Saturday, April 24, 2010

Catalyst West 2010: Day 2

The second day is off to a great start with Donald Miller, author of the classic memoir Blue Like Jazz, whose latest book is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  He started with a funny story about playing with a metronome in the band room in high school, and watching how people would subconsciously walk in step with the beat - so he could actually control their walking tempo.  He said that narrative controls us in a similarly unconscious way: that people become the character they play in the story they believe.  So what is a story?  He defines a "story" as "a character wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."  If our story is boring, maybe we need to want better stuff, and as leaders, we need to proclaim a better story.  He (bravely, for this audience) disclaimed the idea that God has a specific plan for everyone (for some, not all) - rather, "God gives you a big piece of butcher paper and a box of crayons."  He then said that he was taught that if you get stuck writing a story, just start asking "what if?" questions - "what if the character got married?" - and challenged us to ask "what if?" questions about our own lives ("what if we adopted a child?") that might help us realize that there's a beautiful story waiting for us to live it.  Teach your people to want good things - and understand that the natural next step in the story is conflict.

Next up was Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance, and author of the just-released book Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality.  Scott posits that we reach a "project plateau" after coming up with a great idea, and the temptation when we hit that plateau is to come up with a new idea before finishing the last one.  He gave a simple framework for dealing with the plateau: divide the project into increments of time (he recommends two weeks in most cases), enumerate milestones for each time increment, then devise tasks to achieve each milestone.  Pretty basic stuff but good, esp. for those who are lousy planners.  He also said that because of the never-ending stream of data inputs into our lives, we tend to develop a reactionary workflow, and that we should create "windows of non-stimulation" so we can focus on what's important rather than what's urgent.  Finally, he encouraged us to publicize our ideas so we become accountable to acting on them.

Just before lunch we were presented with a strong emphasis on adoption and helping children around the world.  A strong and emotional presentation was made by Kay Warren (Rick 's wife) and Wess Stafford of Compassion International.  We were encouraged to visit Catalyst's site: for encouragement.  Kay pointed out that if one family per every four churches were to adopt, we would take care of every child in the foster care system in the U.S.!  She said that adoption is not for everyone (she hasn't), but argued that we should prayerfully ask God whether adoption is for us, for how will we know the answer if we don't ask the question?

After lunch we were treated to a comedic routine by Michael Junior, who has a documentary coming out about taking his Christian comedy routine to prisons.  My favorite part of the routine was when he spoke about Christians who are "over-saved."  Yeah, we know them.  The kind of people who, if you ask them if they're thirsty, answer, "yes, for living water!"  See

We then had a nice musical interlude with performances by Zach Williams, worship leader at Community Grace Church in Brooklyn, and Mariah McManus (Erwin's daughter).

Erwin McManus was next up.  He recounted the story of how Mosaic developed their winning commercial for Doritos, and how many, many Christians criticized him for somehow betraying the gospel.  (I couldn't help but think that McManus' critics are among the "over-saved.")  McManus critiqued the church as unwittingly conveying the message that what people do during the week is meaningless; that unless they are engaged in ministry, their lives are meaningless.

Andy Stanley closed us up with a good talk about working to our strengths and delegating our weaknesses.  His key point is that our goal should be to only do what only we can do.  He pointed out that because we have authority over everything, we choose to exercise that authority even in areas that are not our core competencies.  (He reminded us that in the church world, if you're the best speaker in the organization, you become the leader of all of it - why does that even make sense?)  Andy said that stress is more often related to what we are doing, not how much we are doing.  He challenged us to always ask: what will I let  go of this year? - and he encouraged us to compose the ideal job description for the job we currently hold and then work toward it.

Great conference!

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