Three Questions

Three questions I’m asking about the things I’m working on: who is this for? Whose is this? Who is with me?

Who is this for? What is the imagined audience or user? The curriculum I wrote yesterday was for a Confirmation class. The podcast Matt and I are making is for adults who might come to a Sunday school class. Not only are the curriculum and the podcast different mediums, they have different audiences, and their built with the audience in mind. Neither of them can be for everyone, or else they work for no one.

Whose is this? Am I ultimately responsible for what happens with this? For the curriculum, yes. If I don’t write it the class won’t have it. But for the podcast and lots of other stuff, I’m not. I like that. I really like getting clear at the start: whose baby is it? It prevents people looking at each other accusingly and saying, “I thought you were doing that.”

Who is with me? For curriculum, I have a terrific team of leaders who help me teach it. They were recruited and they accepted. They’re enrolled. We’re a team. And beyond us, there is a committee overseeing our work and a board the committee reports to. The board is elected by the congregation, so, ultimately, they’re all with me. But getting clear about the team level feels critical, because these are the people who care the most and have committed to leave the stands for the playing field, and their caring is the fuel that drives the project.

Them

I used to think the advice “Never let them see you sweat” was for your benefit, but now I wonder if it isn’t for theirs. It depends on who we think “them” is.

If it’s hostile onlookers hoping for us to fail, then controlling our perspiration denies them the satisfaction. That’s the assumption behind the advice as an advertising slogan and pop song (The first lyric gives it away: “They’re out to get ya”).

That’s probably an unnecessarily competitive and uncharitable view of our peers. I mean, are you like that? Do you lay in wait for others to bomb and take delight in their strains and struggles? I doubt you do.

What if “them” is a crowd of supporters and collaborators who are pulling on the same rope you are? In that case, not letting them see you sweat is for their benefit and yours; they’re looking to you to lead, and if you’re looking like you got it then they will too.

Extra note: Matt and I did not sweat recording these new episodes of our podcast, out today. Enjoy!

Clock

I spied an electric analog alarm clock in the back corner of a drug store in a small southeastern Kansas town and impulsively bought it. Because I was on vacation, feeling an easier rhythm than the workaday, and because I was in Kansas, where strangers holler “Good afternoon!” from across the street, I was taken by the urge to simplify life by replacing my phone as the alarm on my nightstand, to make a new effort, back home, to banish the phone from the bedroom.

The clock glows bright blue into my face all night, and whenever I open my eyes I see the hour and the minute, and I am gripped with anxiety about the passage of time.

How do people live like this?

FYI

There’s so much information. It’s so easy to find. It even feels like we’re trying to hide from information sometimes. For your information, I think we need less information.

Or, at least, we need more perspective and point of view and proposal to go with all this information.

For my information, no thank you. For my consideration, please.

The News

The News is a product of media. Before there were newspapers and radios and televisions and blogs and Substacks, did anyone seek out The News as the commodity we think of when we say “The News?”

It seems like we get what we go looking for when we look for The News. We get outrage and conspiracy or we get dispassionate analysis. I used to think the latter was The News while the former was something else, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Now I think The News is whatever we want it to be; “mainstream media” and “right-wing media” feel more and more like meaningless terms to describe variations on the same thing: The News.

Television seems to have made The News into something particularly harmful, and I’m thinking more of cable news than your local broadcast station (Sinclair Media, I know). Once companies started programming for round-the-clock content, The News became a commodity that had to be produced constantly, without stop. And once those companies were joined by other companies, The News became a fierce competition for eyeballs and attention requiring screaming analysts and ubiquitous red chirons for “Breaking News.” It’s useful in a rapidly unfolding crisis, perhaps, but as a source for meaningful insight into what you’re going to do today or tomorrow, it’s a major distraction.

What if you dropped cable news from your diet? Would things happen without you knowing, or would your phone make sure you knew anyway?

Edit

Video and audio projects require editing, something that is done poorly by committee, and also something that needs done by someone other than the producer. If the person who shot the video or recorded the audio sends an edit to everyone who was involved, asking for feedback, it’s likely none of them will scrutinize it closely–because everyone else is looking at it too, right?–which makes it likely mistakes will get missed.

For those of us who like working on teams and committees, it’s probably best to make the final edit someone’s job. Designate the task to one person: watch or listen from start to finish and flag anything that needs fixed. It doesn’t have to be the same person’s job every time, but for every project, it needs to be someone’s job.

I’ll go first.

Rigid

If there’s text on the screen for people to read, don’t read it to them.

If a packet of material was distributed ahead of time, don’t read the material at the meeting.

I’ve become rigid about these rules in the meetings and interactions I lead. Rigid is rarely good.

But am I wrong?

Newsletter

I send out a weekly newsletter to youth and parents that lists the schedule for the coming Sunday’s activities and announces upcoming special events and, regularly, features a pastoral note. I’m wondering if it’s worth it.

Almost every week somebody asks me a question that the newsletter already answered. They didn’t read it. They didn’t even get it. This used to irritate me, like I went to all this trouble to share the information in advance, and people couldn’t do the minimum to make use of it. But I’ve accepted by now that we all are besieged with too much electronic communication to make good use of, especially if we have kids. I get multiple emails from Daughter’s school every week, and her cheer team uses an app called Band that pings me with a constant stream of information and updates. Then there are email reminders about doctor and dentist appointments, all mixed in with whatever is hitting my inbox related to me. It is simply too much for people to be expected to manage.

So I’m wondering if there’s a better way than the weekly email. Much of what’s in the newsletter is static from week to week anyway; we’re always meeting before worship at 9:15 and after at 11:15–does that require a weekly reminder email? The only reason to share that is for people who don’t know it, prospective participants, and directing them to a webpage where those times are listed is easier than asking them to sign up for an email newsletter. Same with the event announcements and sign up links: put them on the website and send people there. Don’t clutter up their inboxes and expect them to take meaningful action.

I feel like the weekly newsletter is an anxious product that we make in order to feel more in control of what’s happening in the church and the world right now. The anxiety is well-placed. Change is afoot. Yet it seems certain that the things keeping people from regularly participating in the things we’re working on go well beyond a well-written-and-visually-attractive weekly email. We are in the position people are always in when we’re seeking enrollment in something we think is important, and that is the choice of other people.

That choice can be harmed by insufficient communication. It can be enabled by reliable communication. But it feels like we’re trying to compel participation with a barrage of information, and that’s both ineffective and unhealthy.

So a website with the stuff that is static from week to week and event signups. Email to send people there. Smiles and warm welcomes when they arrive.