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Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that the way you decorate or arrange a space changes what it feels like to work or meet in that environment. Right now, offices everywhere are decorated with some form of holiday cheer. Unless you are Scrooge himself, you like it and are probably more productive. The nature of the environment changes what happens inside of it. Consider two vastly different experiences I had recently.

Two weeks ago I attended a church service in a room that was attractively staged with fabric, art, and candles–lots of them. The music was acoustic–simple, with an interesting blend of guitar, beat box, djembe, and the occasional soft tambourine. The congregation sat in a circle of chairs a couple rows deep so they might all see one another.

Kyliah

View of Church #2
(And of my niece, Kyliah, who is truly amazing!)

Then a week ago I attended a second church which could not have been more different from the first. The room where we met was a plain rectangular box with nothing on the walls, but wine colored paint. The floor was black painted concrete. There was no art. No texture. Nothing to invite imagination or create warmth. The rows of chairs were lined up in straight rows facing one of the large blank walls.  “Up front” all you saw was two black metal music stands and a pull down screen. The guitar player/vocalist/worship leader stood at one stand and after a few announcements, the pastor of the day stood at the other. The environment was sterile and no surprise, the response and engagement of the congregation felt exactly the same.

Two churches couldn’t be more different. Both churches were from the same denomination, the same city. Both are smaller congregations, so the difference wasn’t size. Interestingly, even though the sermon at the second church service was more engaging and provocative, I wouldn’t go back there. I would easily go back to the first church.

In the same way that non-verbal cues are so important to communication, crafting the texture and ethos of the environment where you meet or work or worship or think or create will shape everything that happens there, too. Think about your own experiences. The environment where things happen:

    • Sets expectations. As soon as people walk into a room, the start making judgements about what is about to take place.
    • Communicates values. What matters most to you and what values govern the meeting/ training/ or event people are about to participate in? How the room is set up will communicate those values.
    • Creates an invitation. What you do with the space you have invites people to participate in certain ways. Church #1 invited me into a sacred conversation together with the rest of the congregation. Church #2 invited me sit, listen, put my creative self on hold, and participate if I wanted without any engagement wit others. And, these invitations were clear as soon as I walked into the room.

So ask yourself:

    • What do I want to invite people into?
    • How do I want them to participate?
    • What forms of art, color, lighting, texture, plants, or sound could create an environment that transports people out of whatever preoccupied them beforehand and into a new space that fosters the experience and participation you long for?
    • How could you arrange the seating of participants to encourage maximum contribution?  Never settle for how others left the room before you got there, move things around until it feels right.

 

You don’t have to hold back until you can make permanent changes, either. In the same way a good realtor “stages” a house to show well–bring in what ever you can to stage the room where you will meet, work, etc.

 

What works for you?  What secrets have you learned about creating an environment that invites people into a more powerful experience? Make a comment, share the love.

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A sabbatical is not just a different form of work under a different name. It is all about the health of our soul. Over time, we can run dry in the midst of the demand and drivenness of work, but a well planned sabbatical should be a life-giving experience that blows fresh wind into the sails of our souls.

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One of the keys to a successful sabbatical has nothing to do with what you do on your sabbatical itself, but everything to do with how you transition into and out of it. For twenty years I have watched the best and worst practices of my peers as they have taken sabbaticals, (primarily pastors and leaders of other ministry organizations.) I believe a sabbatical, can be a life-giving experience and it is something I whole-heartedly recommend. However, a sabbatical is not automatically helpful.

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Time comes to us in constant increments every day. Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day how we choose how will spend it. Time passes through our fingers fleetingly, pausing just long enough for us to decide what we will do with it. I guess we can avoid choosing and let let others dictate life for us, but even that is our choice. And, that’s the thing. We spend time by the choices we make. Frighteningly, we only get one shot and once spent, it’s gone.

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Mentoring Made Simple

Gary Mayes —  December 10, 2012 — 4 Comments

I find that we get all twisted up over the notions of mentoring because of some funky ideas that mentoring is about structure or curriculum or Yoda-Like super-wisdom. In reality mentoring is about sharing your life, your experiences, and your perspective when needed. It is more about walking together over the long haul then solving a urgent problem in a perfect way.

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Courage, risk, uncertainty… they are the territory of leadership. But why not take a creative look at courage in action through this video.

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The Least of These

Gary Mayes —  October 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

Leaders are wired and trained to look for highly leveraged people and opportunities. We think about influence, change, courage, and about mobilizing the people who can help make things happen. So, what about people who have nothing strategic to give back? What about the people Jesus identified as the least of these?

Can it really mean that serving “one of the least of these”–where there is no quid pro quo, no strokes or favors to be returned–is literally an act of compassion received by Jesus?

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To Go Fast — Go Slow

Gary Mayes —  October 28, 2012 — Leave a comment

Here is a conundrum. The fastest way to achieve significant organizational change is often by going slowly.

The problem is that leaders live to make things happen. They thrive on taking new ground. They work to move people, ideas, and organizations toward greater accomplishment. In short, leaders are change agents. Slowly and patiently do not come naturally. Leaders resonate with Sammy Hagar’s song, “I Just Can’t Drive 55.”

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My Writing Process

Gary Mayes —  March 17, 2012 — 2 Comments

I had a breakthrough experience back in January. I was on a two week writing-solitude retreat, when I woke up one morning with crystal-clear insight in when, how, and why I get stuck when I am writing. It came in the form of the process I personally need to follow. I can’t say that these thoughts are rocket-science and I can’t claim that this is how everyone should do things. I just know that there is a sequence I need to follow and when I don’t I get jammed up–even when I am onto something that excites me.

So, in that spirit, here is my NOTE TO SELF:

Whether I’m writing a blog post, a chapter, a book, or sermon… these are the steps I need to follow!

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Leaders get things done. They don’t merely mobilize others to accomplish great things, they know how to work hard and are willing to keep their head down to do whatever it takes. The only problem is that if you keep your nose to the grindstone too long, you get blood in your eyes. The ability to lead with sustained creativity and clarity requires time and space for reflection.

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