the problem of being right

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the Kingdom. Many of us watched silently with shock and awe as social media exploded in a firestorm of outrage, condemnation, and judgement by all kinds of believers over decision(s) made by World Vision.

Let’s be real: Casualties are high on all sides (and yes, there are more sides than right/wrong, black/white). The bruised and wounded include Evangelicals who are tired of feeling like their most deeply held beliefs are being trampled, progressive believers now considering leaving evangelicalism, GLBT believers who again feel condemned and rejected by the Christian faith, and – as collateral damage – children in poverty around the world who have been decisively cut off from life saving financial support.

Is it possible that our attitudes are wrong? Have we lost all capacity to even attempt self-evaluation of our motivation? I heard believers say firmly, “Well I’m responsible for how I spend God’s money.” Really. Did you ask him about that? Because he never said it should be used to establish your beliefs about being right. He did however, have quite a lot to say about caring for children. And unfortunately, while you let World Vision know what you thought, you actually chose to punish the children. That’s hard to back up with scripture. You signed a financial agreement. Not so many people concerned about keeping their word, apparently. Not when “being right” is at stake.

Our self righteousness is truly filthy rags when we prefer that children go hungry to make a point about being right.

UPDATE March, 2015:

A year later, the final numbers are in, and it’s worse than we thought.

“World Vision USA has a clearer picture of the financial impact, which has resulted in roughly 15,000 canceled sponsorships with possibly up to 4,000 additional cancelations that might be attributable to last year’s events.”

The tragedy is, so many people were pleased that World Vision reversed their decision, but almost 19,000 didn’t bother to reverse their own.

interview on social media church

Several weeks ago I was contacted by DJ Chuang about participating in his Social Media Church podcasts. If you’re somehow still unaware of this incredible resource, go and bookmark it now. DJ is curating interviews and thoughts about the use of social media within the Church, from all kinds of perspectives: communications, web, tech, marketing and more.

Our conversation is part of Episode 53: 4 Levels of Social Media Engagement. DJ and I go way back to “when blogging was big.” I remember meeting him at a conference and asking if he would be live-blogging the sessions. (Remember live-blogging? Who could listen and write coherent paragraphs at the same time? Uhh…not me.) He said he was trying a new thing called Twitter and would be “tweeting” the sessions. I made a mental note to find out what that meant.

So in Episode 53 we talk a little about blogging and social media, along with some of the how’s and why’s of what we’re doing at Eastside. I’m always happy to talk about my church.

Perhaps more importantly the podcast begins with thoughts about the 4 Levels of Social Media Engagement. DJ refers to some tech friends of mine, Van Metschke and Mike Sessler, who provide an amazing church resource called Church Tech Arts. The 4 levels provide some really good thinking on social media engagement.

Thanks DJ, for bringing it all together.

brands that create meaningful lives

Fast Company recently posted an article, A Successful 21st Century Brand Has to Help Create Meaningful Lives. An enormous study of how consumers around the world interact with brands finds that only the companies that make life better for consumers create impactful connections.

I’m always intrigued when culture begins to understand something the Church has been doing for centuries.

Understand that I’m not advocating for “consumer church.” In the above title, there’s a huge difference in my mind between “makes life better” and creating “impactful connections.” The first often takes the form of a prosperity or “name it and claim it” Gospel, in which God wants to improve your life and make you successful. The second – creating impactful connections – is what we’re focused on 52 weekends a year: to first create meaningful connections for guests with people in our church, and ultimately with Christ.

“It’s a simple question of philosophy. ‘CEOs are painstakingly trained to deliver outputs: stuff like slightly better sneakers, phones, or cars. And that’s exactly the problem, not the solution,’ says Haque. ‘Because what people are really looking for are outcomes: the real human benefits those outputs results in. … If you’re still seeing your business essentially as a giant factory producing outputs, instead of as a system that creates real, positive human outcomes–you’re still stuck in the industrial age, while the rest of the world, especially your customers, are beginning to take a quantum leap into what I call a human age–an era where a life meaningfully well lived is what really counts.'”

We’ve talked about this before. Sometimes we focus more on “outputs” – our individual seeker-friendly, artsy, fun, hipster, social justice-focused styles – rather than outcomes. Instead our focus should be on the only reason any of us are in ministry in the first place: the outcomes of a life forever changed by Jesus: restored marriages, addicts set free, the lost found, broken hearts overflowing with love, disciples who in turn connect him with others.

I’m incredibly fortunate to work at a church where I regularly hear people say (tweet, post, instagram), “I love my church!” and “I feel at home here.” These are people finding Jesus. Discovering grace. And that is the key difference between the Church and a corporation: rather than devising ways to bring meaning to a consumer’s life with the sale of a product, all we really have to do is be who we are. A family. Living lives of meaning together as loved children of the King.

the way of confusion

I’m not all that comfortable with confusion. As an ENTJ I’m prone to over-analyzing, and attempting to really nail things down so everyone in my same time zone can also be perfectly clear, just to be on the safe side.

As Christians, in my experience, we tend to believe confusion is bad. It implies I may be out of God’s will, that somehow I misunderstood his clear direction and leading in my life. “God is not a God of confusion!” we quote warningly. We feel a vague suspicion we’ve done something wrong, a fear that somehow, somewhere along the line we got off track.

But what if confusion is the right track? In spite of my discomfort with confusion, I’ve frequently found myself in situations that weren’t what I expected. We all experience times when things don’t seem to be working out the way we’d anticipated, when we perhaps prayed and sought wise counsel and very clearly saw God’s direction in a specific situation that inexplicably turned out to be a dead end. We don’t understand. We are confused. So our “Help Me” prayers gradually turn into “Why, God?” prayers, which of course lead to the somewhat panicked “Show me what to do!” prayers. Aside from the omniscience thing, sometimes I think God must find us terribly predictable.

Oswald Chambers explains it this way:

“There are times in spiritual life when there is confusion, and it is no way out to say that there ought not to be confusion. It is not a question of right and wrong, but a question of God taking you by a way which in the meantime you do not understand, and it is only by going through the confusion that you will get at what God wants.”

God is not a God of confusion, but in this life it’s easy to misread people and situations and even our own intentions. And in our confusion we can turn to him as a God of Love, whom we can trust implicitly to get us where he wants us to be.

communication lessons from american airlines

I recently took a trip to the Midwest to visit family, and endured one of my worst travel experiences, stuck in O’Hare airport overnight on what should have been an otherwise routine journey – one I’ve taken many times. As a communications director, I watched and listened with interest as American Airlines failed to manage a customer service snag that literally grew by the hour.

A quick overview: The trip from southern California to Springfield, Missouri normally takes 6-8 hours, and includes a connection in Dallas or O’Hare. These airports are frequently impacted by weather. In fact, we left SoCal late, because flights were backed up at O’Hare because of thunderstorms.

I arrived at O’Hare in time to catch my 6:45pm connecting flight, now listed as departing at 8:10pm. Then for the next 5 hours, American bumped the flight back about one hour, every hour. People were generally patient. Sometime after midnight, we finally boarded the plane. When fully boarded, we were told the flight was cancelled and instructed to exit. Flights were rebooked for the following day and I reached my destination 27 hours after original departure.

Here are 5 ways communication in any customer-oriented industry can be more effective:

1. Proactively communicate the situation.
The first departure delays happened without any explanation. As people became more frustrated, AA finally announced they were scrambling to put together crews for multiple delayed flights. Waiting to respond until people are upset is never a good strategy.

2. Identify with the customer.
Beyond the obligatory “we’re sorry for the delay,” acknowledging the situation would have greatly helped. “We know your time is important,” or “We know you have someplace important to be, and we’re doing everything we can to get you there.” Empathy goes a long way.

3. Explain what happened.
While a good apology is a significant first step, a brief explanation of what caused the problem is also important. People are generally reasonable and understand malfunctions, human error, and system breakdowns. Identifying the problem means you can fix it (see number 4 below). When passengers were finally ordered off the cancelled flight, AA offered neither apology nor explanation. One gate agent said there was more bad weather between Chicago and Springfield. Another said one of the pilots had “timed out.” The agents were dealing with real people face-to-face, and trying to provide good customer service. But because there wasn’t one clear message, these differing explanations only made AA look inept at best, and uncaring/untrustworthy at worst.

4. Fix the problem.
Let the customer know what steps you are taking to avoid the problem in the future. If the problem is of a potentially recurring nature, offer to make this occurrence right – a refund, a gift certificate, etc. AA did neither. With an overnight delay, there were no offers of drink or meal vouchers. Even worse, in a situation where hotel vouchers were required, AA announced their contracted hotel was an hour away. At 1:00 in the morning, with re-scheduled 9am flights, they don’t get many takers. And in a city consistently disrupted by bad weather, this clearly works only in their favor. Building a system that appears to stack the deck against your customer is just ugly. Sincerity, apologies and explanations go a long way, but don’t forget that actions speak much louder than words.

5. All the above apply to Social media.
Having a social media strategy in place to respond to online comments and complaints is essential. But merely responding isn’t enough. As an arm of marketing or customer service or public relations, your social media plan should be aligned and empowered to deliver on steps 1-4 above.

In my case, after spending the night at O’Hare, showing up to my 9:15am flight and finding it bumped to 9:45 (the 6th consecutive delay), I engaged AA’s corporate Twitter account, @AmericanAir. You can enjoy our conversation here. While trying to be sympathetic, notice the responses never actually engage with what I’m saying. Again, social media is one of the best ways to identify with a customer, empathize, explain, or outline corrective measures. Take advantage of the very specific information provided to measure and improve service.

In a technological world that provides more platforms for customers to voice their opinions, it’s more important than ever for organizations to influence and leverage those opinions positively.