The Stinking Rose: A Lesson in Focus and Clarity

Leadership is about making choices.

Some of you are engaged in the art of starting new enterprises. As you begin, you face important decisions.

  • What business are we really in?
  • Who is our audience?
  • What else is out there?

I recently flew into San Francisco to visit with social and spiritual entrepreneurs, Gordon and Leanne Wohlers. Gordon and Leanne are engaged in a very challenging field and I wanted to treat them to something special. So we headed over to a restaurant Leanne had heard about in North Beach called The Stinking Rose. It was there that we learned something about the power of focus.

The Stinking Rose is a restaurant that loves garlic. Loves.

We began our evening with an appetizer called a “bagna calda” which is a dip of garlic cloves, olive oil, and a hint of anchovy all soaking in a hut tub.

We ordered three dishes. The first dish was a Zuppa di Pesco which is a soup comprised of mussels, crab, fresh fish, calamari, and shrimp in a spicy tomato and brodetto in a garlic sauce.

The second dish was a Chicken asparagus pasta which included fettuccini, roasted tomatoes, garlic, and pine nuts.

The third dish was a garlic prime rib –served medium rare– infused with garlic and basted in garlic served with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a creamy spinach.

Are you smelling a theme? Everything on the menu had garlic. The text at the bottom of the menu read:

“We season our garlic with a little bit of food.”

Talk about focus.

Have you ever wondered how narrow or broad your range of products or services should be? If you’re starting a cafe do you feel like you have to cater to multiple audiences? If you’re starting a new church do you feel like you have to offer all the programs and services of those larger churches? If you’re a photographer, do you feel that you have to take any job that involves photography, even if it’s not your speciality? Whatever business or movement you are starting, the Stinking Rose is instructive.

Imagine those early meetings when the idea of a garlic restaurant was first discussed. I can hear the objections…

  • What about those people who don’t like garlic?
  • Does every dish on our menu need garlic?
  • Won’t people mind if they leave smelling like garlic?
  • Would it kill us to have one dish without garlic?

But focus brings clarity. Once the focused vision to launch a restaurant that specialized in garlic was birthed, it shaped everything.

Q: Who is the audience?
A: Everyone who obsesses over garlic.

Q: What should we have on the menu?
A: Garlic with food on it!

Q: What about the people who don’t love garlic?
A: There are many, many other restaurant choices for them. But how many restaurants exist specifically for people who love garlic?

Q: Does everything need garlic?
A: Of course we can create dishes without garlic, but why? We are The Stinking Rose.

Whatever your enterprise, consider the exercise of focusing …and focusing until the thing you seek to do becomes really clear.

Focus helps you know who you are and what you are all about. It helps you make decisions because of the clarity it brings.

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Who is an Entrepreneur?

A large part of the M network is comprised of entrepreneurs. We have, as part of our network

1) Social Entrepreneurs who start for-profit businesses that have a profoundly embedded social conscience in their DNA. Their concern is not just the “bottom line” but the net benefit they bring to their community.


2) Non-Profit Social Entrepreneurs who start social movements.


3) Spiritual Entrepreneurs who give shape to new communities of faith, hope, and love. A good number of the M network are “church planters”. A church planter is someone who starts a new church. We consider the activity of church planting a type of entrepreneurship that falls within the category we call Spiritual Entrepreneurship.


What is entrepreneurship?

According to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, an entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

The word entrepreneur comes from an Old French word meaning “to undertake”. An entrepreneur is one who undertakes some task –in our usage here we mean a business or cause — with “initiative and risk.”

When we think of entrepreneurship we often think of those people who reach out to venture capitalists and secure millions of dollars of funding for some high-tech enterprise. But the young mom who is busy making and selling jewelry from home, the singer song writer who makes a living performing his music,  the “web guy” who freelances coding and designing are also, whether they know it or not, entrepreneurs. They have launched and are managing a small business. Not every entrepreneur starts with tons of capital. In fact, most don’t.


What is an entrepreneur like?

Entrepreneur and financial guru, Dave Ramsey writes, “Entrepreneurs, as a whole, are natural risk-takers. They are confident and know what it takes to get the job done. Nothing gets in their way.”

William Sahlman of the Harvard Business School says that Entrepreneurs are  not  risk seekers.  They are reward seekers and are more than happy to let others take the risk.

Two smart guys. Opposite ideas. Whatever the case about the psychology of an entrepreneur with regard to risk, all entrepreneurs whether through temperament or circumstance or need venture out into the world to get something done.

I have personal experience with entrepreneurs – people who see opportunities, take a step of faith, and get things done. Everyone in my immediate family (My mother, my two sisters, My brother, my first son) has launched and runs at least one business. Their composite persona has five remarkable traits. Each one shares to some degree or another in each of these traits. Let’s call this composite persona M. M is characterized by (1) the ability to see opportunities beyond the resources immediately available to them. She is (2) willing to work harder, longer, and do what’s necessary to survive and succeed. (3) M loves to create opportunity for others (in the form of jobs, experience, or community). (4) M does not know how to quit. She does know how to redirect. And, (5) M is generous to a fault.

These traits are not necessarily the traits of all entrepreneurs, just the ones I know really up close and personal. But I’d like to think that these traits tend to characterize the kind of entrepreneur that populates M. Let’s unpack these traits a little more.


Traits of an M Entrepreneur

M entrepreneurs see possibilities and opportunities. Their resources, no matter how small, are not a barrier for success but their launching pad. Their greatest resource is their personal energy, ambition, enthusiasm, vision, creativity, imagination, and love. To these there is no limit.  They think BIG and are willing to smart small. The only regret they’ll have is letting opportunities get away from them because they were too afraid to act.

M entrepreneurs are industrious. They know that working for yourself requires as much energy, attention, dedication as working for someone else…and much longer hours and more responsibility. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for those who are looking for an easier way to make money. But an entrepreneur thrives and has fun in the context of relentlessly pursuing opportunity and seeking the rewards of their ideas and labor.

M entrepreneurs are fueled by gratitude. They do not think the world owes them. They do not feel entitled. They feel grateful for the opportunity to express themselves by finding a need and filling it in their own unique and creative way. They work smarter and harder than others and LOVE creating opportunity in the form of jobs or experience or community for others.

Failure is part of life. M entrepreneurs are resilient and relentless in pursuit of their goals. Even when they suffer severe setbacks in life they operate with a knack for starting to move forward from exactly where they are without complaining or whining. They are a perfect example of that old saying, “If life gives you a lemon, take that lemon gratefully and sell and serve and negotiate like crazy until you have lemons to give away to others. After all, where would all those seafood restaurants be without the guys with the lemons? Lemons are indispensable.” It’s all about how you look at it.

M entrepreneurs are generous. They know that the world is connected in ways we cannot imagine. They know that touching someone with kindness and compassion spreads the love around the world. They know that people are more than objects to exploit for building profits, and that profits should be used to make people, families, and communities more human.

Are any of us perfect in these regards? Nope. We’re a mixed bag of obsessions and desires and compulsions. But to become these kind of people in the world is a worthy calling. So whether you’re launching a for-profit, or a social movement, or a non-profit, or a new community of faith, we at M salute you and ask that you embrace and advance these M traits into your world. “May the odds be ever in your favor”.

What do you think?

M is created by the International M network.
For more information about future M events …

Twitter: @theimn
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And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

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What is Church Planting? (part 2)

As I’ve written before, I call church planters entrepreneurs of the spirit. In the first installment of, What is Church Planting?, I suggested that church planting is a disciple-making process. Today I want to touch on another aspect.

Church planting is a strategy to create the future.

“Create the future!” I’ve been hearing some form of this idea since the 80’s. “The best way to predict the future,” it is said, “is to create it.”

I’ve been thinking about the future since I was 5 when my grandfather told me he would live to see the year 2000.

“Why will you live until the year 2000?” I asked him.

“Because there will be dancing in the streets,” he said.

That positive and hopeful image changed me. Years later, when I heard and believed the gospel, it reinforced the words my grandfather spoke. When I think about the future through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I see dancing.

Much of my life-long reading has been about the future. So, I’m not sure when I first heard the phrase about the best way of “predicting the future is to create it,” but whatever the case, I have seen the paradigm of “creating the future” type thinking move from the background to the forefront among Christ following people.

In general, the church around the world as an institution is dedicated to preserving the past. Every Sunday we rehearse the things God did…in Israel, in the early church, in Jesus…in the past.

In church, we remember.

The book the church reads is an ancient one. True, many churches seek to apply ancient wisdom to the present moment, but the emphasis is always on bringing forward the past.

Because the Christ following faith is based on it’s history, we would never want to lose this emphasis on our ancient stories. We must remember.

And, because the Christ following faith announces a risen Christ who is with us on the great adventure to disciple the nations, we also want to keep the emphasis on our present experience of being with Christ. We must experience the reality of the Kingdom now.

But what of the future?

One place where the church actually faces outward and forward is through the disciple-making process we call church planting. (Part 1 of these thoughts on “What is Church Planting?” touches on church planting as a disciple-making process ) Church planting is disciple-making process that anticipates and creates new communities of faith. In other words, church planters work to create future communities of faith with future new disciples of Jesus.

Because the audience for a new church is that population of people who do not yet follow Christ, we have the incredible opportunity to create future communities of faith that reflect God’s vision of the future. Too often our churches are more expressions of our immediate past than of His future.

To launch a new community of faith means that we can take what we’ve learned from the past and unlearn the bad stuff. We can create future communities of faith that more clearly reflect the world-changing stories we rehearse. Because old churches become rigid as they rehearse the old in their particular way, it is often far more difficult for them to enter into the future. Too often they are concerned with saving the past. But with new churches, this is not a concern. With new churches, we can create the future.

But according to what standard do we form our ideas of the future? There are trajectories for the human story embedded in scripture (see, Makers of Fire) but that goes beyond the scope of this short post. Primarily, our standard, our narrative, is the story of Christ. He serves as the future image towards which we shape the human story.

Jesus is from the future. He is what and where the human story is going. He leads us from the future and towards God’s future.

So, they say that the best way to predict the future is to create it. The best way to create a human future is to care about the things Jesus cared about, to love the ways he loved, to lead the way he led.

Remember the ancient stories.
Experience the reality of the spirit now.
Create the future.

What do you think?

IMN Resources
Makers of Fire: The Spirituality of Leading from the Future

M is created by the International M network.
For more information about future M events …

Twitter: @theimn

What is Church Planting? (part 1)

Church planters are what I call entrepreneurs of the spirit. But, what is this entrepreneurship of the spirit? What is church planting?

Church planting is a disciple-making process.

Consider these two scenarios.

Imagine that there are two church planting teams. One team, let’s call them Team A, works from the first premise below. Let’s call this “starting point A”. The other team, predictably, is Team B and works from “starting point B”.

A) We’d like to disciple the residents of a neighborhood.
B) We’d like to start a church for the residents of that same neighborhood.

How do the images that fill your mind differ when you read “starting point A” from when you read “starting point B”? How do you imagine that these two teams would approach their work? What things will they have in common? How might they differ?

Jesus instructed his disciples to make disciples of the “nations”. (For our purposes here, let’s take the “nations” to mean those who live without reference to the scripture and who do not yet profess faith in Christ). Jesus’ instructions to “disciple the nations” stretch us to imagine the discipleship of the outsider. In contrast, our practice is to program for the discipleship of the insider. Of all the things the church does, starting new churches should be understood as a process for the discipleship of the outsider, but often it is not. It is conceivable, in the western context, to start a church and never disciple an outsider. According to a recent poll, 96% of mega church growth is transfer growth. (Hat tip to Bob Roberts for that stat). In fact, many churches that consider themselves “discipleship” churches even though they have little to no contact with outsiders.

At a recent Church Planting Training at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, Bob Roberts stated, “We don’t plant churches in America. We plant worship services.” Starting a worship service may require a programming team and some stage talent, but need not require nor create disciples.

Starting a new church often results in a new worship service populated by the already convinced. But if we start with the discipleship of the outsiders, then the aim of the church planter is already being achieved even before a new church emerges…which will often happen. The apostles did not go into cities to start churches, but to announce the kingdom… to get that “embodied” conversation going. When that conversation took root in the hearts of women and men, new communities of faith emerged.

Brian Hook, church planting pastor at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, tells me that he believes “… in the years ahead we will be talking discipleship rather than church planting.” In fact, he takes it a step further. He’s thinking that “we could drop the term church planter today because, in America, it doesn’t always mean ‘disciple'”.

So, when we think about definitions for church planting, it may help us to think in terms of the process of disciple-making among outsiders.

What do you think?

IMN Resources
Makers of Fire: The Spirituality of Leading from the Future

M is created by the International M network.
For more information about future M events …

Twitter: @theimn