Personal Investing

My family asked me about my personal investing. I’ve done well in the market – I’ve averages over 8% returns per year for the past 11 years (2007-2017) which includes several down or flat years.

  1. It’s all in mutual funds in Vanguard
  2. I re-balance my funds about once a year unless there is a major world event in which case I’ll immediately re-configure my investments (think war, economic collapse of a country/region, etc.)
  3. I’m invested 80% in equities and 20% in bonds. The bonds are a hedge against the stocks. You can be more aggressive by having more equities or by having more aggressive equities (emerging/international markets and/or small cap).
  4. My specific investments and percentages
    1. VFIAX    Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares – 40%
    2. VEMAX  Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund Admiral Shares – 15%
    3. VWETX  Vanguard Long-Term Investment Grade Fund Admiral Shares – 20%
    4. VSGAX   Vanguard Small-Cap Growth Index Fund Admiral Shares – 25%
  5. This means that my portfolio is a good mix of aggressive and conservative, US and international. This is a secret to investing – diversification! That can’t be stressed enough – don’t put all your eggs in one stock or even one mutual fund. Here’s my mix:
    1. 40% invested in large US companies (stable growth)
    2. 15% invested in international companies (stable with some speculation)
    3. 20% invested in bond (conservative part of my portfolio)
    4. 25% invested in small cap or aggressive companies

A few rules for investing

  1. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” When the market is going up, you don’t have to be particularly smart or good to do well.
  2. “Be a pig, not a hog. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Go for gains of all kinds but don’t get greedy and chase after the high flyers each week or even each month.
  3. “Never fall in love with your investments.” They don’t love you back. Investments are tools, nothing more. Be willing to bail on them whenever necessary.

Lead On!



Nehemiah Answers Simon Sinek (part 2 of 2)


In part one, I recapped an excellent Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. (please stop now and watch it to more fully understand this post).


Nehemiah is a quintessential Old Testament leader. Upon hearing of the status of the protective walls and gates of Jerusalem, Nehemiah got his boss, the king of Persia, to let him go to his ancestral homeland and rebuild everything. His leadership skills are not questioned – he found solutions for every problem as they arose, he dealt with people justly, and he confronted his cynics directly. He accomplished what needed to be done and what others said couldn’t be done. He did it. And his work subsequently protected Jerusalem for several centuries.


This is what Nehemiah did:

  • In chapter one,
    • Nehemiah hears about a situation which breaks his heart
    • He prays fervently about what he should do and he listens to God
  • In chapter 2, Nehemiah answers Simon Sinek
    • Verse 2: the king asks, “Why does your face look so sad…?” Nehemiah’s reply is an emotional appeal: his homeland is in ruins.
    • Verse 4: the king asks “What is it you want?” Nehemiah has a short reply – let me go to my homeland and rebuild the city
    • Verse 6: the king asks, “How long will your journey take?” and Nehemiah responds with lots of specifics about his needs
  • In the rest of the book: Nehemiah gets the job done. He leads the people, fends off critics, and reports back to the king.


When the book begins, Nehemiah had no power and very little influence. But he did have a God-inspired vision and he was articulate. By the end of the book, Nehemiah is an inspirational leader. Even 2,500 years ago, Nehemiah was ready for Simon Sinek!


Nehemiah 2:1-9

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”


I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”


The king said to me, “What is it you want?”


Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”


Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.


I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.


Nehemiah was an inspirational leader. In only 52 days he did what others said couldn’t be done. He had a clear “Why” and could get people to believe what he believed. Even the king, who paid for everything, was able to buy into what Nehemiah wanted to do. Nehemiah’s “Why” was compelling to the soul of his listeners.


Lead On

Steve has a complete set of very affordable church manuals as templates in Word plus lots of free Word and Excel docs to help church administration.

Nehemiah Answers Simon Sinek (part 1 of 2)


In September 2009, Simon Sinek recorded the third most watched Ted Talk (you should have Ted Talks in your podcast list). It is only 18 minutes long. It is impactful. It points to a different kind of leader, an inspirational leader.


The first few minutes are spent explaining The Golden Circle. Sinek draws three circles and writes “Why” in the centermost circle, “How” in the middle circle, and “What” in the outermost circle. He provides the advertising example of Apple who tells you why you should buy from them, not how they make computers or even what they manufacture. “Why” is an emotional connection.


Sinek continues by explaining what we know about the development of the human brain. The centermost part of the brain, the limbic system, focuses on our feelings, behavior, and decision-making. This part of the brain is the oldest to develop. It does not have the capacity for language. That is for the outer parts of the brain developed more recently and it determines the “what” of how we use our brain.


For leaders to reach the core of a person, inspirational leaders must focus on connecting with the “Why” of the listeners – that innermost core of a person’s brain. Sinek states that you must find “people who believe what you believe.” Another memorable quote is, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Leaders speak initially to a person’s soul, not to their practical side. The “how” and “what” will come soon enough but if you don’t hook someone with “why” then you’ll have a much harder time getting that person to join your mission.


Sinek ends with the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. When he spoke at the National Mall in August 1963, a quarter million people showed up because they wanted to be there. The “I have a dream” speech they heard is deemed the most memorable US speech given in the 20th Century. Inspirational leaders must speak to the emotional core of their followers so they will absorb “why” they should follow.


Lead On

Steve Law has a complete set of very affordable church manuals as templates in Word plus lots of free Word and Excel docs to help church administration.


Strangling Termites

An Alabama termite inspector told me that Alabama has three termite colonies per acre. And that a termite can travel up to a quarter mile to find moist wood – it’s only necessary source of food, water and wood. And termites are devastating – a colony can eat over 10 pounds of wood in a year. The cost of replacing that wood can be huge.

We no longer use the chemical DDT to kill termites; instead, one solution is a chemical which inhibits termites from molting. A termite will molt several times in its life as it grows, much like a crab. If a termite can’t molt, it will grow within the existing shell but then it will strangle itself because of the small shell.

I’ve seen churches like that. They have outgrown their current shell but they are unwilling to change/molt. They feel that what worked decades ago should continue to work. Or that the buildings don’t need any updating because they look just fine. Or members don’t realize that church staff today must do things very differently than in prior years. These churches are strangling themselves within their own structures. While the world around them changes, they don’t.

Just like termites adapt to meet their future needs (as part of their life cycle), churches must be willing to explore changes they may need to make and then intentionally decide how they’ll adapt. The saying “change or die” applies quite aptly to termites. It also applies to a lot of churches. Too many are willing to die. There is no need for that – churches don’t need to embrace all changes, but they must be strategic about what they will do to help them survive.


Lead On!


Church Business Meetings (part 3 of 3)

This the third part on church business meetings. In the first section I talked about how to make the membership reports more engaging; the second post was about church programs and reporting how they use their resources, both financial and people, to carry out the church’s vision. This post will be on church decision-making and voting.

Decisions: most decisions should be made at committee levels, since they have more time and information to get into the nuts and bolts of why a decision is necessary. For instance, financial decisions are the realm of the Finance Committee, decisions affecting the church’s staff are the responsibility of the Personnel Committee, etc. It is the duty of each committee to bring to the church a report (see part 2 in this blog series) detailing the actions and reasons. The committee can be asked questions, but the responsibility lies with the committee. If the church body at large disagrees with the committee, then the church body can vote to either replace the committee and/or overturn the committee’s action.

Decisions which affect the entire church body are the ones that should be intentionally brought before the entire church. This requires a lot of education of church members ahead of time. It usually means that information is shared at one meeting, time is built in for members to think about the decision and gain more knowledge, and then everyone comes back to a subsequent meeting for a vote. Asking members to show up at a meeting, get up to speed in 15 to 20 minutes and then vote is not reasonable. If a decision is important enough to be brought before the congregation, then it should be a deliberate decision and not a hasty one. Give people time and you’ll see the “wisdom of the crowds.”

Implementing all or parts of these recommendations will make church business meetings flow more smoothly, be more enjoyable, and lead to better actions by the church. Try to do one of these at a time and incorporate these ideas over a period of months, if not years, and then gauge the attitude toward business meetings.


Lead On!




The Immediate

Western civilization, especially the United States, is an immediate culture. Since WWII, we have wanted things faster and better (and cheaper). If we’re not satisfied with the immediate, then we’ll move on without waiting to see if the intended results came in just a few minutes, days or hours – within a respectable time period. Instead, our society increasingly wants things now – news reports, weather updates, weight loss, health wellness, financial accumulation, home improvements, marital bliss, political change, etc.

This trend is extremely disturbing because the chase for the immediate will usually lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with the present and even with the eventual results, all because it didn’t happen right away.

Good doesn’t have to be immediate. Patience is often rewarded with great results. Slowing down life is much needed in our day and age – we are too much in a hurry and it is usually because of our desire for the immediate.

Let me challenge you to focus on the pursuit of excellence even if, as it usually does, require time and perseverance. Persistence is a good trait (but not stubbornness) in the hunt for wonderful outcomes. The immediate is tyrannical – it insists on getting its own way. Do not be ruled by the immediate.

Lead On!


Olive Trees

Olive trees are rather amazing. I’ve never worked in an olive grove, but I did grow up in Spain, which has about 40 million olive trees. I couldn’t help but learn about olive trees as I drove across the country and saw olive trees from one horizon to the other.

There is a saying that when a farmer plants an olive seedling, he is planting it for his children. Olive trees mature slowly; an olive tree is 25 years old before it bears fruit. Not many farmers today can wait 25 years for a crop to come in.

But the olive tree is also amazing for its longevity. An olive tree will live about 1, 000 years, and some are even 2, 000 years old. So once an olive tree is 25 years old and begins to produce olives, it will continue to do so for the next 1,000 years if it is cared for properly.

Olives are harvested in a rather harsh fashion. Cloths are spread out under the tree and the branches are beaten with long poles. A hail of olives falls on the cloths. The cloths are gathered, and the olives are poured into buckets. These olives are used for food, pressed to make olive oil, or planted for another generation’s benefit. The olive tree doesn’t grow tall; it is smallish. Its trunk is not straight, so its wood is not good for construction. The olive tree is a humble tree that in maturity gives results for centuries to come.

It may be a stretch, but I’d like to compare church buildings to the olive tree. Typically they are not grandiose architectural masterpieces but are functional. They take many years to plan and build, but they will be with us for generations to come. Every generation or so, churches add a structure—knowing the primary beneficiaries will be their children and grandchildren. And, at some point in the unknown future, a decision will be made to tear down the building that the current generation labored so hard to construct.

Church buildings should be seen as investments:

  • First is the money that is raised to pay for the land and the building itself. It usually takes years to raise the money and pay off the principal and interest on the construction debt. If the generation doesn’t pay off the debt, then we saddle the next generation with debt plus the expense of maintaining the facility.
  • The second and greatest investment we make in our new building is people, especially our children. The building is a tool, not the goal; the measuring stick is how many lives the building affects for the Kingdom. We must ensure that the classrooms have the best teachers and leaders and they have all the training and resources they need to do the volunteer job they’ve been asked to do. The result will be people who leave the structures each day to go into the world knowing and sharing the love of God with each and every person they meet.

As we invest our money and our lives in church buildings, only God knows the fruit it will bear over the next several generations, because we planted a seed.

Lead On!


Advice for Experienced Leaders

  • Value Training, Be a Mentor  New and young leaders need someone to teach them how to be a wise and good leader. Experienced leaders must share their knowledge, experience, and expertise with the next generation. And the best way to do this is one on one (same gender to same gender, too, lest there be any mixed signals). Be intentional about finding, mentoring, and developing future leaders. Your investment of time and skill will return benefits for decades, perhaps forever, as your mentee becomes a mentor later. And, when you’re almost finished with one young leader, find another one and keep it going.
  • Employee Evaluation  Employee evaluations should be done every time an employee meets with his or her supervisors, as every employee should know every day what their employment status is. The annual evaluation time is merely to fill out paperwork, not to go into in-depth evaluations. Employees who do not know what their status is may feel a Damocles Sword hanging over their heads and thus might not be as productive as they could be because they’re wondering when or if they’ll be terminated. Keep your staff informed, and let them know each month when you meet with them how they are doing.
  • Set the Stage for the Next Generation  Over the years your organization has taken on your personality traits; that is a truism in business. However, these ruts and routines created by you will probably not be helpful to your successor who, frankly, needs to create his or her own. As you end your career, you need to be intentional about who is on key committees, what processes are being done “because the boss wants it” (and not because it helps the company per se), what “minefields” need to be cleared out so your successor doesn’t wander into them, and what personnel need to be moved on so they are not a headache to the next leader. Set up your successor for success; clear the launch platform of unnecessary things so the next leader can shoot for the stars.
  • Make Stakeholders Uncomfortable  For the most part, stakeholders in organizations want things to continue in the same ways so that their personal investment is not threatened but is instead honored. Stakeholders may be current or former employees, board members, longtime customers or vendors, major and minor donors, etc. Organizations cannot live in the status quo, and going forward often involves risks. It is up to the leader (hence the term “leader”) to nudge or even shove the organization and its stakeholders forward. Experienced leaders know the key stakeholders and will work with them to move everyone forward so that the organization doesn’t die from valuing the status quo over progress.
  • Foment Wealth-Sharing  You have tremendous experience and knowledge. Do not hoard that; share it with your community by serving on non-profit boards, volunteering in community-based organizations, and helping your church. You are responsible for leaving your neighborhood, church, and city better off than you found it. You stood on other people’s shoulders in order to achieve your status as a leader – you need to pay it forward by helping your community and its leaders be even better than where they are now. AND, you must challenge, prod, and encourage other leaders to do the same. You are rich in life – share the wealth!
  • Teach Wise Risk-Taking  Risk-taking is part of business, but it is not intuitive because everyone wants their “risks” to be certain successes. Experienced leaders know that failure is part of risk, but failures can minimized by taking “wise risks.” That involves asking lots of questions, doing an incredible amount of due diligence, and training people well. Risks are a necessary part of leadership – not taking risks means the person in charge is managing, not leading. Risks should be done strategically so that the “win” is clearly defined. AND, when the risk turns to failure, wise leaders know when to stop the venture cut the losses. Experienced leaders must teach the next generation how to take wise risks.

Lead On!