staff. This is slightly different than what we do. We encourage all our members to engage in the Pathway to Discipleship and it seems to me that eventually we would expect our leaders to either have been through the pathway or engaged in it. We already have conditions for leadership based around worship attendance, planned giving and small group participation. The requirement of active engagement in the life of a disciple would be the logical next step.



Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting Things Done

People make fun of me a lot for my stack of index cards. They come out of my pocket at every meeting and you can see me walking through the halls of the campus sorting them, reading them and writing them. You can make fun of me all you want, they keep me from going crazy. The cards are one part of a system that is often referred to as GTD or "Getting Things Done." Not everyone who uses the system uses cards or uses them the same way but they represent an integral part of the system.

I post this now because I am finally getting around to reviewing Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. This may seem a strange book for a discipleship pastor to read and it may seem even stranger for this to appear on a blog about discipleship. However, productivity is an important part of my life as a pastor for two reasons. First of all, it is a stewardship issue. God has given me time and talents and I am responsible for them. Being productive allows me to utilize my time well and maintain boundaries that allow me to also spend time with my family, time in prayer, and time being rejuvenated. Second of all, a systematic approach to productivity allows me to make better decisions about what gets done. Realistically as a pastor, I could just sit in my office and let work come to me. That could keep me busy about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. But would that be the work God is calling me to do? Let me be clear, Getting Things Done is not a spiritual book. However, if you consider your time and talents gifts from God and want to treat them in a way that honors God, a little organization can be a very spiritual thing.

In the first chapter of the book, "A New Practice for a New Reality," Allen sets down the background for his system, the idea that work has changed. For many people, "in the last half of the twentieth century, what constituted 'work' in the industrialized world has transformed from assembly-line, make and move-it kinds of activity to what Peter Drucker has so aptly termed 'knowledge work.'" (p. 5) The problem is that most of us were never trained in how to function in this kind work world where our work no longer has clear boundaries and "there are no edges to most of our projects." (p. 5) For many of us, pastors included, our work is not clearly defined and we never feel like we have the time or resources to get it done. A lot of us have "project manager" buried somewhere in our job description. We are given a general idea of the work before us but often have trouble clearly defining our goals. Once we do, it can be difficult to break them into the appropriate steps. This causes us to fall behind or invest a ton of time trying to reach a destination we haven't defined.

David Allen gets at this problem in a way that works for me. He has developed a system to help get all of the stuff of our work organized in such a way that it can be handled. One of the biggest hindrances to knowledge work it that our brains are crammed with all these things that we are working on or that we need to remember or that we need to get done. Allen's system gets all of those things are out of our heads and into writing so that our brains are free to think. The system also takes unmanageable projects and makes them manageable by helping us to see the next steps. Getting Things Done has a nice bit of theory but it really gets down to business and tells us exactly how to do this. And you can use the system without a fancy day planner or Palm Pilot. Mine works with file folders, index cards and a calendar.

I am not going to write much more about the book because this is a discipleship blog, except to say a few things. First, this has really helped me. I have tried numerous productivity and organizational methods over the years and they have not stuck. I started this system before I even read the book. The book just helped me clarify and simplify my system. So I have been with the system pretty much since I came to University and it has been amazing. It may help you too. I meet so many people who are overwhelmed. Some of this comes from not being able to get a handle on all the things we have to do. Once we get a handle on them, we make better decisions about what we do with the gift of time that God gives us and we usually find we have more time for the things God is calling us to.

And you can keep making fun of my index cards. I am used to it.



Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Times They are a Changing... Slowly

I was pretty surprised to the response to my very unscientific poll about how news travels. When asked where they heard the news about the death of Michael Jackson, I would have expected blog readers to be heavily biased to online sources and social media. In the limited responses I received, television and "someone told me in person" beat out sources like twitter and facebook and text messaging. The most interesting thing was the number of people who didn't vote because I didn't offer them the correct option. As a person who spent 11 years in the radio business, I surprisingly left off radio. (And using blogger polls you can't change the options once the polling starts.) I stopped counting the number of people who left comments on the blog, comments on my facebook page, replies on twitter and the number of people who called me, emailed me or spoke to me directly to say, "I heard about it on the radio." Fascinating. Time to hang up the blog and get back on the air.