Honoring the Learning Legacy of Lyle Schaller

Lyle Schaller, one of the most influential voices in the American church since the 1960s, passed away on March 18 at age 91.

Like many church leaders my age (57) Lyle Schaller was an early – and often – mentor via his writings. Although I was fortunate to hear him speak several times, it was his writing prowess that captured my mind.

After graduating from college with an accounting degree, but knowing I had been called into ministry, I began my theological studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981. My calling was specific – and off the beaten path, at least at that time.

My calling was that of a support role, a second-chair leadership role, providing leadership and direction to churches in the area of business administration, facilities management, and communications. When I began my seminary studies, there wasn’t a track in that area, but I was able to link together combination of classes in my field of choice that laid a solid foundation for my continuing education – both on the field as a staff member for 23 years, and as a consultant for an additional 11 years to date.

Central to that foundation was the work that Lyle Schaller had been doing since the late 1960s, when he left a career in urban planning to go to seminary, pastoring for several years, but then moving to his true calling: that of a consultant to churches.

Schaller’s books were required reading for all my classes in administration and leadership. My first trip to the seminary bookstore included not only Old Testament, theology, and church history textbooks, but a healthy selection of small (compared to the others) books by Schaller. The first title in my growing collection of his books was “Parish Planning: How to Get Things Done in Your Church.”

With all my college business administration classes fresh in mind, Schaller’s writings were like a deep breath walking into my mother’s kitchen after being away for a while – the aroma of wonderful food bringing both a comfort of being “home” and the promise of good things to follow.

Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed my required Bible, theology, and church history classes (so much that my seminary minor was in Baptist History). But the way Schaller wrote about “business” stuff in a “church” world really resonated with me.

My advisor and primary professor, Dr. Ralph Hardee, introduced me to a whole new world of Schaller’s work, even that beyond his books. Columns from magazines and articles from newsletters soon joined my growing library of Schaller’s works (now numbering over 50 books, a portion you see below).

SchallerLibrary

Almost as soon as I began my seminary studies, I also began serving on a church staff. As the newest of a 15-member vocational ministry staff, I was eager to accept the mentoring given to me by the other staff members. It didn’t take long to see that they, too, had been influenced by Lyle Schaller in their early formative years over the past decades. Many times I remember a conversation among our staff beginning with the words, “Lyle Schaller has this to say about…”

Following graduation from seminary I stayed on at that church staff, and my education began in earnest – you know, the “real world” that comes crashing in on newly graduated students!

Part of that real world also included connecting with other leaders in churches and organizations across the country – the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), Leadership Network, NACBA, NACDB, NACFA – hundreds of peers.

It didn’t take long in our conversations for Schaller’s name to come up: “ We’re dealing with (insert problem here) and this is what Lyle Schaller wrote about it.” We would all nod, and add our own experience and Schaller connection to the conversation.

As my responsibilities soon outpaced my knowledge, I began to immerse myself not just in the works of Lyle Schaller, but in what I consider to be his most important gift to all church leaders – the importance of asking questions.

As Schaller interacted with church leaders, he sifted through their stories by asking, “What have you learned that I need to know?” He says that’s a much better question than, “What do you think we should do?”

- Warren Bird – Wisdom from Lyle Schaller

That quote above, for me, sums up the ongoing contribution that Lyle Schaller has made to my personal growth and development as a church leader.

Or, he stated it,

The moral is that you can learn more by listening than by talking, more by asking questions than offering answers.

The organization I work for, Auxano, has been heavily influenced by Lyle Schaller. Our Founder, Will Mancini, calls Schaller “the prototype for Auxano’s Navigators (consultants).”

In a small way to honor Lyle Schaller for the contributions he has made to the life and legacy of the American Church, many of our team will be writing, Tweeting, and posting to Facebook and Instagram today.

We’re using #LyleLearnings to connect the thoughts of not only our team but many others. If you haven’t already, do a quick search of that hashtag – #LyleLearnings – and you will become the next in a long line of eager learners impacted by Lyle E. Schaller.

I close with a Scripture that came to mind as soon as I learned of Schaller’s death:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

- 2 Timothy 2:2

2Tim22

That’s four generations of learning – from Paul to Timothy to faithful men to others.

That was Lyle Schaller.

May his firm but graceful way of asking questions continue to be passed on for generations to come.

 

LyleSchaller

Lyle Schaller 1923-2015

Invisible Perfection

What the Diner (Hopefully) Doesn’t Notice

At Le Bernardin, one of New York’s premier four-star restaurants, excellence happens best when it’s not seen at all. A meal there is usually so relaxed and gracious, it’s hard to imagine the military precision with which the dining room is run.

• Before meals, the area is prepared according to checklist

• During meals, all staff adhere to strict training guidelines

• A florist makes a daily flower change on all the tables

• Silver and flatware get a weekly polish in a burnishing machine

• The concept of “mise en place” – put in place – extends to the dining room as well as kitchen

Le Bernardin

Le Bernardin

When we succeed, it looks effortless, but it’s not. It’s all codified into different organizations. It’s totally controlled – and the guest should have no idea

- Executive Chef Eric Ripert

Can you say the same about your organization and its interactions with guests?

Why not?

 

photo courtesy Kok Chih, CC

The Elements of Service

The center of attention in a four-star restaurant may be the food, but it’s the service before, during, and after that creates the experience.

Chef Eric Ripert

Chef Eric Ripert

At Le Bernardin in New York City, the service is as much the creation of Executive Chef Eric Ripert as is his exquisite dishes. Along with the restaurant’s founder Maguy Le Coze, Ripert has created the elements of service that keep Le Bernardin at the top of its class.

Hiring – while they prefer staff with a two- or three- star background, they have been known to go with their gut instinct and hire the people they like, those that have the demeanor and willingness to please.

Training – the standard of perseverance and constant training is set at the top and carried throughout the organization. General manager David Mancini and Maitre d’ Ben Chekroun want each hire to know what goes into every other job on the floor. The constant cross-training that goes on enables the entire staff from the captains to the busboys to operate in a seamless, fluid manner.

Knowledge – The level of service expected by customers at Le Bernardin is matched and exceeded by the knowledge the staff constantly pursues. From the technical side (knowing the menu by heart, how each serving is prepared, the correct place settings, etc.) to the human aspect (learning to watch guests for clues, anticipating their needs), the staff is always learning.

Attitude – over the years the atmosphere has become less formal, but Le Bernardin’s staff will provide what you are looking for: to celebrate, to eat, to do business, to entertain the family. Their goal is for you to enjoy the experience and leave happy with a smile.

The Sixth Sense – Chekroun says that the ability to read a guest is the key to providing four-star service. “You can tell if someone is used to a four-star restaurant or it’s their first time. It’s our job to put them at ease no matter the situation. Intuition is very important on the floor – before a guest can ask “Where’s my waiter?” you must be there.”

Teamwork – At Le Bernardin, service is like the proverbial chain – a weak link will compromise the whole thing. Anyone on the chain, from the time you make a reservation till the moment you leave, can ruin the experience. It’s all about functioning as a team; even though the service is broken into sections, that’s merely strategic. The entire team is expected to understand the ebb and flow of the service and step in before needed.

Presentation – The hallmark of the food at Le Bernardin is the exquisite simplicity of the food, which calls for adding the final touch at the table. The sauces for the meal are served at the table, which provides several advantages: warmer service, better flavors, and eye-catching presentations.

Hungry yet?

Okay, let’s step away from the elegance of Le Bernardin and visit your church. Is it too big a jump to imagine that your guest services need to have the same elements of service as a four-star restaurant?

I think not.

In each of the areas above, why don’t you brainstorm how you can deliver four-star hospitality to your guests?

 

photo courtesy Kok Chih, CC

The Dining Experience…

…at a four-star restaurant provides excellent lessons for hospitality in the church.

With one son who is a chef and kitchen manager for a national restaurant chain and another who just finished four years of culinary school and is working as a line cook in one of Charlotte’s top-rated restaurants, I have a serious interest in all things food. My waistline also shows that, but that’s another story.

One of my favorite genres of books is that of the food industry, especially those that give a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the kitchen and dining room.

During a visit to my older son’s house I was perusing his bookshelf and took a look at “On the Line“, about the famous New York restaurant Le Bernardin and Executive Chef Eric Ripert. It’s a well-written and beautifully photographed look at the inner workings of the world-famous restaurant.

It’s also full of great lessons for churches that want to have world-class guest services.

Your church will not be serving exquisite meals that diners pay big bucks for – but your church can learn that the meal is only a part of the total dining experience.

The Dining Experience

One of the things that diners remark upon after eating at Le Bernardin is that the service is almost invisible. By the end of the meal, you’ve been helped by as many as seven people, but you can’t quite identify them. Although friendly and available, they work out of your field of attention so that you can focus on the food, and companions, in front of you.

While it might seem effortless, it’s a rigorous ballet that requires training and focus. The men and women juggle a plethora of details in their heads while projecting an air of gracious calm.

We have to perform to give you an illusion of effortless perfection. For you to have the right food in front of you at the right time, excellent and at the right temperature, and obviously having clean china – all those little details you’d never think of are vital

- Eric Ripert

In an earlier post, I introduced Le Bernardin’s “The List,”  as a way to think about the guest services practices at your church. I hope you’ll join in on the rest of the conversation over the next few days.

No Excuses Allowed

In Mrs. Soeesby’s Senior English class it was simply called “The List.” In letters large enough to see from anywhere in the classroom, it started above the door to the class and went all the way round the room. Each item was numbered. By the time she retired (between our second and third child’s journey through Senior English), the list was over 100 items.

The list was excuses she had heard over the years from students for not turning in their work on time.

Ever the efficient teacher, she simply required the student to write the number on a blank piece of paper and turn it in.

At Le Bernardin, one of New York’s premier four-star restaurants, co-founder Maguy Le Coze and maître d’ Ben Chekroun give new service staff a list, too – 129 details, aka “Monumentally Magnificent Trivialities” to keep in mind at all times.

Here are a few samples:

• Acknowledging guests with eye contact and smile within 30 seconds; First Impressions count!

• Not thanking guests as they leave; Last Impression!

• Not opening the front door for guests

• Being too familiar or excessively chatty

• No sense of humor

• Lack of eye contact

• Not having total focus when talking to guests

• Not really listening when spoken to

• Appearing stressed or out of control

• Not establishing rapport with the guests

• Inability to answer basic questions

• Poor personal sanitation practices

• Standing around doing nothing

• Pointing

• Walking past dropped items/trash on floor

• Excuses for anything-anytime

It’s a constant battle to keep everything consistent and up to the established standards.

Do you have a list for your Guest Services team?

You should…

The Words We Use: How Our Lives Create Our Language

It’s amazing how our brain can connect events separated by several years and spur us on to discover more about the world around us.

A few years ago I was consulting with a church in the Bronx, and fascinated by the subway there. Last year, I spent several days in a hotel in Nashville, TN that had its origins as the train station for the L&N railroad – which I traveled on as a boy to St. Louis, MO. Last fall, I flew into Baltimore and took the train from the airport to Union Station in DC, where I had a couple of days of meetings and sightseeing.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that this curiosity turned to recreational research in the world of books: histories of subways in general, the ones in New York City in particular, and histories of railroads, starting with the ones in and around New York City.

Reading the book Grand Central last night, two particular passages caught my eye:

Not long after the Harlem Railroad linked the teeming city of New York to country homes in Harlem, what would become the Bronx, and the Westchester and to small Hudson Valley villages, a perceptive railroad superintendent remembered only as M. Sloat noticed a new class of customer: the repeat passenger, whose to-and-fro trips to work and home represented a potential marketing bonanza. Seizing the opportunity, the railroad initiated an imaginative fare structure for tickets based on a onetime passage or even a round trip, but on unlimited rides for six months or a full year at a steep discount from the single-fare rate.

The full fare was commuted, and with one bold entrepreneurial stroke the commuter – in name, at the very least – was officially born.

GrandCentralTerminal

courtesy Paolo Villenaeua

 

Cornelius Vanderbilt (owner of the above mentioned Harlem line), the steamboat tycoon turned railroad magnate, had an on-again, off-again relationship with Daniel Drew, a devilishly clever Wall Street buccaneer.

Drew’s reputation for bloating his cattle by quenching their thirst before delivering them to market and for later outwitting Vanderbilt by diluting Erie Railroad shares would give rise to a double meaning of the term watered-down stock.

The origins of words are fascinating. Here are two terms commonly used in our vocabulary today that were taken from the 1870s. They exist because of the rapidly ascending influence of new technology and industry – the railroad.

I wonder – what words are we creating today from the digital world we live in?

Quotes from Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, by Sam Roberts

Is It True Collaboration… or Is It a Team?

At Auxano, we practice what we preach.

Our primary tool for working with organizations is the Vision Frame, consisting of Mission, Values, Strategy, Measures, and Vision Proper. Before we led the first client through the process over 11 years ago, the original team of Will Mancini, Jim Randall, and Cheryl Marting worked out Auxano’s Vision Frame – which we still follow today.

One of our Values is Collaborative Genius, which is accomplished partly by the fact that we are a virtual company of over 20 team members living in 15 cities across 4 time zones.

I only thought I knew what collaboration meant!

In my adult work career, I have served as the accountant in an office setting for a food services company, an audiovisual technician as part of a team of 7 for a seminary, various roles on 3 church staff teams, a church consultant for a design-build company, and as the Vision Room Curator for Auxano.

That’s 34+ years in an environment of multiple team members, ostensibly working together for the good of the organization.

Was I collaborating with others, or merely part of a team?

Collaboration is not the same thing as teamwork. Teamwork is simply doing your part. Collaboration involves leveraging the power of every individual to bring out each other’s strengths and differences.  – Greg Cox, COO, Dale Carnegie, Chicago

At Auxano, we don’t just do our part, we collaborate to deliver excellence in all we do. Here’s a great example: our book summaries for leaders, now called SUMS Remix.

The original concept of SUMS was dreamed up by our founder, Will Mancini. When I joined Auxano as Vision Room Curator, it was natural that the SUMS project fall under my guidance. Working from a curated list of books with a focus on the Vision Frame, I read the designated book and wrote the draft summary with recommended resources. I then oversaw the following process:

  • Proofing by Mike Gammill, a scholar and grammatical genius
  • Navigator Applications written by 4 of our full-time Navigators, applying the concepts to the local church leadership context thru their unique lenspowered by auxano
  • Editing by Cheryl Marting, who has eagle eyes
  • Review editing by Angela Reed, a production editor at our parent company, LifeWay
  • Design by James Bethany and our Creative Team, who produce a visual masterpiece every time
  • Final review and approval by Will

Beginning in the fall of 2012, every two weeks, a SUMS was distributed to the SUMS subscriber list. Practically every day of that two weeks, some of the actions above were taking place within our team as we work on multiple books at the same time.

That’s collaboration.

As we neared the end of our second year of SUMS, Will and I refined a concept that came to be called SUMS Remix. Instead of a single summary of one book, SUMS Remix consists of brief excerpts of three books, focused on providing simple solutions to a common problem statement that ministry leaders are facing every week in their churches.

SUMS Remix launched in November of 2014, and we are still releasing an issue every two weeks. And a similar collaboration process described above is still taking place.

Want to see the end product of that collaboration? You can learn more about SUMS Remix here.

Midnight LunchI’m indebted to Sara Miller Caldicott, great grandniece of Thomas Edison and author of the book Midnight Lunch, for translating Edison’s world-changing innovation methods for use in the 21st century. Here are some of her thoughts on collaboration:

True collaboration embraces:

  • A discovery learning mindset versus a pure task orientation
  • A belief in anticipating and creating rather than merely reacting and responding
  • Presence of inspiration across multiple facets of both individual and team endeavors
  • Coherence of purpose
  • A dedication to elevating the performance of every team member
  • Connections to human and social networks of influence

Do these qualities sound different from the ones valued by your team? Do they draw upon ideas that feel new or seem broader than your current concept of what teamwork embraces?

Based on my experience, the answer would be yes.

So what are you going to do about it?