Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looking for the Weakness

I'd like to piggy-back my thoughts today on yesterday's blog regarding leadership.  I talked about the difference between leaders and critics and how it's much easier to be a critic, and today, I wanted to do a little bit of reflecting on that which we focus.

I remember watching the movie "Boomerang" long ago and far away.  I can't tell you the plot of the movie or many of the details; however I do remember a piece of it with startling clarity.  Eddie Murphy plays a womanizer.  He is in search of the "perfect" woman--of course, I am talking physically at this point.  He woos a lady and entices her to sleep with him.  I can remember the first woman in the movie being an absolute knockout.  She has a perfect hour-glass figure.  Stunning eyes.  Lucious lips.  Eddie's character and this woman have their tryst, and while she is still sleeping, Murphy slowly draws up the covers.  He exposes a set of feet that look like they have a few too many miles on them.  Murphy grimaces, and that's the last we see of this woman.  Murphy's character wants the "perfect" woman right down to her toes.  Every single part must be perfect.  No exceptions.


But how often do we do the same?  How often do we focus on some one's imperfections?  One's weaknesses?  How often do we believe the strongest chain is only as good as its weakest link?  And, we focus all our attention on that weakest link trying to make it as strong as possible? 

Look at our current school system.  You know, the one controlled by all those government bureaucrats.  Which students do they focus on?  Do they focus on the students who are exceptional in their academic achievement, or do they focus on the students who are at the bottom levels?  Do they spend millions in resources striving to push those who excel to new heights, or do they spend countless dollars at those at the bottom of the ladder hoping to push them up a few rungs?  And is this beneficial?

Now, let me pause a moment to say I am not saying we shouldn't help out those students or those people at the bottom of the ladder.  Far from it.  There are those who desperately need a hand up.  There are those who would indeed excel if given the chance and resources.  But, the God-honest truth of the matter is there are just some students who do not have the learning capacity and ability to handle advanced courses.  There are some people who are not meant to go to college.  There is no shame in that--none, at all.

But instead of giving a kid who doesn't have a high IQ room to use another talent--say working with his or her hands--we want to try and boost them up and make them the equivalent of an honor student.  Newsflash: won't happen. 

Relationships are not chains.  Indeed, if they were, we would all be in trouble because each of us has strengths, and each of us has weaknesses.  There is no one person who has it all together.  That's a fact.

Here's a novel idea.  Instead of focusing on a person's weaknesses and strengthening them--maybe a notch or two higher, start focusing on a person's strengths.  Focus on what they do well, and give them the freedom to develop that gift--that talent--into something special.  Don't force a kid who is artistic to become a mathematician.  Don't force a mathematician to become a great artist.  The likelihood of that happening is slim to none. 

Oh, but there is a drawback to such a stance.  You cannot have a cookie cutter approach to life.  You cannot have a cookie cutter approach to education.  It simply isn't possible.  You have to treat each individual case on an individual basis.  You have to treat each person differently and allocate resources differently.  There are some who just can't abide to see such a thing happen.

But what is so wrong with it?  Why is it such a difficult thing to grasp?  Do we feel bad that folks are treated unequally?  Do we wish equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity?  And is there even such a thing as equal opportunity?  Not exactly.  I do not have a chance academically with someone who has an IQ of 150.  Is that unfair?  No.  We are simply different.  We both have a chance to excel in life, but we have different circumstances that afford us different opportunities.

Yet, we seem to want to make everyone the same.  We seem to want to make everyone fit into one box.  Not possible.  I think we need a new approach, and I'll use my philosophy of pastoring to highlight it.

I believe there are basically two types of pastors in the world.  The first are pastors who believe they know what a congregation should and shouldn't be like.  These pastors work very hard to take a congregation and make it "fit" their understanding.

These pastors are comparable to coaches who believe in a "system," and they coach only their "system."  In this time, a good example of this is Rich Rodriguez who is the head coach of Michigan.  Rich came to Michigan a couple of years ago, and it hasn't been a pretty sight until this year.  Why?  He didn't have players who "fit" his system.  They were recruited under a different coaching staff, and they simply didn't have the talents needed to make Rich's system work.  It's not to say that these players weren't talented, but their talents didn't mesh with the system.  The results speak for themselves.  Michigan will continue to lose football games until the right players are brought in.

Unfortunately, pastors who play this philosophy aren't lucky enough to have turnover in "players."  Folks who join congregations are usually there for the long haul.  They are there year after year after year, and if pastors continue to try to force their system upon a group that doesn't mesh well with it, the results are disastrous.

Which brings me to the second type of pastor.  This type of pastor heads into a congregation, and instead of trying to make that congregation fit a "system", that pastor takes the time to figure out what gifts and talents the congregation has.  He/she takes the time to figure out the strengths of the church, and then he/she designs a "system" around the people.

My coaching analogy is Bill Parcels here.  Love him or hate him, he does this.  When he first took over the Dallas Cowboys, I remember him being asked what "system" he would bring to the table.  He informed those who asked that he needed time to assess his players' strengths, and then based upon those, he would design a system.  You needed to look no further than Parcel's willingness to continue to run a 4-3 defense the first year he was with the Cowboys because he didn't have the personnel for a 3-4 defense, which was his preferred style.

Pastors can easily do the same thing if they get to know a congregation and work with its strengths.  However, far too many want to harp on the weakness and try to make the weak strong.  What if...what if working with the strengths made the strengths stronger, and by virtue of making the strengths stronger, it actually brought up the weakness?  What if instead of focusing on the weakness, one focused on the strengths?  What kind of difference would that make?

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