He replied,“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed,you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
Oh how our faith can waver sometimes.
It seems that the gusting of a slight breeze of discord or worry can shake our quivering feet of faith.
Have you ever come to a moment of realization that your faith is not as deep as you once thought it was? We all encounter times, while on this journey, where the feel as though we have entered into the desert and we are found lacking in our resolve and fortitude. This journey will take us into places that require us to dig a little deeper and to endure the dry and thirsty places – where we find ourselves questioning everything and reaching further for God…who seems to have gone silent.
Have you been to this place?
I remember when I first learned to swim.
My parents would take me into the deeper part of the waters where my feet couldn’t touch and then let go of me, and as they let go of me they step back out of my reach. I remember there was a momentary panic. The saving hands were no longer on me and I found myself struggling to keep my head above the waters. I remember having to reach out my arms while kicking my feet so that I could reach the safety again. As I did this, without realizing, I began to swim by myself for the first time.
My intentions were not to swim. My intention was to reach the safe arms of my parents who were just out of reach.
There is growth within the tension and fear.
Growth that can only take place when we are left to our own devices.
Growth that can only transpire within the turmoil and desert places of our faith journey.
It is as if God steps back from us, and we are faced with the seemingly terrifying notion that we must step into the deep alone. The truth is that we are most certainly not alone, but rather there is growth that is only found in desert. And so we step out, unsure of ourselves…unsure if we can reach those safe arms of Christ again.
Remember Peter on the waters before Jesus?
He is asked to step out into a turbulent, uncertain space.
Peter takes a couple of steps, loses sight of the arms of Christ and begins to sink.
He takes his eyes off of Jesus.
He considers the impossibilities of such a journey.
He must have recalled his inability to do this feat, and as the doubt sinks in so does Peter.
We often chastise Peter for his lack of faith.
We often sermonize this passage to implicate the lack of resolve that ‘the Rock’ had…
But where were the other disciples?
Do we read about their steps of faith on the waters? No.
They were still in the boat watching it all go down.
We have to get out of our boats.
We will encounter dry and thirsty times in our faith journey.
It will feel as if we are all alone out in the wilderness, but we are not alone.
God steps back and watches us within the tension of deeper waters.
And it is within those deeper spaces that we grow.
It is through perseverance that our character and the very image of Christ becomes clearer in us.
Some have turned back and returned to the safe places.
Some have given up because they have felt abandoned.
Others have persevered and they have grown.
The Lord desires all of us to deepen our faith, and so these times of dryness should be seen as opportunities to grow up into this amazing faith.
Being like Jesus isn’t easy.
It takes determination and desire on our part.
Are you prepared to allow God to deepen your faith?
Is it your desire to get off of spiritual baby formula and begin to feast on more sustainable spiritual nourishment?
Take that next step…don’t be afraid, He’s got you, and He isn’t far from you right now!
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:14
I was cleaning our kitchen yesterday. With four children this is almost an everyday occurrence. If not, dishes tend to pile up and creates a chaotic leaning tower of Pisa sort of mess. Anyway, I digress…As I was washing off dishes and putting them into our dishwasher, I looked up at the windowsill and noticed our non-thriving plants. They were all dead. We might make excuses about these dead plants. Perhaps we might say that they are simply dormant in the winter. Or maybe they just needed to be pruned back for the season. A few more excuses come to mind, but in reality these plants are simply dead. They were once promising green, thriving plants in pots and sun lamps. Many on the cusp of producing some sort of fruit or vegetable. Yet, due to our travel schedule and our lack of green thumbs, they have shriveled up and were husks of their former living selves.
I am reminded that this is a living parable (pun intended)…for myself. I feel as if the Lord teaches us through the world around us – like my plant pots holding dead things in them. Caskets containing death instead of nourished soil of growth. I am drawn to this life lesson. It is something simplistic and yet stark in its reminder to me. For I am sometimes this casket containing death, when I should be a vessel containing life.
In my prayer life… My un-uttered words.
my parched lips and forgotten promises to God. My prayer life can look like husks of its former self. Dried up. Dehydrated out of lack of spiritual water and nourishment. Neglected and empty.
How many times have I forgotten to go back to the Living Water?
How many times have I gotten so busy in the concerns, fears, transitions and schedules of life that I have simply left my conversations to God to go fallow life I harvested fields? And before I know it, the once rich, dark vibrant soil is now cracked and as dry as bones in a desert. From this neglect enters apathy, harsh words spoken out of frustration and shallow roots.
Have you stood on this fallow ground? Is this you? I know that I have found my shamed identity here. what are the conversations that you have neglected with God? He desires to nourish your life again. He longs to shine on the soul-soil and help you grow once more.
For me? I am convicted here. I find myself licking my parched, cracked lips in longing for that Living Water once more. I feel the guilt and shame of leaving Him out of my life…and I must seek Him out again. I must return to His living water and replenish my mind, body, soul.
Prayer: Dear Lord, create in me a clean heart once more. Renew in my a right spirit again. Re-hydrate my broken, crumble soil. I long to find rest and rejuvenation in you anew. Re-ignite your passion and compassion in me. Take away the casket of death and flood my heart with life and love. Here I am, spark in me the joy of your salvation once again. Lord, bring your Living Waters once more.
Something more to ponder today. Be Blessed and thrive not just survive!
“The best way to cheer yourself up is to tryto cheer somebody else up.” – Mark Twain
To those today questioning your self-worth…you are important and loved. To the person seeking hope in what seems to be a hopeless dark mass of despair, God’s light will shine and guide you through this. To the person who has been beaten down by the world, has zero confidence left and wonders if they matter at all – well, guess what – YOU DO!
Why do we need to hear words of encouragement and comfort? That is probably a dumb question, isn’t it? We want, no that’s not a strong enough word, we all need a sense of belonging, acceptance, love and knowledge that who and what we do matters.
So let me ask you, when was the last time someone affirmed that in you? When was the last time you felt that deep warmth of belonging? I’m not just talking about your workplace or career, I’m talking about every facet of your life. Do you have a well of encouragement from yourself and others to draw from? If not, just like water in a desert, it can evaporate and run dry. We need to constantly draw from this well of assurance and encouragement. That’s why God provides to us companionship and friendship. We cannot go about our lives on our own. We cannot live vicariously through episodes we binge watch on Netflix. We need other humans and their interaction in our lives to help us draw from this well again and again.
This isn’t to say that we become an attention sponge or needy in our attempts to self-congratulate ourselves, but rather we find a healthy medium of friendships that challenge us, drive us forward and offers to us a safe space where we can refill our minds, bodies and souls.
I am sorry if this sounds like an episode of Dr Phil, but the truth of the matter is far too many of us are running on empty when it comes to deep accountability, encouragement and human connection. We were made for fellowship with God and that of other human beings. We need to be encouraged and to encourage others – thereby refilling that well over and over again. -This is humanity…this is where we live and breathe and where we exist…we may want to dissect ourselves and separate it all out in neat little compartments, but at the end of the day humanity is us and we are humanity.
Questions: Who can you encourage today? What will you say to them? What will you do for them? How can you brighten someone’s day? It is not something mystical, but what we find when we encourage is that we too are drawing from that well…we too are replenished and renewed. Encouragement, love and a sense of community is infectious and our world needs more of it.
Be encouraged today…“He who began a good work in you will carry it on into completion.” Philippians 1:6
Go and refill the well. Something more to ponder today.
Do we know peace in our lives? This is a question that I have often considered, and for that matter do we really know what peace actually is?
When we say “peace” do we mean quiet or rest? As in, when I get off of work I will put on my pajamas and lay in bed and veg on episodes of Netflix? Is this what peace is, and if so…is that all there is to this so called peace?
Perhaps peace is like this: these moments of respite and quiet are just glimpses or small reflections of true peace on earth. It is like that walk through beautiful lush, green pasture in the spring time that leaves us whispering to ourselves, “this is so peaceful”. This might also happen as we walk on a sandy beach as the waves ebb and flow and come cascading down onto the shoreline in a cadence that settles our hearts and slows our breathing. Or it takes places when we have all of our family under one roof again and after everyone is in bed there is that stillness that settles and we feel content and at peace.
I imagine the birth of Jesus was a visceral affair. A first time Mother, a virgin mother has travel for many miles to a town of Bethlehem for a census. She is very pregnant and about to give birth…there was nothing peaceful about the specific event, and yet following the most humble of births, Mary is recorded to have composed a song. Perhaps this song was crafted years after the event, perhaps right on the spot she forges this prayer that has become forever imbued with we the reader of this holy nativity story. Mary gives glory to a faithful God. It is a whisper of contentedness, a thanksgiving after the pained labor of birth. From the moment God’s redemptive story began to unfold before her eyes at the visit of the Angel, Mary has placed her entire existence into the hands of the Almighty. Here we find Mary, in this moment of exhaustion and post labor delivery singing her praise to a God who never forgets His people.
I imagine Mary’s words spoken…and in between each breath, cadence, and phrase of sentences formed together there is this Shalom peace that binds everything together and in it all contains the love of God wrapped in swaddling cloths asleep in Mary’s arms. It is more than just a peace of walking in a tranquil place. It is more than the sweet exhale of having all of your children under one roof again…it is the very presence of God in our lungs. It is the assurance from the Creator of those precious children. It is the very Artist’s hands who sculpted those pastural scenes coming into our presence and we cannot help but breathe and exhale shalom peace.
Gideon’s Jehovah Shalom Altar… Gideon built at altar in the place the angel visited him Ophrah. He named that place: Jehovah Shalom. Which essentially means existing peace, or He exists and there is peace.
Is there Jehovah Shalom in your life right now? Does Jesus exist in your narrative today? Do acknowledge not just the provisions of peace but the provider of that peace…even the small glimpses in our day of peace? The amazing thing is that Jesus is here and now – present with us. His spirit – The Holy Spirit can be the peace that we breathe in and out and the binding of one word upon another in our hearts and lives. Do we know this kind of peace today in our Advent? My prayer is that we all would know the depth and width of that Jehovah Shalom today.
May God richly bless you as you encounter and consider this sacred time in our Christian calendar…but beyond mere observances, may God’s shalom peace be upon you.
In the late evening snow we walked hand in hand Our foot prints deep and purposeful every which way wandering from the country lane and into pastures blanketed with white all of it made clean, fresh and whole again.
Our breath made winter spirits that danced for seconds vapored forms weaving its way upon the descending snow As the dance ascended out into the bright colored sky.
We walked hand clutching hand careful not to fall but when we did we stretched our arms out as wide as we could go as if to embrace each falling flake and then we made snow angels and we laughed unbound, undone, unafraid of what tomorrow could bring We lived within that moment.
“Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate about the means most suited to achieve it.” – C.S. Lewis
Oh that’s right, we’re talking about Wise men, not Wise Guys…got it.
I had always envisioned the wise men miraculously showing up just at the nick of time at the nativity of Jesus, but entering just minutes after the shepherds and other townsfolk took their leave.
It didn’t dawn on me as a young man that their journey may have taken them a very long time. Some scholars even suggest that the Magi (aka the Wise men) did not visit Jesus as a new born but rather when He was 2 years of age. Imagine that, devoting your life to the study of the stars only to discover a very, very bright star…or was it something else?
Professor David Hughes in the 1970’s surmised that perhaps the “star” that the Magi saw, wasn’t a star at all, but rather a triple planetary alignment, or ‘triple conjunction‘. This kind of phenomenon only takes place every 900 years or so. This would have been a very alarming event for ancient astronomers such as the Magi to witness. They would have felt compelled to investigate, to seek out and to discover the wonder of such a sign.
What sort of signs and wonders do we need in order for us to seek the newborn Kings? Do we still seek after Jesus? Is there still awe and wonder involved in our search? Or, have we become jaded and perhaps deaf to His still small voice?
One of my favorite modern Christmas movies is the Polar Express. We watch it as a family once a Christmas season and it still brings a tear to my eye. There is the simplistic message of “I believe” which comes through loud and clear as the little boy closes his eyes attempting to recapture his child-like faith in Santa Claus and the true mystery of Christmas. At first he couldn’t hear the jingle of the sleigh bell, but he is determined and in an emotional scene he recaptures his childhood with the jingle of the bell.
If only belief in Jesus were that simple. Some find it easier than others to uncover the wisdom of the season year after year…while others, because of personal history, family tragedies, a hectic work schedule (the list goes on)…find facing the Advent season again daunting and some, date I say, find it almost unbearable. But the thing is Advent isn’t just a season. Yes, we recognize Jesus’ birth, as we ought to in a religious calendar year-sort-of-way…but belief in the Messiah should not be limited to just four weeks of recognition. It needs to go deeper than that. True wisdom takes us from a place of ignorance and shame to the very foot of the Throne room of Heaven in penitent manner of constant worship.
You see, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in an airport makes you a pilot…what does make you a Christian is love and the deep need to want a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Without this desire, we are mere seat warmers, heads to count on the stats line and a member of a social club. True faith runs deeper than an emotion, a preference to a pastor, sermon style, music style or architectural style. Regardless of ambiance, setting, and worship style, faith and love ought to drive us to our knees before the Maker of the Universe who stepped out of Heaven, assumed human form and showed us how to live and love.
Seeking after God constantly IS WISDOM. Learning, studying, applying and living for Him is wisdom on display. One might say, “but I’m not smart enough” or “I’m too old to learn“…this is nonsense. Gaining Heavenly wisdom takes place just as a toddler learns to first walk. The child takes one step at a time, and before you know it, they are walking and even running. So it is with Godly wisdom. We never presume to ‘know it all’, for Godly wisdom is infinite and will never be contained in the finite mind. But, we can say to ourselves and to God, “I don’t have much to offer you Lord, but what I do I have I give it all to You, use me.” From this place of penitence and humility we begin (or begin again) our search and study of the Most High. From our search and study comes worship, and from worship – adoration and love.
(In the midst of this pondering I cannot help but think of a friend and session-mate who suddenly and tragically lost his wife Miranda this week. My heart hurts for him, his family and children. I read his post on Facebook and it brought tears to my eyes to read the deep, unimaginable pain in those words, and yet he expressed in those sentences a testimony of faithfulness to God even in this horrible season. Even in this time of mourning, he testified to their love of the Lord and a deep reliance and trusting in Him. This is wisdom that the world will never comprehend and yet we have an amazing eternal promise that all of us cling to in this time of tragedy. To RC and the Duskin, and extended family we send our constant love, support and prayers in this very difficult time.)
Prayer: Lord, teach us to love you with fresh eyes today. Help us to seek after You with all of our might. Thank you for this season of Advent. May we seek after your wisdom that is eternal more than the wisdom of this world that is temporal and fading. Protect us as we labor in the many fields of service this week. May Your light be seen in us and may others be drawn to You. It is in Your name we pray all of these things. -Amen.
Ten…?! (has it really been that long?) years ago words evaporated… they were ushered off tattered pages… where silence, like a vacuum filling that space As if the Lamb, foretold in Revelation breaking that seventh seal and words failed then too. Words broken dared not uttered too immense the scene, too deep the stain of the end of all things…
We do not dwell here much… for pain still resides. lives here full time dark residue tarnished the festive multi-colored lights as one of its brightest was extinguished, how long will the shadow be cast long and mournful?
The words caught in my throat, ten years ago… I choked on them I couldn’t breathe as, eyes stinging, wet with tears buried the sorrow deep as the fallen snow. Words will never quantify such grief…
words are never enough they will not fill that void that shadow that empty space that bright star now missing, extinguished way too soon.
And still this space is tender and sore. The hurt runs miles deep where no light can enter, no utterances can reach its depths. Ah, but memories, still vivid brilliant and terrifying imbues us with its sorrow here… where words still fail us.
In loving memory of Deb Fiorini…we will always miss you, but in our rememberings you are still here in this space between in our hearts.
8 In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. 9 The angel of the Lord came to them. The shining-greatness of the Lord shone around them. They were very much afraid. 10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. See! I bring you good news of great joy which is for all people. 11 Today, One Who saves from the punishment of sin has been born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 There will be something special for you to see. This is the way you will know Him. You will find the Baby with cloth around Him, lying in a place where cattle are fed.”
13 At once many angels from heaven were seen, along with the angel, giving thanks to God. They were saying, 14 “Greatness and honor to our God in the highest heaven and peace on earth among men who please Him.”
15 The angels went from the shepherds back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see what has happened. The Lord has told us about this.” 16 They went fast and found Mary and Joseph. They found the Baby lying in a place where cattle are fed. – Luke 2:8-16 NLV
The second advent candle that we light this week symbolizes the Love of God and that of our love to Him…
A number of years ago, while ministering in a small rural community in Southern Minnesota, I had the privilege of being a part of a very encouraging and loving Ministerial Association. This was essentially a pastoral monthly “get together” to pray for one another and to fellowship. We all became good friends as we shared each other’s burdens and had the commonality of ministry. It was during one of these meetings that I was asked to fill in for a local pastor’s prison ministry while he was away. Initially I was really nervous, I had never participated in a prison ministry let alone lead it and I wasn’t sure I had anything helpful to contribute. But I planned a message and selected some songs and went that next Sunday afternoon to correctional facility with guitar in hand. After a brief security check I was led into a common room where I waited for the inmates to arrive. The room was sparse except for a black metal music stand in the front and an ominous looking cross hanging on the wall. Two small windows were located on an institutional white wall, both windows barred and they only allowed a small amount of day light in.
I could feel the sadness of this place and was given a very small glimpse into what it must be like to be a prisoner here. When the inmates arrived I thought perhaps a guard or an official would lead or say a few words of introduction, but they did not. The guard simply left and I was all alone standing there amidst a sea of orange jumpsuits and staring faces.
I would like to say that I preached a powerfully moving message and that there were tears shed and it was like a Billy Graham revival service, but it was not. The songs were sung…mostly as a solo…the sermon preached…without any emotional response. It seemed as if I had preached to statues. I felt like a complete failure, as if what I had shared wasn’t what they needed to hear. Perhaps I had missed the mark and at the end of my time there I was escorted out and I left feeling defeated and somewhat sorry for myself. I remember saying to God, “well at least I tried” as I conjured up images of Jonah preparing to speak to the Ninevites.
For a number of months I put this Sunday afternoon in prison behind me and didn’t think much about it…until one day while in my office at the corps, a young man popped his head into my door. He told me he had been an inmate at the local correctional facility and that he had attended that Sunday service I had led. He told me that the message I had spoken seemed to have been directed at him and that he had felt convicted and had given his life to Jesus.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What I thought to be a complete and utter failure of an afternoon turned out to be just what God had intended for this young man.
Isn’t it interesting what we believe to be rubbish and consider to be failures God can take and use for the amazing, even the miraculous? Isn’t that what faith is after all? Stepping out in faith, doing our very best and trusting God knows what He is doing with our feeble attempts? You see God hasn’t called us to be the most eloquent of speakers, or the most insanely talented musicians playing moving music for Him…no, what He asks of us is our best effort, our trust and faith.
Last week we discussed the fact that God invites us into His amazing story of Salvation for the whole wide world, but you see there’s more to this invitation. There is element of worship. Our love poured out for Him, and sometimes our love poured out seems like feeble attempts and failed sermons preached. Then God comes along and shows you and me that the work of the Holy Spirit is living and active even in our doubts of success while participating in ministry. When we worship God and declare Him Lord of our lives, the sweet aroma and workings of the Holy Spirit go far beyond our finite efforts. We are merely conduits for the Eternal. He invites us into this worship experience and our part is to faithfully go despite our lack of confidence in our own gifts and abilities.
Like the Angels long ago declaring Jesus’ arrival to common Shepherds in the fields, we too are invited into this worship of declaration and praise.
Advent Questions to Ponder: -When have you been asked by the Lord to step out in faith for Him? What happened? How did you respond? -Have you ever had moments of revelation in your life where you thought you had failed and yet God used your efforts and brought about an amazing, unexpected response? How can you worship the Lord this Advent season and declare Jesus’ birth to those who have yet to hear? What is stopping or preventing you from doing so?
Prayer: Lord, help me to understand that it is not about my gifts and abilities, but it is about my love and adoration for You. Humble my heart and help me to declare your majesty and glory to those around me this week. Help me to invited others into this worship setting with You. I want to be used by You for Your Holy purpose this week. Guide me dear Lord. -Amen.
Scripture Passage: “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” –Matthew 1:18-25 NLT
I have always loved Christmas, even in the busyness of it all. There is so much to do, so little time and often times we enter Sunday morning worn out, somewhat disheveled and seeking rest. One might argue that we shouldn’t work so hard and we are short-changing the worship aspect of Sunday. Perhaps there is some merit to this, but I look at the journey that Mary and Joseph took in order to be where God had appointed them to be. The journey would have been difficult, and yet because of a government census they went to Bethlehem. It was hard work, it took time and Mary was very pregnant.
The entire story of the birth of Jesus took work, it took sacrifice, and a leap of faith on Mary and Joseph. This was not just a Divine story in which God shows up and there isn’t human interaction. On the contrary, the human interaction took concerted preparation, time and effort.
What are we willing to give in order to experience a Divine encounter today? Perhaps our God encounter will not be as it was with Mary and Joseph, but God has always been an active participant in humanity. He shows up, there is no question about that…what is in question is our ability to see, hear or experience Him because of our very distracted lives. Are we able to take the time to experience God in our every day lives? Do we stop what we are doing on our cell phones or televisions long enough to just listen? Are we missing out on countless Godly experiences because we have become deaf by living distracted lives?
‘The Homework Assignment’:
Perhaps this Christmas season we could do our very best to try and pay attention. Perhaps it will take a great deal of effort for many of us. This doesn’t mean that we cease our work or our passions, it simply means that we allow God entry into all of these avenues of our hectic lives. This will mean that we invite Him into our work week. Whether that is running bell ringers back and forth and back again. Or it means that as we count money, or prepare Christmas gifts for many families in our communities…all of these areas we invite God’s presence to sit with us. And as we run from one event to another, or from one location to the next, we simply say to God, “Lord, what are you teaching me through this?” And, “Lord how can I be your hands and feet in this moment?”
You see, the amazing thing to consider within this Divine Christmas story is that God has invited all of humanity (that’s you and me) to participate in the greatest story of love ever written. We are invited in. We are not outsiders looking into this amazing salvation story. So once we accept our invitation into this Divine story of love, our job is to invite others into this story too. Don’t keep it to yourself, share it with others. Allow others access to Nativity. Seek out those who feel cast out, a pariah, an outsider – and bring them in.
This is what the Divine Invitation is all about. Grace, love and peace shared to a world so in desperate need of such things. Salvation comes to all, and we can be help others see that God’s love has come freely to all.
Questions: -Who needs to be invited into this Divine Encounter this Christmas that you know personally? -How can you ensure they feel accepted and loved? -When can you consciously stop your busyness and allow God’s invitation to enter your heart anew this week? -Identify the many distractions in your life right now and help to filter out the noise so that you may hear God’s still small voice today.
Something more to ponder today. Coming next week – Advent pondering #2 for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Stay tuned and journey along with us!
This is a helpful article that I came across recently that holds a lot of truth for any organization big or small, nonprofit or for profit. This could be beneficial for the church and any Christian movement/organization for that matter. I share this not to point out faults or disparage anyone, but rather to help us be mindful of the warning signs and pitfalls in leadership. This can be a helpful tool and resource to us all! Give this a read: (Source, 2014 – http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2168986 )
Regardless of size, all human groups are subject to the same dynamics. Factors that hamper a small group can also cause a much larger structure to falter. In business, managers and employees alike suffer when an organization doesn’t function optimally. Pat Brans points out what dysfunctional organizations have in common and how to spot the five biggest problems. Learn what you can do to turn your organization around.
I think it’s safe to say that every one of us knows the frustration of belonging to a dysfunctional group. We put our all into a team project, only to see our efforts diluted by organizational inefficiencies. An organization might fall flat on its face, or just sputter along indefinitely. But there’s good news! By understanding a few common reasons that groups lose their way, leaders can take steps to keep the team together—and better still, keep the group performing at optimal levels.
No matter what size it is, when an organization falls apart, it’s usually from one or more of these five causes:
Lack of consensus on the nature of problems facing the team
Lack of team cohesion
Lack of resources
A good leader will watch out for all of these potential show-stoppers and work to prevent them—or remedy them quickly. Let’s look at some examples.
Dysfunction Cause 1: Misunderstood Mission
Every individual in an organization must know that organization’s raison d’être. When members know the values and principles of their group, they can make decisions on their own, simply by comparing any options with the group’s mission.
The leaders are responsible for making sure that everyone knows the group’s purpose. Consider these examples:
The organization is a social structure, helping individuals to meet other people with common views.
The organization works to save the lives of children in remote areas, by making crucial medicines available at reduced cost.
The organization designs the best computer games in the world.
If an organization doesn’t understand its mission, most of the time it’s because the leaders themselves don’t have a clear vision of the organization’s purpose. Leaders need to reevaluate the organization’s mission constantly, knowing that the mission can (and should) evolve over time, as new leaders are chosen or external pressures change.
Another common reason that an organization might fail its mission is that the mission isn’t adequately communicated. The leaders might agree on a purpose and try to explain it to the membership, but a poorly formulated message will give different people in the group different ideas. Purpose statements should be repeated often to help everybody know why the group exists and the values that hold it together.
The clearest mission can be expressed in a single-sentence mantra. Here are a few examples from well-known organizations:
Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Coca-Cola: “To refresh the world—in mind, body and spirit; to inspire moments of optimism—through our brands and actions; to create value and make a difference everywhere we engage.”
Peace Corps: “To promote world peace and friendship by providing qualified volunteers to interested countries in need of trained manpower, by fostering a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served, and by fostering a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.”
Dysfunction Cause 2: Lack of Consensus
Team members need to share a common view of the problems the group has to solve. For example, if products aren’t selling well, but only some of the team members recognize that situation, the team can’t move in a unified direction to solve the problem.
Sometimes team members agree on symptoms, but disagree on their underlying causes. Some people might think products don’t sell well because they’re poorly marketed; others might think lack of quality is the issue. Brainstorming sessions across the organization can help to uncover the real issues and their root causes. Are clients providing unclear requirements? Is upper management assigning unreasonable deadlines for the rank and file? Is group image suffering in the marketplace?
Not only should the group share a view of problems and root causes; they must also come to a consensus on priorities. Sometimes people agree on a set of issues, but disagree on the relative importance of each. Some team members might think competition is the biggest problem, others may think limited resources are more troublesome, while still others focus on lack of vision.
Leaders have to make sure that all team members share a common view of the group’s issues and their relative priorities. Without this consensus, the individuals making up the group can never work together to find solutions.
Dysfunction Cause 3: Misunderstood Strategy
Not only do team members need to know the group’s strategy; they also have to believe in it and integrate it into their work. When each member of the group knows how the group will go about fulfilling its mission, people can work in unison. Is the team strategy to build products faster than anybody else? Will the team overcome a sales shortfall by picking up market share in a specific segment? Can the team provide vaccinations in remote areas by pressuring large pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices?
Once the strategy is understood, team members must grasp the group’s tactics—that is, how the strategy will be implemented. If the strategy is to build products faster than anybody else, what approaches can they take to achieve that goal? Investing more money in tools? Training people to work better and faster?
Leaders must make sure all individuals understand the strategies that the group has targeted to meet its objectives. Once all the individuals understand and accept the group’s strategies and tactics, they can function as a group to meet those goals.
Dysfunction Cause 4: Lack of Team Cohesion
People need a sense of identity and of belonging; above all, they need to be able to trust their leaders and other team members. Through experience, I have observed the following axiom:
All human structures exist only so long as the majority of the individuals in the group believe that the structure will continue to exist.
Furthermore, group members need to count on other group members to do what they say they’ll do, and group members have to believe in team rules and procedures.
Building a cohesive team is also more difficult when the team is physically spread out. Some teams can meet no more than once a year. Effective leaders build team cohesion in such cases by using tools such as video conferencing. Establishing rules for interactions is also helpful; for example, some leaders insist that team members respond to all mail from teammates within 24 hours.
To build team cohesion, whether with co-located or remote teams, leaders have to set a good example. Good leaders promote trust within the group, and they ensure that each individual feels like part of the group. Above all, a leader first demonstrates that he or she is trustworthy.
Dysfunction Cause 5: Lack of Resources
Every organization needs resources in order to function—and those resources must be available on time. If the team can’t get the tools and materials it needs to do the job, the job won’t be done. Each team member will feel the frustration, and morale will suffer.
Does your group have everything you need? For example:
Do you have enough laptops to support your sales staff?
Do you have the right software to support your group’s business processes?
Will your travel funds cover sending individuals where they need to go to get the job done?
Leaders must go outside the group as needed to ensure that the group gets everything it needs to do its work.
The most successful leaders watch for these five common causes of organizational dysfunction. When one cause or another rears its ugly head, the proactive leader heads off trouble before it occurs, keeping the team on track.