Leadership Lessons from Blockbuster, Pt. 2: The dueling philosophies

If you are just joining me on this journey, I want to let you know that this is 6-part series which I have titled “Leadership-Lessons From Blockbuster.”  I know, it’s a weird title.  But I think you and I can see the value in learning lessons from others, especially lessons on how to avoid the mistakes that others made.  I’d like to suggest to you that it might be helpful to read these articles in order as they will build on one another.  But, hey, I won’t know what order you read them!  So if you are a natural-born-rebel, then knock yourself out.

In the last article we looked at the decline of the movie-rental giant, Blockbuster.  For the executives at Blockbuster, the decline took them from hero-to-zero in a matter of just ten short years.  Their decline had absolutely nothing to do with the cultures interest in watching movies, which was what the business was founded on. Instead, it had everything to do with the way the culture was accessing movies, aka- the “method.” For the Church,  I believe we can learn a lot here.  

But before we get to that, allow me to tell you a quick story:

When I was growing up my dad had a large red toolbox that sat inside our shed.  It was filled with all kinds of screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets and the like.  The tools were all Craftsman brand.  I remember going with him to Sears department store to pick out new Craftsman tools and hearing him talk about why Craftsman tools were the best. “They have a lifetime guarantee. If anything ever happens to it, they’ll replace it for free!”  It’s true! In 1927 Sears & Roebuck began selling the Craftsman line of tools with a lifetime warranty: 

If for any reason your Craftsman hand tool ever fails to provide complete satisfaction, return it to any Sears store or other Craftsman outlet in the United States for free repair or replacement.

My dad was right – that is a good deal! And that good deal spoke into the heads and wallets of a a lot of people.  In fact, I think it helped shape a way of thinking which I call the ‘Craftsman philosophy.’ The Craftsman philosophy goes something like this: ‘We have a great design.  It’s so great that it is meant to last a lifetime! If it doesn’t, it means there is something wrong or defective.’  The focus here is that the only reason something would need to be changed is if it was bad or flawed

Someone who tends to adhere to the Craftsman philosophy might make statements like:

“They sure don’t make them like they use to!”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“I don’t mind change, as long as it doesn’t effect me.”

Do those statements sound like you?  If so, that’s ok! That is a philosophy that you share with a lot of other people.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the Craftsman philosophy… except that people who adhere to that philosophy generally come in conflict with another way of thinking – the “Apple Philosophy.”

As you might know, the Apple Computer Company was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Ronald Wayne and Steve Wozniak. Since that time, Apple has continued producing more innovative, quicker and more improved devices.  They are continually working on the next iPhone  – at which time people will run out to purchase because of the latest upgrades and improvements.  In 2018, Apple became the first U.S. company with a market cap of over one-trillion dollars. Yes, you read that right… one-trillion!  They have hit success with something I refer to as the Apple philosophy, which sounds something like this: ‘We have a great design, but we know we can make it better. We will continue to challenge ourselves to improve and develop what we have. If we don’t, it means that we have become stagnant and unable to push ourselves to make things excellent.” The focus here is that change must happen to continue to make things better and prevent mediocrity. 

Someone who tends to adhere to the Apple philosophy might make statements like:

“How can we make this better?”

“When is the last time we changed ________?”

“What have you been reading/ listening to/ watching lately?” 

Do those statements sound like you?  If so, that’s ok too! It’s a philosophy you share with a lot of other people.  

As I have mentioned, there is nothing inherently wrong with either of these philosophies, yet, if we are not aware of how these philosophies operate in our life, culture, and even in our churches, we can run the risk of having some serious issues.

The executives of Blockbuster had developed a Craftsman philosophy.  They were a well-oiled machine and sat atop of their industry for a long time.  Their demise happened, however, when they discredited the voice of Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, who encouraged them to take their methods of distributing movies and think about changing it and making it different.  

For the Blockbuster executives, there was no reason to change what was not broken.  They still had customers, we doing well enough financially and needn’t bother with thinking about how the culture was shifting and how that might eventually effect them.

Have I set the stage for you to begin to see one of the issues we are facing as a church? It probably doesn’t matter where you attend church, you can see the two ‘camps’ of people.  Those who don’t want change because, for them, change equates a defect or problem (and as they see it, there is no problem) and those who are begging and pleading for change because, for them, a lack of change means that things have become stagnant and mediocre.

It is likely that you fall into one of these two camps yourself.  

Maybe you are the person who is sick of seeing the articles written about why Millennials are leaving the church and you wonder why we can’t just all go back to how things were in the church years ago.  You might even believe that all the changes the church has made in the past decade or two has actually led to the deceased in church attendance, giving, faithfulness, etc.  You don’t understand why it feels like people are constantly trying to “change things up” at your church with the songs/ order of worship/ ministries/ etc.  These things were good enough for your parents and for you – so why couldn’t/ shouldn’t they be good enough for people today?  Maybe it feels like a constant barrage of “change this and change that” and you just want it all it stop for a minute. You don’t see yourself as stuck-in-your-ways, you see yourself as being faithful to what has been passed down to you.

Maybe you are the person who is so ready for change because, inside, you feel like you are slowly dying. You believe in God but struggle with the idea of the church because, from where you sit, she seems so broken, stagnant or mediocre. You aren’t wanting to offend people at your church, but what you see and experience there is not something you would feel comfortable inviting your friends or co-workers to.  You might be tired of feeling like there is endless ‘red-tape’ to changes in the church, constant pushback to any new ideas, and even the “new songs” your church sings are a far cry from being new.  You don’t see yourself as being a change-agent, you see yourself as wanting to present to church as a relevant source of hope to the world around it.

Often times, when these two camps reside in the same church at the same time if can feel like a divorced couple sharing a house.  There is tension in the air and almost everyone feels it (including your visitors). No one is happy, joyful or really even focused on the mission of “going and making disciples.” They are just trying to see how long they can outlast the other camp.

No, I haven’t been spying on your church.  It’s just clear that these are the two camps the church is facing today because they are prevalent in our society. 

So, what do we do about it? Believe it or not, there is a better answer than just to part and do things our own way.  I believe Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, was on to something when he tried to merge with Blockbuster.  Maybe he was keyed in to a truth that we understand from Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part.”  The truth is, while it can be difficult and even painful at times, we function best as a body of Christ when we are willing to function together.

Can I give you just a few words of advice and then I will stop meddling? 

Let me talk to those of you who identify with the ‘Craftsman philosophy’ camp.  I see your heart and I understand your fear.  I know that you want to be faithful, so my question is: “Are you being effective in the mission God has given you?”  You have a mission to “go and make disciples.”  But the problem is, the current culture doesn’t seem to be drawn-in by your service, your style, your ministries. Essentially, your “methods” are not helping you achieve the mission.  You and I can remember when the methods were working well.  But, my friend, times have changed! I beg of you not to change the mission, but consider changing the methods.  One of the best ways you can begin is by surrounding yourself with ‘Apple philosophy’ camp folks.  Ask them questions, sit and listen, and don’t get defensive.  When your toes start to curl with the thought of changing things, think about the executives at Blockbuster.  They had the opportunity to join forces with something outside the box that would have helped them grow into the future, but instead, they closed their ears (and the door) to the ‘make it better’ mentality.  Craftsman philosophy camp, if you want your church to grow in the next generation, it’s time to begin turning over decisions to them.  Walk alongside of them.  Encourage them. Support them.  Defend them.  Empower them. You may not always see the need for change, but that is why God placed these people in your path! You need them, and God wants to use the, to help the church reach out and grow into the future. 

Now, for my folks ‘Apple philosophy’ camp. I see your heart and I understand your frustration. I know that you want to make the church a better place, but my question is: “Are you complaining about the church more than you are praying for it?” It is easy to complain when things don’t go the way you think they should, but it is more spiritually beneficial to pray/ serve/ and build up your church!  The truth is, no matter what changes happen with your church it will still be full of broken people and things will never be perfect.  So, if you are waiting for the ‘perfect church’ to come along you are going to be sorely disappointed. I know you hate this word, but be patient.  After all, when Paul describes the church as a body he stated that love was the greatest gift we could possess… and “love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4). That doesn’t mean that you should give up on making the church better.  But it also means that you cannot give up on people. There is a generation before you who paved the way for the ground you are standing on (Hey, some of them even taught your bible class when you were in diapers). Can you view them for more than just “obstacles in the way” of what you hope your church will become?  They are brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, if you take time to listen to them and build relationship with them you might find that they can add significant depth to your own personal walk with Christ.  

As we have already covered, the Churches of Christ are on a decline. But we don’t have to continue that way. It is time to ask ourselves the difficult questions: “Are we more attached to our methods than our mission?  Are we actively measuring if our methods of “going and making disciples” are being effective?  What do we need to do, as a church, to grow as we go in the future?  We need to simultaneously affirm, love and respect those who have paved the way before us while empowering and supporting the next generation to take the baton and move into the future.  

As I have mentioned, this is a 6-part series and I hope you will join me with part 3 coming soon as we will look at the parable of the lost sheep and discover another Leadership-Lesson from Blockbuster!    

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