Thursday, May 7, 2009

Leadership Nugget

In this week's Time, writer Joel Stein ranks the magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World in his "Awesome Column," according to their contributions to him. In justifying his personal rankings, he notes that out of the Time 100, he's only heard of 48, and actually met seven (which is still seven more than I have, though I can say I've stood 20 feet from M.I.A. and even closer to John Legend, both on the list). Stein goes on to say something interesting about leadership in that it rings so true, yet still seems oddly counter-intuitive, even absent in many churches. Referencing Harvard Professor Nicholas Christakis' studies on how people influence each other, Stein writes, "Christakis studies are right: the people who influence us most aren't our leaders, titans or heroes. The people who most affect us are the ones we spend the most time with." In light of Pastor Erin's current series on leadership, this affirms our philosophy of leadership at epic. While it is true that people can affect us toward both the good or harmful, it is equally true that the most profound influence is the result of proximity and relationship. In the church, while programs, curriculum, and gifting can be helpful, and uber:leaders are a cult fascination, nothing replaces the simple investment of one person with another toward character development, life process, and kingdom purposes. After all these years and after endless trends, true leadership still looks like discipleship. True influence looks like relationship. Jesus showed us the way.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I enjoyed reading the LA Times article "Selling Coffee Becomes Diacritical for McDonald's". It's an insightful telling of the irony in the Golden Arches' latest ad campaign ("McCafe"), the fast-food giant's attempt to gain ground on Starbucks at the same time Starbucks has clearly mcfranchised its way to becoming the McDonald's of coffee.

Here's an excerpt from the excellent Dan Neil article:

What's fascinating to me about all this is the arc of coffee in America. A decade ago, the Starbucks audience was primarily affluent, college-educated progressives, a self-selected clientele of so-called latte liberals. Starbucks imported the notion of cafe society into the United States. It was the promised "third place" between home and work, where one could relax, read, talk and delectify a good cuppa in peace. Starbucks was social without the media.

But soon, in a mysterious alchemy between status and stimulants, Starbucks became prestige coffee, an aspirational beverage. The company, attempting to keep up with the money flooding in, standardized its retail environments, replaced its La Marzocco machines with automatic espresso machines, started to sell breakfast and lunch, and began hawking truckloads of branded merchandise and music.

By February 2007, Starbucks had well and truly sold out. In a notorious memo, Chairman Howard Schultz admitted the company had sacrificed the "romance and theater" of the coffee-shop experience to efficiency and profit. The sites, Schultz lamented, "no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores versus the warm feeling of a neighborhood store."

Starbucks failed, in other words, when it became the McDonald's of coffee. It seems only fair, perhaps inevitable, that Mickey D's fall on its big red nose attempting to be the Starbucks of fast-food.

I couldn't help but think there is a cautionary tale here for Epic: It would be silly for us to sacrifice our beautiful uniqueness and boutiqueness of a community chasing better business acumen or coveting the next edgy "movement," losing our soul and becoming indistinguishable from a thousand other churches in the process. That wouldn't be interesting and neither would we.