On a Thursday afternoon in September 2016, Peter Greer scribed notes on his whiteboard as Jill Heisey and I kicked around ideas about a new book project. We came into that meeting with very little clarity about what the project would become. We left that meeting with just a bit more clarity, but a shared commitment to pursuing the project together.
In just two weeks, Rooting for Rivalswill be available in hardback and audiobook at all your favorite booksellers. Nearly two years after the genesis meeting, a whiteboard becomes a book. Just for fun, I’ve included the most common questions I get about the book below.
What’s the story behind the name?
The original working title for the book was Open Hands. We also kicked around the title Kingdom First. In the end, we liked Rooting for Rivals because it is both sticky and communicates the heart of the book. It was on a trip to Australia, however, where we learned that “rooting” holds quite lewd undertones Down Under. While blushing during a meeting with an Australian director of a Baptist camping ministry, I asked if we should consider changing the title. Without hesitation, he responded, “Absolutely not. Most Australians understand the American use of the word. And, you’ll likely sell more copies in Australia if you keep it as-is.”
What role do your agents play?
Andrew Wolgemuth was our agent for both Mission Driftand Rooting for Rivals. Andrew (also my brother-in-law!) is an agent with Wolgemuth & Associates (“W&A”). Akin to sports agents with athletes, literary agents help authors pitch their ideas and serve as guides to the confusing world of book publishing. We’ve said this elsewhere, but Andrew and the W&A team—Robert, Erik, and Austin—are the very best in the business. I’m obviously biased, but these guys are capable, faithful advisors and friends.
Who is the publisher?
Like with Mission Drift, Andy McGuire at Bethany House (an imprint of Baker Publishing Group) believed in this project and believed in us from the very beginning. The first time around, we pitched Mission Drift to a slew of publishers. Because of that experience, though, this time we went straight to, and only to, Andy. What stands out about Andy and the Bethany/Baker team is their genuine enthusiasm for these ideas.
What was Jill Heisey’s role?
Better question: What wasn’t her role? Jill and I both joined HOPE’s staff in 2006. During the last 12 years, she has worked in a whole host of full-time and part-time roles. But, in every assignment, she demonstrated her gifts as a writer, editor, and thinker. Jill sharpened our thinking and refined our writing. That she agreed to work with the two of us makes Peter and I forever in her debt. It’s not an exaggeration say this book wouldn’t exist if not for Jill. I’ll also note the roles of Brianna Lapp and Tom Lin. Brianna joined HOPE’s staff midway through this project and has played an important project management role over the last year. Tom embodies the principles in the book and wrote an exceptional foreword.
What’s it like to co-author?
Writing with Peter Greer is like sparring with a grizzly bear while riding a bull.
In seriousness, writing with Peter makes both of us better. He invites critique and offers it. He puts forward bold goals and invites helpful constraints. Our team used a shared Google Doc to draft, suggest edits, and collaborate. It became a bit unruly when the draft surpassed 30,000 words. But, otherwise, we found it to be a big improvement over emailing Word documents back-and-forth like we did last time. Some people ask if Peter is involved in the nuts-and-bolts or just the big ideas of the book. And, I can honestly say it’s both. Despite leading a full life and a growing organization, he is actively involved from start-to-finish.
Who financially profits from the book?
The Kingdom! Unless your last name is Rowling or Sparks, writing is not lucrative work. But, Peter and I have committed all the royalties from this project to HOPE and other like-minded churches and ministries. So when you buy a copy or a case (thanks, Mom!), you can trust it’s lining God’s pockets, not our own.
Why the seven deadly sins? …and the 2×2?
On the whiteboard in Peter’s office, we scribbled out a bunch of chapter ideas about how open-handed faith-based nonprofit leaders operated in contrast to close-fisted leaders: Covet vs. Celebrate, Hero vs. Humility, Enemies vs. Allies, etc. As these ideas germinated, we discovered our somewhat arbitrary list tightly mapped to a more time-tested list: the seven deadly sins. An early iteration of this concept, circa March 2017, shows a snapshot of the progression of the chapter outline.
The version of the 2×2 we included in the book emerged from the brilliance of Madi Burke. Madi, then a college student interning with us in Lancaster, suggested we consider Augustine’s categorization of sin as deficient love, excessive love, or misdirected love. These categories proved enormously helpful in organizing a 2×2 that was at that point still very much a work-in-progress (an earlier draft also included here, just for fun). Those two organizing frameworks helped to make sense of the book’s main ideas.
Are you doing anything fun to launch this book?
Yes! A group of 180 friends, family, and co-workers signed up to help us launch the book (THANK YOU!). With the tutelage and hosting of our colleague, Blake Mankin, we are producing a six-episode Rooting for Rivals podcast series. We interviewed a few of our heroes and can’t wait for you to hear directly from them. We also have a series of videos forthcoming where we’re not promoting the book but practicing it—actually rooting for our rivals. Be on the lookout.
What do your kids think about Rooting for Rivals?
My kids—ages 7, 3, and 1—are absolutely pumped about it. Apart from our oldest, all they know about the book is that the only pictures are tiny author headshots. Still, when I first saw the final product, they expressed their enthusiasm in their own unique ways:
Many other friends—some of you are reading this very post—volunteered to help launch Rooting for Rivals. Thank you, thank you.
Four years ago, Mission Drifthit shelves. In the book, we argued faith-based organizations make unique contributions to our world becauseof our Christian identity. And, demonstrated just how common it is for leaders of faith-based organizations to forget that. The continued enthusiasm for this book has surpassed even our high expectations for it. But when Peter and I reflected on the book’s impact, we realized it was incomplete.
Because even if our organizations remain steadfast, we might miss the mark. It is possible our efforts to protect and nourish the Christ-centered identity of our organizations can actually blind us to what exists beyond our organizational borders. In our research for Mission Drift, we met leaders like Wess Stafford, president emeritus at Compassion International. We experienced something in these leaders, but had not fully articulated it: They understood their mission was bigger than the organizational name printed on their business cards. Mission true leaders like Wess volunteered their time, organizational resources, and influence even when there was nothing in it for them. Though HOPE International is far smaller than Compassion, we are also a faith-based international nonprofit. Many of the donors who give to HOPE also give to Compassion. In many respects, we could be considered rivals, peer organizations appearing to compete for funding, staff, or recognition.
Wess didn’t see it that way. Even though we worked at different organizations, he graciously offered assistance. In retrospect, it wasn’t just Wess who modeled this type of radical generosity. This attitude was common with the exemplary leaders we interviewed in Mission Drift. They consistently went out of their way to help. Though they were busy leaders, they always seemed to make time. They shared openly about their models and missions. They answered our questions, and our follow-up questions, and our follow-up-to-the-follow-up questions. They seemed to have nothing to hide from us, no proprietary information or trade secrets. And they offered their time with no strings attached. They talked with us without any guarantees or even expectations we would feature them in the book. They actively pursued our good and not just their own. It was as if they had a calling and passion that superseded their organization—that helping us was in some way part of their mission. They acted as if we weren’t leaders of rival organizations competing for funding or recognition but friends on the same team working toward the same goal. At the core, these leaders seemed to think more about the Kingdom and less about their organization. Of course they cared deeply about the work they do, but they seemed just as passionate about serving others outside the organization. These encounters with Wess and other Mission True leaders left a lasting impression. We learned from these leaders who are even more animated by advancing God’s Kingdom than building great organizations. They were in it for the “long game,” willing to sacrifice time and organizational glory for this larger purpose. This point, which we almost missed, is significant. Beneath the very best mission true organizations are leaders who believe they have a calling beyond building their organizations. They see themselves as part of a much bigger team pursuing a much bigger mission. They root for their rivals.
Two months from now, Rooting for Rivals, our follow-up book to Mission Drift, releases. Peter and I are excited about this project. We had an incredible team behind this book. Dozens of people contributed to this book. Most notably, Jill Heisey provided invaluable research and editorial support over the last 18 months. And, Brianna Lapp served an important coordination role all along the way. Rooting for Rivals would not exist if not for their belief and commitment to this project.
And now we need your help. As we saw with Mission Drift, the months immediately surrounding a book’s release date are the most critical for its success. If you join our launch team (link below), we’ll provide you a free copy of the book and ask you to do four simple tasks this summer. Will you join us?
During the Civil War, nearly all of the great American hotels were destroyed. The Bedford Springs Resort stood resolute, however. Its stately porches and grand pillars held firm through all the fires and fights. Last week, when my family checked into The Bedford in Bedford, Pennsylvania, we stepped back into the 18th century. The technology surpassed the resort’s earliest days, of course. But little else had changed. And that made all the difference.
In 1796, it took guts to make the journey to The Bedford. The train line stopped a day’s journey away. Hotel guests traversed the remaining 21 miles by foot or horseback. Over its two-century existence, the resort’s owners expanded the resort to meet the growing demands of its fan base. The initial draw was the eight mineral springs dotting the mountain property. They were said to hold natural healing powers. The springs are still featured prominently today.
Bedford Springs Resort Indoor Pool (Photo: Matthew Hranek)
The springs feed the indoor pool, which was one of the first built in the nation. We were treated to a few days at The Bedford and we savored each moment. During our stay, our 3-year-old, Desmond, reveled in the pool’s waters. He didn’t necessarily appreciate the ornate pearl tiling and sweeping archways, but mineral water splashes like regular water, so he was happy.
From 1986 to 1998, the Bedford sat vacant. It deteriorated quickly and its fate hung in limbo.
In 1998, new owners purchased the Bedford and renovated back to its former glory. The architects and engineers practiced extraordinary caution in restoring the hotel tastefully. They studied historic photographs and talked to longtime neighbors and former employees. They retained original carpentry and masonry when possible, and replicated the original construction with new construction when they needed to.
With the resort aging and filling with cobwebs, the new owners could have scrapped The Bedford and built a new hotel from scratch. It would have been less costly and much faster than the tedious work of historic restoration. A flashy new luxury resort would have looked beautiful sprawling across the Pennsylvania woodlands. But the owners knew something was trapped in the old timbers and scratched floorboards.
There was value in the history. In the heritage and grandeur of the original walls, the owners knew there was irreplaceable worth. And after a few days staying there, I can attest. The Bedford is majestic. The stone fireplaces and Colonial crown molding separates this place from its modern counterparts. It might sound melodramatic to say a building took my breath away, but that’s exactly what it did. The Bedford stirred my imagination.
Bedford Springs Resort (Photo: Resort web site)
We can make a logical case for the restoration of a physical institution like The Bedford. Visitors can see it and feel it immediately. For institutions of different varieties, however, the value of the history can be much more difficult to detect and protect. Why should a nonprofit or school or business care about its heritage and history? Why should the founder’s story matter?
“[Organizations] need to remember how important it is not to sell off the vision when times are tough,” reflected Fred Smith, president of The Gathering, a community of Christian philanthropists. “It’s like selling the family heirlooms. You have some money but the loss is enormous.”
Nonprofits, particularly, are prone to lose sight of this. For faith-based organizations, too, we quickly auction away the family heirlooms–such as our faith, values and purpose–as if our faith is cursory to the work we do. As if our values and founding identity are interesting, but not integral. But it’s those old timbers—the original architecture and designs—that make our work unique. If we apologize for our faith and soft-pedal its importance, we will lose the very uniqueness our world so desperately needs.
The Bedford is special not because of its modern amenities, but because of its rich view of history and commitment to staying true to its founding vision.
Two of my friends recently quit their jobs at a nonprofit fighting human trafficking, an organization whose work resembles International Justice Mission’s. They both worked there for a few years. Drawn by the organization’s unabashed Christian mission and commitment to work with the poorest of the poor, they both traded potentially lucrative salaries to work what amounted to minimum-wage jobs for this mission.
They entered the jobs with bold expectations and enlivened spirits. But the organization squashed their expectations and enthusiasm. Quickly.
“The best word I can use to describe the work environment is oppressive,” one of my friends shared. “There was no trust.”
This organization engaged in remarkable poverty fighting work. And, as Christians, my friends resonated with the values of their employer. But what they found on the inside was not compelling. It was depressing.
The organization promised to save the world but trampled their employees in the process. After trying for a few years to make it work, my friends both threw in the towel. Tired of seeing colleagues chewed up and spit out by the toxic corporate culture, they quit. The culture sapped the very vibrancy from its employees who joined the organization because of its mission.
Behind the slick web site, its leaders created a divisive environment. Staff retention rates floundered. In my friends’ short tenures there, they saw nearly a complete turnover of the staff.
Closed-door meetings were common. Hushed tones and secrecy wafted through the headquarters. Executive leaders sent conflicting messages to the staff. Leaders shrouded their remarks about the financial state of the organization. It was normal for staffers to gather secretly in hallways to pray for the organization and the constant state of disarray and distrust simmering in the office.
This organization’s leaders created a culture of suspicion and panic. Their web site, marketing brochures and events were captivating, but their internal reality was far from it. A cultural malaise infected the organization and just might end up collapsing it, despite the profound nature of the anti-poverty work they’re advancing.
Culture predicts behavior. Embedded in the rites and rituals, culture takes a life of its own: It’s just what an organization does. And it’s too important to leave to chance.
“Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation,” wrote business consultant Shawn Parr. “A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates.”
In many ways, leaders cultivate corporate culture within faith-based organizations just like they cultivate their own spiritual lives. Spiritual disciplines create cadences and structures for our relationship with God to flourish. Likewise, in marriage, everyday rituals protect and sustain our relationship. Date nights, hand-holding, and shared prayer compose the rhythms of healthy marriages.
“Anyone who has mastered a golf swing or a Bach fugue is a ritual animal: one simply doesn’t achieve such excellence otherwise,” shared James K.A. Smith. “In both cases, ritual is marked by embodied repetition. Ritual recruits our will through our body: the cellist’s fingers become habituated by moving through scale after scale; the golfer’s whole body is trained by a million practice swings. Because we are embodied creatures of habit—God created us that way—we are profoundly shaped by ritual.”
Great organizations get culture. It’s been said we are creatures of habit. Organizations are creatures of shared habits. A lack of healthy habits or proliferation of bad habits will create the space for Mission Drift to occur. Cultivating a purposeful and healthy culture, reinforced by good habits, will carry forward your values and propel your mission forward.
(To protect confidentiality, I have changed the names in this story.)
It started like many good things do: By accident.
On a cold night, Donna and several members of her suburban church showed up at a homeless shelter in an oft-overlooked Philadelphia neighborhood. The shelter, housed in a church basement, epitomized what’s best about urban churches in this country. The founder, Sally*, did her Good Samaritanism with little fanfare. She relentlessly loved the vulnerable on her block, serving up warm food and insatiable cheer to the men and women who walked through the basement doors. Today, however, her life’s work has been sterilized.
Donna and her friends’ volunteerism started so right. When they discovered the basement shelter, they fell in love with both the cause and the leader.
“Sally was a wonderful Christian woman,” Donna said to me as she reminisced. “After five months of serving there, Sally shared with me that we needed to start something for the children.”
And they did. Sally’s vision collided with Donna’s heart. Donna and her husband became the ringleaders. Together with Sally, they soon raised enough money purchase equipment and hire a preschool teacher. The church volunteers rounded out the staff. In just a few months, they launched a thriving urban preschool to complement the shelter. They showed up consistently, without pay, to serve some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children. They served meals, taught Bible stories, sang Christian songs and prayed with the kids. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof once noted that “the further he travels from the capital city” in countries he visits around the world, “the greater the likelihood the aid workers he meets will be from a religious organization.” The same holds true in the back-alleys and forgotten neighborhoods in our cities. The Onion satirically posted the headline, “Local Church Full Of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week.” We might be a little crazy, but at our best, Christians are crazy in ways that surprise our culture. Sally, Donna and their churches showed up where others would not. Compelled by their faith, they served in the selfless way of Jesus.
The influx of children and well-heeled volunteers into Sally’s shelter brought attention to the program. And it soon began growing quickly. Publicity, donations, and needy families flooded the shelter’s doors. Sally’s nonprofit soon experienced what parents call growing pains. Increased exposure meant increased public scrutiny.
“The kitchen needed to meet regulations, understandably,” said Donna. “We needed to have certified food handlers delivering meals. That, essentially, ended the church serving meals. Slowly, our role as a church became more vague.”
As the shelter grew, Sally and Donna’s mission began to fade. The board brought on wealthy benefactors who had deep pockets but a very different vision for the shelter. Month by month, the founding fire dimmed. Bureaucracy supplanted soul. Neutrality replaced conviction. Soon, just a façade of Sally’s mission remained.
“The board brought in a new executive director to replace Sally, the wonderful woman who had run the program for so long,” Donna lamented. “She was a professional social worker, but she didn’t understand the mission.”
Soon, Donna and her church began to feel like they were no longer welcome.
“When we would come from the church, there were no opportunities for us to serve. We set it up overtly Christian. It was there. And it’s no longer there.”
Over the course of just a few years, Sally’s nonprofit experienced Mission Drift. What began as a vibrant partnership between a suburban church and an urban ministry is today a sterile human services agency that scarcely resembles its founding. No Christian staff. No Bible stories. No Sally and no Donna.
“We are no longer involved there,” shared Donna.
Sally and Donna grew their organization from scratch. And today, the agency is highly professional, yet lacks the fervor and tenderness—the Christlikeness—it was founded upon.
I mourn with Sally and Donna. They lost something they cared about deeply. And I mourn for the families and children they used to serve. Because with the new professional management, the neighborhood ultimately loses. Our communities need vibrant faith-based organizations. I believe the shelter’s secularization hurts all of us, even those who do not share Sally and Donna’s beliefs.
There are dire societal consequences for the widespread drift within faith-based nonprofits. In How Children Succeed, bestselling author, Paul Tough, writes about the “hidden power of character.” He posits a compelling case for why America’s nonprofits need to concern themselves less with cognitive skills and more on the softer skills like grit, curiosity, perseverance and self-control. He argues not as a Christian, but as a scholar who has seen what helps at-risk children thrive.
When Sally’s shelter new leaders abandoned Bible lessons on character, ditched their church volunteers and ceased to pray with the students, they stripped the preschool of its most precious asset. What happened at the shelter is what a friend likened to “the selling off of the family heirlooms.” The shelter might have full coffers today, but it’s traded away what mattered most.
Mission Drift is prevalent, but not inevitable. To share the stories of hope, and help the faith-based organizations you love stay true to their founding mission, please consider joining the Mission Drift launch team (the book releases on February 18). Simply email me or leave a comment below to help us spread the word. Below, I’ve posted the newly released video teaser for the book.