What I Learned in an Audition for a Commercial

When most people think of improv, the TV show Who’s Line is it Anyway usually comes to mind. I’d seen the show a few times and never envisioned myself taking an improv class. But several years ago I took several classes and had a blast. It also gave me the chance to hang around some people who didn’t embrace Christ.

3D concept

One year my teacher got me an audition as a pastor in the re-make of Nightmare on Elm Street (which ended up being a very bad movie). I didn’t get the part, but after that I auditioned a few times for regional commercials. The roles I played in those auditions ranged from a looking like a medical doctor to pretending I was a 50 year old former professional football player…who danced (I am not lying).

I once even got a callback for a commercial.

That day the casting agency office was crammed with auditioners. I sat in the waiting room facing the entrance door so I was able to see every actor who came in. And I learned an important lesson.

Here’s what I noticed. Every person who walked through the door quickly scanned the faces of every other actor in the room (as did I). What were we doing?

Comparing.

We were subconsciously comparing ourselves with the others who were competing for the same spots.

Although I’m no mindreader, I imagine these questions surfaced.

  • Are these men more handsome than me?
  • Am I prettier than the rest of the women?
  • I wonder how much experience he (or she) has compared to me?
  • Am I dressed as well as the rest?
  • etc, etc.

My short stay in the waiting room of a casting agency reminded me that we naturally tend to compare ourselves with others in most areas of life.

When that happens, two things can occur.

We become proud of our accomplishments, looks, and experience because we think we are better than others.

Or, we berate ourselves for not measuring up to the rest of the crowd.

I went away from this audition with a fresh reminder and desire to follow God’s reminder to Samuel when he was looking for Israel’s new king.

1Sam. 16.7 (MESSAGE) …GOD judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; GOD looks into the heart.

How have you combated the problem of comparing?

By the way, I didn’t get the commercial role. I guess my mind was distracted by comparing too much.

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What Mac & Cheese Taught me about the Needs of Others

A very successful businessman inadvertently taught me a lesson about paying attention to other people’s needs … with macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese in an individual casserole dish with bread crumbs

Several years ago I ate breakfast at my favorite diner with one of our church’s key leaders. He owned a flourishing business and gave quite generously to our church. As I enjoyed the blue plate special of eggs, pancakes, and Canadian bacon, I asked him how business was faring. He described one recent experience with a potential client that brought a smile to my face and a fresh reminder that I must pay closer attention to other people’s stories and needs.

He had scheduled a lunch with a local company CEO and remarked that she ordered only salad and mac & cheese. I thought that a bit odd as did he until he said, “She explained that her favorite food was mac & cheese.”

He then described a second luncheon with this same CEO at this office that he had scheduled for the next Monday. The menu that day? Mac & cheese from six different restaurants.

From a business perspective he ordered this novel lunch menu hoping to make a good impression on a client that might garner him more business. But I thought to myself, What a creative and thoughtful way to touch a person’s life.

His kind gesture may not have brought him new business, but I’m convinced that this CEO will never forget his thoughtfulness. My friend simply paid attention to someone else’s unique interests.

As I drove back to the office after that breakfast and mulled over this mac & cheese luncheon, God impressed these thoughts on me.

  • Do I pay close enough attention to the leaders, friends, and spiritual seekers in my life to discover their unique interests?
  • Do I consider those interests as invitations from God upon which I could capitalize to become a better tool in God’s hands to minister to them?

I don’t think I will ever see mac & cheese in the same way again.

How have you met other people’s practical needs after discovering something unique about him or her?

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Does the Bible have Refrigerator Rights in Your Life?

When I visit my parents in Georgia, within five minutes of my arrival I almost always open the refrigerator to see what’s in it. I’ve done this for years. And they don’t mind me doing so. However, I don’t have that freedom to do that in most everyone else’s home. If someone invited me over and I opened their refrigerator, they’d think I was either crazy or that I lacked key social skills. I liken refrigerator rights to how open we are to allowing God’s Word to shape our conduct and character. How do we know that God’s Word has refrigerator rights in our hearts? Consider five questions that might answer that question.

Man opening the refrigerator and looking inside

Before I suggest these questions, we can learn a key insight about ‘refrigerator rights’ from Jesus’ half-brother James who wrote the book named after him. In James 1.21 we find this insightful phrase, humbly accept the word planted in you.

The idea of accept denotes a welcoming reception you feel in a friend’s home, much like how my parents receive me when I visit them. Their welcoming atmosphere gives me the freedom to open up their refrigerator. Likewise, when we truly give God’s Word refrigerator rights to our souls, we welcome His Word to instruct, convict, and direct our lives.

Ask yourself these questions to discover the degree God’s Word has refrigerator rights to your heart.

  1. I read, meditate on, or study God’s Word several times each week.
  2. I approach the Bible as a living and God-breathed book, unlike how I approach reading a novel or a textbook.
    • For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4.12)
  3. I seek to connect the then and there (what the Bible says) to the here and now (how I need to directly apply it to my life). I don’t read simply for interest, but for life transformation.
  4. I read the Bible reflectively, slowly, and meditatively. In this post I write about a unique and fresh approach to Bible reading.
  5. I refuse to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that apply to me. I open up every part of my life and heart to God’s Spirit applying Biblical Truth to me.

The next time you open up your own refrigerator, ask yourself this question.

Does God’s Word have refrigerator rights in my heart? 

What has helped you keep your heart open to God’s Word?

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4 Ways to Successfully Navigate Change

Great leaders manage change well. Great pastors also manage change well. But it’s not easy. In my research for my latest book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, I learned that brain insight can help us navigate change successfully. Consider these 4 ways to successfully navigate a change you’re facing. (Reprinted by permission from Brain-Savvy Leaders).

aktiv, Anfang, aufschwung, beginn, beruf, beziehung, chance, entscheidung, erfolgreich, StrichmŠnnchen, geschŠft, Zeiger, Pfeil, idee, job, karriere, konzept, krise, verŠndern, handeln, leben, neu, neuanfang, neues, neustart, plan, planung, positiv, motivation, richtung, selbstŠndigkeit, anpacken, start, coaching, symbol, neuer weg, verŠnderung, wandel, weg, wolken, wort, zeit, zeit fŸr neues, zeitmanagment, ziel, zukunft

4 Ways to Successfully Navigate Change:

1. Keep others informed about your progress and welcome their input.

Build into your change buy-in plan specific dates when you will communicate progress. Tell your team how you will evaluate progress and when you will report it. Bring all your key players into the conversation. If they feel they are in the “out” group, resistance to change will be higher, as it creates an away response (Rock & Cox, 2012), a response that hinders followership. Be thorough in your assessments. If the change is not going as planned, be honest yet focus on solutions, not problems. Give hope.

Elicit feedback from several sources, not just from those at the top of your organizational chart. The more collaborative your evaluation process, the more successful the change (London & Smither, 1995). When others feel that they contributed to the evaluation process, they sense more freedom and thus more ownership.

2. Continue to acknowledge that change is scary.

When you talk about the progress you’re making, continue to verbalize that you understand how difficult and scary change can be. Be sure that you don’t speak in a patronizing way that implies that it’s difficult for your team and not for you. Let them know that it’s scary for you as well, another way to build empathy, an important leadership competency. Help your team realize that it’s normal to feel unsettled during change and that it will pass. 

 

3. Tell stories of people who are navigating the change well.

Narrative persuasion is a technique that uses indirect communication through story and example. Often we try to persuade others with a direct approach that communicates just the facts, like, “We are going to make a change, and here are the reasons why.” The direct approach often is not effective.

Neuroscientists have confirmed common sense that storytelling has a powerful effect on behavior (Falk et al., 2012). Storytelling helps others “see” through the eyes of another. As you solicit feedback, look for stories of people who are managing the change well. Tell their stories as you give updates about your progress. When your team members can see successful responses to change through stories of others, it will help them navigate the change better.

4. Stay reasonably connected to your biggest resisters.

In my third book People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership, I devote an entire chapter to explaining why we need to stay connected to our critics. Change will bring detractors to the surface, as the Bible often shows. When Moses sent Joshua and the spies to scout out the promised land, even though they returned with glowing reports about the opportunity before them, many people resisted the change by spreading a bad report (Num 13: 32). Stay connected to your detractors, but don’t become their punching bag. Rather, if you stay calmly connected to them, you can help calm their emotionality

What has helped you navigate change well in your church or organization?

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References:

  • Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 2735-2758). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Rock, David & Cox, C. (2012) SCARF in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. Neuroleadership Journal, (four).
  • London, M. & Smither, J.W. (1995) Can Multi-Source Feedback Change Perceptions of Goal Accomplishment, Self-Evaluations, and Performance-Related Outcomes? Theory-Based Applications and Directions for Research. Personnel Psychology, 48 (4), pp.803–839.
  • Falk, E.B., O’Donnell, M.B. & Lieberman, M.D. (2012) Getting the word out: neural correlates of enthusiastic message propagation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6. Available from: <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506032/> [Accessed 28 March 2013].

The Most Productive 4 Hours of my Week

I received an undergrad degree in industrial and systems engineering. IE’s, as they are called, are sometimes referred to as efficiency experts. Whether that’s true or not, the training I received from my degree has force me think about leadership productivity. In this post I describe my most productive four-hour time block each week, what I do, and why it’s so productive.

Productivity concept in word tag cloud on white background

This might surprise you, but those four hours fall on Sunday afternoon between 1 and 5 pm. I call that time block my strategic planning time that positions me for maximum productivity in the week that follows.

Many pastors rest and nap on Sunday afternoons. I don’t begrudge those who do. I used to take a two hour nap every Sunday afternoon. But I’ve discovered several reasons why those afternoons have now become so productive for me.

Why Sunday afternoons have become so productive:

  1. My body’s already flowing with hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) that heighten attention and focus. After I’ve preached and interacted with people I’m already on a “high.” So, I simply ride out that extra boost of energy on Sunday afternoons.
  2. Those hours put me into a forward looking perspective for the next week which motivates me with positive anticipation.
  3. Since the brain loves certainty (and dislikes uncertainty), when I carefully plan my week up front, I set my brain at ease knowing that I’ve prioritized what must get done. Since I’ve already set those priorities, I don’t waste energy during the week wondering what I should do next.
  4. I’ve chosen a place with minimum distractions, McDonalds. That may sound odd, but the McDonalds near my home allows me to pick a booth away from noise and people distraction which helps me concentrate. I usually buy lunch and a refillable soft drink which allows me to get some caffeine into my body. I also use noise suppressing headphones to block out all noise. In this post I suggest 4 ways you can improve your focus.

What I do that makes Sunday afternoons so productive:

  1. I review my personal mission statement and true north values. This post describes how to discover your true north values. By starting here I keep what God has called me to at the forefront of my thinking.
  2. I review what I call my ‘church dashboard.’ My dashboard summarizes our church’s mission, vision, values, and goals. This provides a one page snapshot of our overall direction and helps direct me to allocate time blocks to work on specific goals and projects.
  3. I review my upcoming schedule for the next 3-4 weeks and make appropriate adjustments. I use Outlook for the Mac as my calendar program. I also create specify action plans needed for upcoming meetings and projects.
  4. I review a set of folders where I’ve placed notes or materials that relate to key ministry areas and significant projects. Those include budget planning, leadership development, writing projects, new initiatives, and staff. Reviewing these folders helps remind me to allocate time to work on those projects.
  5. I revisit an email file I created in Outlook called, “Act upon in a Week.” Throughout the week I place emails in this file that didn’t require any immediate action. I’m more effective dealing with the tasks these emails generate all at once rather than spread out during the week.
  6. I determine what I call my ‘big three’ goals for the coming week, goals that take precedent over all others.
  7. I usually drink half a bottle of 5 Hour Energy to help me focus (probably by boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine) and give me an overall sense of well being (probably due to an increase in serotonin). See my post here about energy drinks for pastors.

Although Sunday afternoons have generally been downtimes for pastors, I’ve re-purposed those afternoons with encouraging results.

What do you do on Sunday afternoons that boosts productivity?

If Sunday afternoons don’t work for you, when do do your strategic planning for the week?

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