the personal blog ofWayne Francis

Loosen Up

I was recently hired as a consultant/Creative Director for a company that tasked me with reinventing the aesthetic of their existing marketing materials, along with transforming their brand identity. I was somehow duped—or way too idealistic—in thinking that the somewhat stodgy corporate atmosphere would be welcoming to such changes, but jobs are hard to get in NY and I needed the money so I took the position. Everyday in the office felt laborious, and I quickly learned that everyone on the team that I was assigned to manage was bi-lingual – they spoke negatively as much as they could. People routinely used disparaging words to wither any flourishing idea that was presented, with the catchphrases in their vernacular being, “You can’t do that”, “We’ve never used that type of font”, “Trust me, they’re not going to like that”. It all came to a head one day when my direct report looked over concepts for a project I submitted and exclaimed, “I think you’re too creative.”

Like, really? Too creative? And you hired me to do what again?

A week later I tendered my resignation.

After sharing the conversation with a close friend of mine, he said something that really stuck with me.  “Wayne, it’s good that you didn’t allow them to make your creativity atrophy”. It resonated like a thousand lightning bolts striking at one time. I realized quickly that this indeed was happening.  That context was degenerating my talent and malnourishing my creativity.

My departure from that company was not instigated by cowardice; I was unwilling to have my creativity sequestered and learned quickly that change was not welcomed at any level there.  Also, I’ve become comfortable with not allowing myself to be anesthetized or unfairly edited by people who would rather huddle around contemplating what can’t and hasn’t been done instead of lunging toward the possibilities of the future. The past is often only useful to inform us how to be better in the future, but oftentimes leaders are plagued with optical atrophy and their lack of vision causes a shortsightedness that confines and does not compel. Their cataracts cast the type of opacity that only allows one to rely on the images in their memory instead of seeing what can be.

Common causes of this type of atrophy occur when a group of people decides not to be stretched intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. These people avoid tough questions, hate to consider new things, and are comfortable with decreasing responsibility and activity. In a family, it could be sugar-coating obvious dysfunctions. In a company or organization, it could be a play-it-safe approach that nurtures status quo. In a church, it could be the weightlessness that followers experience because they are not attached to the gravitational pull of the mission of the kingdom. In all cases, aging occurs and becomes painfully apparent, resulting in fragmented marriages, stalled growth, and an absence of vibrancy. As a pastor, I know that this is why many churches are ineffective.  Have you ever seen atrophied toes? All disfigured and crazy looking? How antithetical that is of the picture Isaiah 52:7 gives us of a people who are on mission with the gospel,“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!

If you feel yourself quickly antiquating in a culture that has long lost its elasticity and its reflex, I’m not suggesting that you bail. I’m not saying leave your family [don’t you dare do that!] or leave your job [weigh the cost]. To change, you must acknowledge that you don’t have to be strangled by negativity that cripples you till you can only hobble toward an exit after mustering enough passion to shift toward living more resolutely. Maybe what you face today just requires a conversation, a hug, an extension of forgiveness, or a few more weeks of simply smiling to relax the stiff atmosphere. Or, it could require you to calculatedly do something more drastic, as I did.

Perhaps it’s time for you to model Caleb in the Scriptures, who never atrophied in what we’d now consider the geriatric age of 85.  It may just take getting a ‘different spirit’. Why run for the hills when you can have enough vision to ask for the mountain? [Joshua 14: 6-12] So loosen up okay?

Wisdom from J.Lo

Admittedly, I have been a huge fan of the American Idol reboot that is enjoying both a resurgence in popularity and sky-rocketing ratings.  This season’s batch of hopefuls have been a delight to watch week to week as they belt out tunes for the invisible audience of viewers at home and the scrutinizing eyes of their celebrity judges.  Although contestants this year have not had to deal with the tyranny of Simon Cowell’s wilting remarks, quips, and opinions on their respective performances, they nevertheless have had to deal with their share of criticism.

Jennifer Lopez has been a surprisingly refreshing addition to the show, neutralizing any public perception she carried as a diva and exchanging it for a renewed status as a bona fide artist and qualified judge of talent.  On one of the earlier shows she commented on a contestant’s performance – Stefano Langone (who I wished had been booted off weeks before her pivotal commentary).  Week after week, Stefano would belt out his tune with impressive vocal prowess but for some reason he always came up short.  The boy had some serious chops, but he had this kind of Broadway showman-ism that always made you feel like he was on the verge of breaking out some jazz hands to dance across the stage and don a top hat.  He could sing, but you could tell that his artistry was not a part of him. Ironically, he was a performer that couldn’t really perform well, but boy did he try!  In fact, he seemed to be trying so hard to make everyone know that he could do well, he often closed his eyes while crooning or appeared quite mechanical in his movements only to further exacerbate the overall awkwardness of his performance.

After Randy gave his usual critiques about pitch problems and Steve Tyler offered what often comes out like a peyote-induced opine about how beautiful the moment was (I’m not a Steven Tyler hater), J. Lo supplies the aspiring singer with a critique that was so constructive that it could be used to build the career of many an artist.  She said, “I don’t want the intensity to come from you wanting to do well; I want the intensity to come because your heart is breaking.”

Jenny from the block nailed it.

In whatever profession we occupy, there can be an over-emphasized focus on high performance that vilifies good intention and even intrinsic talent. It makes an individual calculating and robotic as if controlled by some latent puppet strings.

Ministry is no different.  We can be driven by becoming a high performer statistically and creatively to the point that those who are on the receiving end of our service can feel that our efforts to produce life transformation are trite, whimsical, misguided and quite honestly – fake.  What people need to feel is passion that comes forth from a broken levee in the heart that can no longer restrain the force of compassion in the cavernous hallways of the human soul.  They need to feel our heart breaking as we frame the words of the gospel in sermons and express anthemic praise in songs of worship.  They need to feel our hearts as we serve others. People must not struggle to discern where the source of our love originates, rather they should be convinced that the reason why we extend grace, listen attentively, and give with no expectation of return is because our hearts are broken in the same manner Jesus’s was when he wept over Jerusalem.

To be honest, this week has been one of those weeks where the type of performance intensity that is destructive raises its head.  You know, bang your head against a wall type stuff.  Off of the emotional high of having two large attendance records this Spring, we had a huge attendance dip. I found myself wallowing in melancholy after learning of our attendance dip and defaulted to that ever salient trait of mine – intensity. Why in the world would I be feeling this way?  I guess there is this pressure in church planting – internal and external, that makes you want to do well. I’m not attempting to elevate my lot above any other, but it’s what allows me to speak to this subject matter authentically. I’m intense about everything that I do. I’m very passionate, and that emanates from me. However, I realized that performance intensity can convincingly masquerade as burden, and this type of intensity is not gospel-centered. This is not a pass to be aimless in how we conduct our approach to intersecting our lives with others – let’s continue to do all we can to perform well and to present the gospel as beautifully as it deserves to be. However, we must realize that He is the one that must perform through us.  Wanting to do well is not inherently bad unless our pursuit is for acclaim that is not derived from pleasing God.

Here’s to our hearts breaking wide open in intensity and love for others.

Killing My Cool

God is killing my cool.

There is an uber-creative side of me that is definitely a part of everything I do, but for some reason my creativity has assumed a recalcitrant posture, like a stubborn child sent to time-out because he wouldn’t behave. I’ve reached an impasse where cool doesn’t cut it. I’m not sure if it ever did. The more I understand the redemptive mission of the Spirit, and the more I try to partner with it, the more I figure out that it doesn’t have to be cool. It often isn’t cool…at least not primarily.

God is killing any coolness I thought I might have had.

For the first time in a very long while, I am totally dependent on Christ to make me successful in the things that I’m doing (and not just with our church). As I’ve immersed myself back into a secular employment, I’m learning to adapt to a new environment that isn’t a bit passive and where success is determined by performance. My work determines my stability. What a juxtaposition of realities. In one context, I’m judged by what I produce and by what work I bring to the table, and in the other, my work[s] means nothing. The cool things I’ve made in my professional portfolio is only good for yesterday in my secular career, leaving me to find solace and dependency on Christ for all things…not just spiritual things. I need Christ to make me excel in all my endeavors. Sounds strange, like a no-brainer, but this feeling has not been as familiar up until recently.  Everything that I’ve done up until this point has come quite naturally for me.

God is killing all of my cool.

Leaving me to wake up desperately needing the grace given for that day and, most times, to feel so awkwardly unprepared for the position of leading. Killing my cool and making the large and grandiose claims I’ve shouted from my gut feel like mere platitude. Killing my cool all day long. No place to hide from the sword of the Spirit, executing all my idols.

Don’t get me wrong, God is not killing my cool to replace it with having a poor looking website or shabby artwork for thrown-together publication pieces.  He’s killing my need to be considered cool, my hunger to do things because it’d be cool, my addiction to be affirmed as cool.  He’s captivating my attention in a way that feels so fresh.

I’m not left without direction, I’m drawn to deeper devotion. My confidence to lead is empowered by His power to work in me without restraint.

God is killing my cool, and maybe that’s why I’m starting to feel so alive.

The Arrival of Titus

2 Corinthians 7:5-7

When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. 6 But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. 7His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you. [NLT]

It must have felt like 1000 eternities tangled together. We know that feeling too, when we are left to contemplate uncertainties.  The apostle Paul found himself in between a set of emotional parentheses negotiating outcomes and conjuring possibilities. Logic and concern both speaking equally as forceful as the other, tussling for power in a wrestling match in his mind.  Both opponents seemingly as strong and hoping to win the ownership of his emotions like a coveted trophy.

It had been a long time that Paul had been carrying the heavy burden of love for the believers at Corinth.  He knew about the rampant infidelities that were present in this church that was equally gifted with charisma and passion.  He was filled with sincere concern for them as they formed their new identity in Christ.  Yet there was much work to do. There was much to organize and to oversee. Not to mention the many tensions that were attached to his passion of spreading the gospel to the then known world.

In the absence of clarity people are always left to fill in the blanks with the worse possibilities.  Paul’s anxiety was centered around the response of the Corinthians to his letter calling for reform and repentance.  He was left to wonder if he did the right thing. Did he use the right tone? Would there be a reaction that would bear fruit? Would they want to kill the messenger or surrender to the message?

It shouldn’t take much for you and I to identify with Paul’s emotion. You and I certainly understand what it feels like to wait and to wonder. To ponder.  To consider. To negotiate between your emotions.  To be paralyzed insomuch that you are not able to seize opportunities.  Paul eventually got to Macedonia which was a hotbed for even more drama with conflict from every direction.  Battles on the outside.  Fear on the inside. In verse six of 2 Corinthians 7, Paul says something huge:

But God, who encourages those who are discouraged…

I’m aware that many people are fighting the good fight of faith while encountering troubles on the outside and within.  Be encouraged – very soon your “Titus” will arrive bringing great news and joy to squelch your concerns and fears. God is the one who ultimately encourages the discouraged and often does so through various means.“Titus” may be a person, an answered prayer, a song or a phone conversation at the right time. Maybe this blog post will be  a “Titus” for a reader.

Be patient. “Titus” is always on time and his arrival will be a game changer. Endure the conflicts and fear knowing that Titus is rounding the corner into your context with relief.

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

At some point in life, we all teeter on a delicate line hoping to live balanced lives. Juggling multiple priorities is not fun and it’s easy to get frustrated when you are doing things that you have little or no passion for in the quest to realize your dream.  This truth at times forces us to work at crappy jobs with annoying people.  It will make us sacrifice leisurely time for reading or exercise and forces us to prioritize so that we spend needful time with our families. To really accomplish your goals, it will not be some convenient journey of ease; you’ll be embattled along the entire way toward your dream. Some people are lazy and fold under the pressure. Others are industrious and are tethered to their mission to the extent that they endure this wobbly walk with confidence knowing that they’ll be more stable in the future.

A memorable quote from the sensational movie “The Great Debaters” has been inspiring me as of late,“We do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do.” It’s that simple. We do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do.

There’s no way around it.  It would help if you repeated this quote a couple of times in order to let it really sink in.  No one really has a dream worthy of investing in or accomplishing if they’re not willing to do what they have to do so that they can do what they want to do.

When you internalize this concept no vocation is beneath you. People are often demoralized by just the thought of some occupations. “Work at Applebees? Is you crazy?” But what if waiting tables and cleaning toilets at some minimum-wage paying restaurant job is the best pathway to you launching a new career, business or ministry? The perfume of the future is aromatic enough to neutralize the odor of a job that stinks. Besides, you’ll become more appreciative of every sacrifice you made to realize your dream and the relationships that you gathered along the way.

Over lunch recently, a very good friend of mine and I were discussing quality of life issues and whittled our conversation down to focusing on whether we were more creative out of necessity or leisure. We both felt like our creativity flourished in more hybrid-like scenarios. Necessity may be the mother of invention and leisure can provide room for creativity but you’ll rarely find yourself exclusively in one category or the other for long stretches of time. You’ll have to teeter on like many between these realities. So here’s what you do…

Serve lattes to fickle customers even though you could be making multi-million dollar decisions in a boardroom.

Drive that forklift all day and let less qualified managers under-appreciate your great attitude and work for a small paycheck.

Work two jobs just to invest in the start-up company you’ve always dreamed of running.

Volunteer your time or do an unpaid internship so that you can learn the inside workings of a ministry you’d like to begin in your city.

Take less pay now for a job that may provide you with great work experiences.

Smile and scrub that filthy toilet and go to school at night until you get your degree.

Just stay on your go. It’ll be okay, trust me. I’m with you on this and it won’t be long before we are doing exactly what we saw in our minds.  Or, maybe it will take longer than expected.  Either way toil on without resisting the magnetic pull of your dream because of pride.

Do what you have to do in order to do what you want to do.

I’m a Yes-Man

They’re usually the fodder for water-cooler conversations or break-room gossip.  Never hard to identify, this type of person is usually beleaguered by teammates who choose to snicker from a distance, hurling insults with the like-minded that just can’t stand watching a person excel by constantly affirming what their boss wants. “Yes-men” are the individuals I refer to— those few souls that never disagree with anything their superior says or asks—who muster the types of emotions that make grown employees desirous of pulling the most juvenile of pranks. As transparency and teamwork have emerged as two of the most valued traits in high performing atmospheres, the infrastructural pathway that once provided a direct route to success for the consummate yes-person has been deconstructed—or at least extremely stigmatized. Organizations now seek those avant-garde rebels that speak their mind, do the “Dougie” to the beat of a different drum instead of marching to the cadence of any at all, and yet stay tethered in some way to overall the mission of the organization.  Gone are the days that companies seek the guy or gal who simply embraces the mission and says “yes” to whatever is asked of them.

Interestingly enough, the Kingdom is fine with having hundreds and thousands, if not millions of people who are okay with being submitted to the mission and will say yes to what is asked of them by the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom actually is seeking the prototypical yes-man—not the caricature that our contemporary culture has formulated—but a prototypical yes-man.  If we were honest, we’d all say that we’ve despised the employee or teammate that never seemed to have a mind of their own but simply gave rubber stamp affirmations quickly and mindlessly. I think there’s a crude term people use about the color of their noses or something like that. But, that is the caricature of the extreme. The type of yes-person that the Kingdom needs and every church needs is not the kind that abandons the use of logic or forsakes any reason to ask questions, but one who ultimately will say yes.

2 Corinthians 1:19 “For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No”. He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” [which means “Yes”] ascends to God for his glory.” [NLT]

Paul indicates here that Jesus was a yes-man of sorts, so much so that while He experienced the same range of emotions we do when presented with the will of the Father, He submitted to that will anyway, providing us with salvation through His death on the cross. A cursory read through the synoptic gospels will allow you to see Jesus doing the will of the Father, saying yes to the commands of the Father, and selflessly giving Himself away to bring honor to the Father.  He also sought out people to follow Him that were willing to say yes without much of an explanation as to how this response would necessarily be beneficial to them…no spreadsheets, no quarterly projection statements or performance history studies, just the presentation of the opportunity of a lifetime. As a result, people dropped their trades, left family members, walked away from whatever occupied their focus, and followed Him.

It is abundantly apparent to me that if we can learn to say yes enough to the will and calling of God on our respective lives, we may evolve into becoming the “yes” that He was. Think about that, instead of only saying “yes”, we can be a “yes”. In fact, if you are a follower of Jesus and have been indwelled by His Spirit, the Scriptures tell us that He who was the ultimate Yes resides in you. We have His life as the picture that inspires us to this level of submission and beauty along with many biblical examples in the montage of the Holy Writ to convince us that despite the fear we might have in always responding positively to what God asks, saying yes is the way to go. I’m pretty sure that saying no to whatever God is continually asking is akin to inching toward committing small blasphemies, if indeed one could do so.

So, I’m personally resolving to become a yes-man more and more as I follow Jesus. Perhaps it’s time for us all to consider saying yes to the ministry God is asking us to start, to the missions trip you need to take, to the opportunity to serve people you might literally be afraid of, or to do that risky thing for His glory that seems outlandish. It might be a good thing to surround yourself with these types of people too and to reverse the stigma by directing it on the timid souls that relish an unfruitful life of negotiating between their “maybe’s” and “no’s”.  I’m calling for a Christianity that doesn’t vacillate when it comes to doing the will of God. I almost want to call for the musicians to come and play a familiar medley of the church with the “yes” songs like the “I Say Yes Lord Yes” one, but instead I’ll end here. And everybody said…[you know exactly what to fill in the blank with]

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