February, 2016

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Winning Others Using Your Values

As I finalize to publish my next book on values, I decided to share some contents from the manuscript. Accordingly, I posted a blog for my business clients that aimed at encouraging them to use their values to win others (http://www.successpws.com/?p=1345). I repurposed that the same article to show how we Ethiopians need values-based leadership. In that article, which is posted on many Ethiopian websites, I pointed out that we Ethiopians use faulty parameters to choose and support our leaders such as identity (ethnic, geographic, and gender), qualification, and likeability. My proposal was to use values instead; values like integrity, excellence, and service (http://assegid.com/?p=730)

After getting some amazing feedbacks from readers, I thought repurposing it for my Christian friends. Whether we are aware or not values dictate for whom we vote during elections, how we lead our life, run our church and ministry. Very few of us acknowledge that people take into account our values (both personal and our ministry’s) before they make decisions. Decisions like whether they trust and listen to us, and whether they support and partner with us. That is why we should invest our time, energy, and resources to discover, define, communicate, and refine our values. We need to make conscious and intentional efforts.

The good news is that we have a role model, whose name is Jesus. He led a values-based life and ministry. Yes, we are always tempted to attribute His success and commanding followership to His divinity. However, Jesus deprived us any excuse by insisting that He was the Son of man, and we can do better than He did (John 14: 12). One of the things we should learn from His lifestyle is His values-based leadership. Let’s see, which values Jesus embraced and demonstrated commitment. Jesus valued:

  1. Love. He said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13). When the soldiers came to arrest Him, to protect his disciples out of love, He gave up Himself: “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go” (John 18:8). Not only that, He final laid down His life for the whole humanity. As a result, billions of people in the past more than two centuries loved Jesus back and worshipped Him willingly as their King.
  1. Sense of urgency. He was super committed to His cause. Jesus lived each day with a sense of urgency. Here are two statements that proof His commitment to give His purpose top priority: We should work as long as it is day (John 9:4); and My food is to do the will of him who sent me (John 4:34). With a sense of urgency, Jesus fulfilled His assignment and reported to the Father: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17: 4).
  1. Service. In Matthew 20: 28, Jesus noted that He came not to be served but to serve.” Observing His disciples arguing over who is the greatest among them, Jesus did put forward a guiding principle based on His own value: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). What is more? Jesus didn’t just value service conceptually. He demonstrated loyalty to this value when He washed the feet of His disciples.

What are your values? Have you shared your values? Have you reached out to explain your values to your people within your ministry and to your partners and supporters? Do these values uniquely distinguish you and your ministry from others? Have you demonstrated unwavering commitment to your values? If some of your answers are NO, this is time to roll your sleeves up and work on your values to clearly brand yourself and win others.

The Danger of a Single Story, Christianity, and AHM’s Brand and Story

A blog on the danger of a single story and what to do about it

Recently, I wrote a blog based on Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s Global TED Talk, which was filmed in 2009. The talk was very powerful- over 9 million people have watched it. In that blog, I pointed out that the mainstream media uses a single story of Nigeria, which is corruption, regardless of so many other great stories of Nigeria. I also complained the unfair treatment of the media at world stage against my own country.

Notwithstanding of Ethiopia being one of the two countries in Africa that never been colonized, irrespective of our coffee- one of Starbucks’ signature brands, regardless of our long distance runners who hold multiple world records, the media is obsessed to paint our country with a single story of famine on a consistent basis. It is true, as I write this article, millions of Ethiopians are starving, thanks to the maladministration and faulty policies of the ruling party. But we have so many other great stories that should have been shared to the world. That was why I suggested that we should take some responsibilities to reach out to the world and play our part to share the world our other beautiful stories.

However, I admitted that telling single stories isn’t always a bad thing. It is common companies and individuals brand themselves by constantly narrating favorable single stories. At the end of the blog, I put forward some suggestions on how to tackle distorted single stories, and brand yourself and your business. If you are interested, you may check out my blog from here: http://www.successpws.com/?p=1338

Christianity too is a victim of a single story

After posting this blog, I kept asking myself, aren’t we Christians too victims of a single story? Many people heard again and again a single story about Christianity. This one story running in their mind could be favorable or disparaging depending from where they heard it.

Unlike other religions, Christianity is the most diverse faith in this planet. There are thousands of Christian denominations. Each denomination has its own story why it came to exist. Unfortunately, many people don’t have time or unwilling to spend any energy to know the multiple stories of the thousands of Christian denominations out there. They chose a short cut and fallen victims of a single story, and in turn stereotype all denominations as one and the same.

Branding is the key for the growth and expansion of Churches and Ministries

That being said, each denomination (and each church and ministry within the denomination) should have branded itself and showed to the world how it differs from the rest. Prospective followers should have been given a clear choice. It should be straightforward for them to choose which denomination they would like to follow.

The reality on the ground, however, is disappointing. Each denomination hasn’t uniquely positioned itself to serve the BODY (The BODY of Christ) according to its distinctiveness. Followers are unable to differentiate which part plays which role, and join the one whose mission and brand resonates with them- the one they are called to join and serve with.

The problem is that many churches and ministries aren’t intentional about branding. Branding is key, especially in the 21st C, for the growth and expansion of churches and ministries. After all, the end goal of all denominations and their members should be to reach out to the world but that cannot happen without growth. To meet this goal, we need each part working their unique role while marching forward as one cohesive BODY. Branding could help each part to identify its rightful lane and remain on that course until it reaches the finishing line.

Ethiopian churches are plagued by the lack of branding

Let me give you a good example. In our community, we have duplicate parts (Churches and Ministries). Recently, following my blog I mentioned above, I was chatting with a friend about some of the churches and ministries we both know in the DC metro area alone. We attempted to figure out their brands. We couldn’t. All of them have the same mission and goal with different wordings.

You cannot see any major brand difference. Most of them tell you the same story with different spicing. When you ask churchgoers why they frequent to that particular church, they tell you because it has childcare or free parking or it’s very close to where they live or because they know the preacher.

Please note that I’m not complaining about the great services our churches and ministries have been providing to our people. We need as many churches and ministries as possible as far as they pick their own single lane. The problem is that many of them haven’t come up with a single unique story true to who they are and what they stand for. They thread on a single path crowding the field and stumbling one another in the process. Rather than finding their distinctiveness that differentiates them from the rest, and creating a story that reflects this rareness, they appear duplicates.

What is the brand of AHM?

If you’re reading this article on our website or got this in your inbox because you subscribed to our monthly free newsletter, you may ask, have you branded your own ministry before you criticize others? You may wonder whether we walk the talk. That is a legitimate question.

We have been trying our best to brand AHM. As a new ministry served by a part time founder and a couple of volunteers, I have to admit, we haven’t done that much on our brand as much as we wanted. Nevertheless, if you visit our website, you won’t be confused this ministry with another.

Of course, brand is not all about logo, look and feel, and tagline alone. First of all, an organization should be clear about it’s unique mission (the reason of its existence), and choose (discover) values that promote and defend its mission. What is more, brand sticks when there is a unique strong story behind- a story that justifies why it came to exist.

Let me share with you the meaning of our logo, mission, and values to provide you the brand of AHM. At the center of our logo, there is a capital R. It exists for a reason. The ministry’s grand mission is Restoring the glory humanity lost using the restorative messages and works of Jesus. All of our values begin with the letter R. Below are some of our values and their brief description:

1. Redemption– Redemption is the key to regain our lost glory, dominion, and authority as the sons and daughters of God. Humanity must tap into the redemptive messages and works of Jesus if their desire is to reclaim their former glory, before the fall of man, while here on earth, and inherit the eternal Kingdom. We don’t judge and condemn anyone… We are non-judgmental means, we don’t appear as judges authorized to decide who goes to heaven, which ones to hell. We are humble and we understand our jurisdictions. Even Jesus knew His jurisdiction when He said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”…

2. Restoration– Redemption is the gateway for personal salivation. However, the redeemed should get restored fully in their spirit, soul, mind, body, and enjoy all aspects and elements within the redemption package. Until they get restored fully, they should be given second chances, and continually empowered to become restorers. The Ministry strives to raise restorers who restore themselves first, and restore others.

3. Reformation– Our journey towards the likeness of Jesus and God requires us to continually reform our way of life…Not only our life, our relationships, organizations, communities, and nations need to reform themselves towards perfection and excellence

4. Respect for the individual- The Ministry values each and every individual regardless of his or her background, color, race, culture, education, and social status. We are committed to diversity and inclusiveness. That diversity is going to be reflected in our leadership, volunteers, and supporters. We are not talking about lip service here.

Diversity is deep into my being. Fortunately, I grew up in a very diverse community never questioning what blood runs in my friends’ veins. I worked with diverse professionals from different countries while I was still in Ethiopia. As a research assistant at an international research organization, I had a privilege to work with researchers from other African countries, France, Canada, US, German, and so on. Some people consider learning others’ languages and cultures as betrayal to their native language and culture. I don’t see it that way, as much as I am passionate about my own language and culture, I strive to grow, and become mature by showing passion to learn things outside of my little box.

5. Relationship– Relationship is the basis for whatever we do in this Ministry. Relationship creates trust to work together as a community that seeks collective fulfillment…We also believe in having genuine relationship with people from other denominations and religions. We are non-denominational in its fullest meaning.

6. Responsibility– The Ministry remains responsible to run as an accountable organization…We allow people to take responsibility for their mistakes and failures. We don’t entertain scapegoatism. We encourage people to admit their wrong doings before someone else does, and then work towards correcting the error…We raise responsible citizens who are part of the solution in tackling the challenges the 21st century presents. We aren’t interested in theorizing. We don’t discuss and argue about some Biblical texts until we bleed to death to impress others or proof that we have the truth. No one is the custodian of the whole truth. Our preoccupation is to play our unique role and generational assignment as Ambassadors of Jesus in the real world by serving…We are busy doing and serving than talking and cramming ourselves within the four walls of the Church engaging in endless debates and arguments to hair split the Word of God. Our contents, events, and undertakings, at their core, have practical application right here on earth and require our responsibility to implement them to change lives for good.

As you can see, the mission and values of this ministry makes it unique. If you’re interested to read the full description of AHM values, please visit our website (www.assegid.org)

Now, let’s talk about the role of story in branding yourself and organization. For a moment, please think about some successful churches and ministries that you know of. What comes in your mind right away? Is it the mission statement of the church? Or its logo? Or the look and feel of its website? I don’t think so.

My educated guess, as an organizational and leadership development expert, is that the leader of that church immediately came to your mind. Not just that person’s name and appearance; most importantly, the story behind. Whether we like it or not, the story of the founder/leader has influence on the brand of a given church or ministry- and AHM is not exceptional.

So let me share my story briefly and show you that, when we say we are non-denominational, non-judgmental, inclusive, and responsible, it is not for propaganda or lip service purpose.

A quick disclaimer

AHM will continue to embrace more stories of its leaders, volunteers, and supporters. It has a generational assignment, and it isn’t all about one person. But, everything begins from somewhere and it happened that the story of this ministry began with me as a seed. This one seed, however, will sure be multiplied to reach the world. And, those who share our mission, passion, and unique roles in the 21st C, their stories too will be engraved and in turn beautifies the grand story of AHM. The ministry has started working on succession beginning at its infant stage. We have already begun thinking, planning, and will soon start raising the next generation leaders so that AHM doesn’t need to depend on one leader. When the time comes for me to transfer the baton, the ministry will have the right, readily available, and empowered successor (s) to continue its mission to the next generation.

The story behind AHM

My parents’ denomination was Eastern Orthodox, one of the oldest Christian denominations. It’s the dominant denomination in Ethiopia. Many of my relatives and friends back home and here in the US still follow this denomination. I’d been a follower of this denomination half of my life. I’ve to admit that, during most of those years, I wasn’t active as it is the case for many of my peers. That changed in the early 90’s.

One day, a colleague of mine invited me to attend a sermon at Trinity Church in my hometown, Harar- in the eastern part of Ethiopia. The leader of that Church was very dynamic, enlightened, and well educated. If I remember his name correctly: Aba Melake Selam. He allowed us to use his conference room to meet. My colleague and myself were the youth wing leaders of a political party. This colleague used to serve in that church. One day, after our usual meeting, he invited me to attend his sermon. I’m glad I did. Not only I continued to attend, after awhile, I was ‘radicalized’.

That decision transformed my life completely. The credit goes to the transformation God allowed in my life. Like the majority of the youth in my hometown, I was chewing Khat on a consistent basis. For those of you who may not know, Khat is a green leaf considered illegal in the US and in many parts of the world. It induces euphoria though not as powerful as amphetamine drugs. After chewing Khat, most of the time, we go out to drink. When we had enough money, we used to go to a bar and drink beer and other alcoholic drinks; when we were broke, we drank homemade drinks such as Tela and Tej J We were also doing many other bad things- making ourselves busy in destroying our lives quickly. I am grateful to God for giving me a second chance to turn my life around.

Once I was ‘radicalized’, I convinced many of my friends to attend church. Not only that, together with some of my friends, we established a very strong club. This movement attracted the youth in our village. We brought so many great changes within our community. As all new converts do, I still remember us going out to endless debates and argues with our friends who were protestants- to proof them that the truth was only with us.

Soon after, without converting anyone to our denomination, I enrolled at AAU. Since I was at 4-kilo campus in Addis Ababa during my first year, I frequented the same church- Trinity. This church is the largest and historic church in the capital. Initially, everything was okay until some conservatives closed the Sunday afternoon youth service. The reason was that some modern musical instruments had been used to worship. That had offended many of us, and thus, we stopped going to church. Of course, we stop going not because that particular service was closed. We didn’t have an alternative. The teaching we were accustomed to do not exist anywhere in the area. The ones we attended unable to help us grow. Finally, we felt that we were wasting our time.

During my spiritual exile years, I was engrossed in my schoolwork until a classmate of mine, who was an Evangelical, took me to his church at 6-kilo in the mid 90’s. Again, I got ‘radicalized’. By nature, if I’m persuaded that a cause is worthy, I give it 100% of myself until it proofs me otherwise. As you might have guessed it right, I began going out to argue endlessly in an attempt to convert some of my Orthodox churchgoer friends to the protestant denomination. Here also, I thought the truth was only with us. Since 2007/8 up until recently, I had been invited to preach in some protestant churches in the DC metro area and Philadelphia. I’ve even conducted leadership bible studies and arranged mentoring programs for Pastors and Ministers of these churches who were passionate about growing themselves as leaders.

Throughout the years, since the mid 90’s, however, I remained a student and open to acquaint myself to many other denominations’ and religions’ teachings. I’ve attended and listened countless sermons and read lots of books written by leaders from diverse denominations. When you are humble, teachable, and willing to allow your ego brushed, you grow in your faith, and expand your perspectives.

One of my personal values is The Truth. I was and still willing to do anything under my power to know the truth. When I encounter a superior truth than what I have known at that point, it doesn’t take me long to pledge allegiance to the greater truth. I made a decision long time ago that my loyalty is not for a denomination; it’s for the truth. Of course, it takes courage to question the truth you have already known and expose yourself to a higher truth. Most of all, it takes faith and valor to remain loyal to the newly discovered truth.

This lifestyle of mine is not common. People avoid it because it is costly. Most of the time, the truth costs you friends, and even more. But, I figured, I live in this world ones. I don’t care how many years I live in it. I’m eternal. Once I’m done here, I’ll continue to exist in another form. That is why I’m not scared of death, failure, setbacks, and so on. As far as I am alive here on this planet, however, I’ll remain loyal to the ALL KNOWING God, and the truth He introduces me. I could have already been imprisoned, or even dead long time ago if it were not for Him. I owe Him big time. On each day that I’m allowed to live on earth, I’ll make it worth by living up to the truth I discover. I am willing to pay the price for knowing the highest truth about the most important things in life. It has cost me direly so far but no regret.

One of the prices is to constantly take break from my busy schedule to stay inside my room for days and sometimes for weeks. During those instances, I read a lot, watch, and listen the wisdoms of great motivational speakers, and thought leaders including spiritual teachers. This commitment to grow paid off. My knowledge has been expanded, and the more I knew the truth, the more I became free- free from taking side with any denomination. I learned that the truth is neutral. There is no one denomination that is the embodiment and custodian of the whole truth.

This transformation humbled, and led me to learn from anyone regardless of his or her denomination. That is why I work and socialize with people including those from religions other than Christianity. Through these interactions, I learn a lot from them. The confidence is the guidance of God’s Spirit. Of course, I don’t sway easily and embrace everything I hear. When I hear the truth- regardless of who said it, I get confirmation from within. The point is, rather than falling into a single story that could have prevented me from learning from diverse people, I allowed myself to hear multitude stories of Christian denominations.

This sacred journey finally convinced me that regardless of our difference in dogma and doctrines, we all Christians have one thing we all share. The common denominator is Jesus, and that should bring us together. And, rather than splitting hairs and demonizing one another to proof that one has the whole truth and the rest goes to hell, I took up on myself to promote the beauty of diversity and inclusion. That is why I am writing about the significance of branding. I was persuaded that each denomination and its members should bring out its uniqueness, brand themselves, and serve the BODY with the assignment each one of us has been given.

That was why I formed a non-denominational Ministry to work with all denominations of Christianity using my talent and gifting. From my experience, you won’t have enough flexibility if you remain within a denomination. You’re capped- you won’t grow. You hear the same thing again and again. You’re not allowed to fellowship and work with other denominations; otherwise, you’ll be culled. Worst, you’re expected to look the other way when you find out some of the governing thoughts and doctrines of a denomination are far from the truth. That doesn’t cut it for me. I like what Henry David Thoreau’s said, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

And therefore, in 2012 while I was still studying at Regent University to earn my Doctor of Strategic Leadership, I registered the ministry in Maryland. The ministry began serving the local Evangelical churches and Ministers since then. Its vision, however, is to reach out to other denominations within the metro area and beyond.

I’m sharing this story with you to show you how the ministry began, why, and its root. The story showed you why I decided to become non-denominational. Let me give you some more examples to show you how my life and then the ministry became non-judgmental, inclusive, and practical.

I grew up in Harar, a very diverse city. In our village, we consider ourselves as brothers and sisters regardless of our ethnic and religious background. I can go and eat and even sleep in one of my friends’ home without announcing ahead, and vice versa. We never cared whether our friends are Oromo, Amhara, Tigrai, Gurage, Muslim, or Eritrean. I had a Muslim friend whose house myself and my youth hood friend were frequenting. During their fasting season, we sometimes go there and spend the whole night chewing Khat with them and making fun. I had an Eritrean friend, and I considered his family as if they were mine.

I’ve been a youth and student leader, politician- out there in the real world serving wherever I found myself. I never locked myself within the four walls of the church. There were spiritual friends, mentors, and mentees who argued with me that I should not involve, especially in politics since I’m now spiritual. These are pacifists (even naïve) who never got the whole purpose of being a believer and spiritual. It’s to serve and bring positive changes in the lives of God’s people, not to hide behind the four walls of the church and play religion. There shouldn’t be any field or industry we should avoid. Jesus sent His disciples to change the world, to become salts and lights. We should be in business, politics, research, art, media, and so on.

Each one of us has a purpose and assignment we should identify, pursue, and fulfill. For some of us, it is bringing change in our community, and this assignment may require us to involve in what is going on in the world. My purpose in life, for instance, demands me to be practical and involve in bringing social changes by playing my share toward empowering individuals to become great leaders. I understand that someone’s purpose is different than mine. It could be just teaching without demonstrating what they teach. Nonetheless, it is unacceptable to impose our purpose on others and ask them to deny who they think they’re, and abandon their life’s assignment to fit in.

I’m also a trainer, I go out to serve people from diverse religions and cultural backgrounds. In 2008, I had a dear friend. He was stunned and even attempted to talk me out when I told him that I had arranged a workshop at down town Silver Spring Meditation Museum. As a Christian, he thought, we shouldn’t work with people from other religions and use their space. As recent as a couple of months ago, I was serving as a producer at ESAT, which has many Muslim viewers. I’ve been and still in the real world. I have been a leader, and change agent. Wherever I find myself, I commit myself to live up to my three dominant personal core values.

I’ve already told you one of them (The Truth). My other two values are Excellence and Sense of Urgency. Sometimes people mistake me as a perfectionist. The truth of the matter is, whatever I do, I attempt to do it excellently, and I expect people who work with me respect it and allow me to live up to its expectation. For the frustration of some of the people I interact with, I’m committed to capitalize on every minute I’m given. When some people abuse my time, I get mad, really mad 🙂 More than one and a half decade ago; I was lucky to work with scientists who instilled this value in me. Since then, I’ve tried to live each day as if it is my last.

My personal values, as you can appreciate, are intertwined with the ministry’s values, and are reflected on its brand. Any one who resonates with this story, any one who is called to ride on this lane, any one burdened to influence the real world, is welcomed to this ministry to serve and be served. We don’t compromise our brand. We don’t attempt to appease anyone.

In conclusion, our ministry is practical, inclusive, non-denominational, and non-judgmental. Its unique role is to empower Christians, who in turn go out to the real world as salts and lights to change the world for good. We raise change agents and restorers. They not only serve all Christian denominations, but also any one regardless of their religious affiliations using their talent and gifting. We work with Christians from all denominations, Muslims, followers of New Age Movement, Buddhism, and so on. That is our brand. That is our story. We hope you join us. We cannot wait to embrace your story, and share it to the world. Follow us on Twitter (https://twitter.com/assegidhm), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AssegidHabtewoldMinistriesInc), and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/assegidh-ministries-67651664), and also subscribe to our monthly newsletter for free by going at our website www.assegid.org